Waiting

Advent began yesterday.  This season of celebrating the waiting and awaiting the celebration is one I have often passed over, choosing instead to get caught up in the hurry and rush and whirlwind that so frequently characterizes our experience of “the holidays.”  Rather than muddling through and hoping for the best, this year I am setting aside time each week to ponder the mystery and immensity of the Incarnation, the eucatastrophe of humanity.

Last evening my sister invited several friends to share in a simple Advent liturgy – prayer, scripture, and song in the comfort of our living room.  My heart was stirred as we took turns reading from the Book of Common Prayer, the Psalter, the Prophets, and the Gospels.  I was reminded how easily I spend all of life waiting and hoping, rather than living each day fully as it comes.  There was a moment of silent prayer, and I found myself asking the Lord yet again for something that has been my deepest desire for many years.  It has not come, despite anguish and tears and trying and years and years of prayer.

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I was glad to be sitting with a friend who has been by my side through nine years of life – a woman who has faced her share of mountains and still clings to Christ.  She knows my prayer, even as I know hers.  Our individual struggles for wholeness have run on parallel paths, and by God’s grace we have been present to uphold, strengthen, and encourage one another at significant points in our respective histories.  Four years ago we were housemates, putting the very fiber of our friendship to the test.  Liturgy was an important part of our routine, one that strengthened our faith as well as our relationship.  In addition to using the Morning and Evening Prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, we composed several of our own to reflect our callings – present and (hopefully) future.  Recently I asked her if she still had those prayers we wrote, and together we marveled at how appropriate they still are for both of us.

One of those prayers has again become part of my routine.  I pray to remind myself that although I cannot see God’s hand at work, I still trust that He is working things out for my good and His glory.  I pray to remember the prayers He has answered, the wonderful things He has done in my life, the way He has cared for, led, and protected me.  But I also pray because I still hope, I still wait.  And time and circumstance have not altered this desire – though gratefulness has tempered the sense of urgency that used to accompany it.  Petitioning for the future helps me remain in the present.

So then, here is our prayer – one that many others share, I am sure.

Lord, we know that all things are in your hands.  We want your will a whole lot more than we want our own.  Yet you have created us with these desires: husband, home, family.  So we want to be honest: Lord, we do want these things.  We humbly ask for them.  Father, would you give us husbands we can honor – men after your own heart.  Men who will match, fit, and balance us.  Lord, we ask for this sooner rather than later – but we want your best, no matter what the timing is.  And Father, we know your best may include singleness.  If that is the case, give us grace to live full lives in singleness.  God, keep us from planning, scheming, or searching this out as you ask us to wait.  Keep our hearts pure in our relationships with our brothers.  Lord, we submit our desires – our whole lives – to you.  Married or single, may we honor and glorify you in ALL that we are, by the grace and mercy of your precious Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Enchanted Dragons

Last week I realized it had been quite a while since I had ventured into the enchantment known as Narnia.  The discovery and subsequent exploration of Tolkien’s Middle-earth has taken precedence over the known world of Lewis’ Narnia for three years now, and though I am constantly finding new books to delight my soul, I know I also need to draw comfort from the familiar at times.  And certainly Narnia is familiar – and beloved.

Unlike my introduction to Middle-earth, I do not remember when I first encountered Narnia. I do remember hearing several of the Chronicles read aloud by my dad during my childhood bedtimes – his favorite was The Horse and His Boy, and the most memorable was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (thank you, Eustace Clarence Scrubb – “who almost deserved it”).  I know that “Aslan!” was a part of my vocabulary from a young age.  The idea of beautiful clothes that are also comfortable is a Narnian concept that I unconsciously attempt to put into practice in my daily life, and the image of Aslan (or Christ) as not safe and yet good has informed my thoughts on theology since well before I could label them as such.

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At various stages of my healing journey, I have repeatedly turned to one particular metaphor from the Chronicles.  It is the one I find most hopeful when I grapple with pain and change and the ugliness I face in the dark places of my heart.  It has to do, of course, with Eustace.  Early in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace is a spoiled prig who wants nothing to do with magic, Narnia, or sailing – or his cousins (King) Edmund and (Queen) Lucy, for that matter.  His presence aboard the Dawn Treader is most unwelcome simply because he does everything he can to make a nuisance of himself.  Yet his actions ultimately bear fruit that causes even Eustace to rethink everything: he becomes a dragon.  Naturally, it is not a comfortable thing to become a dragon (who cannot speak) when one’s whole company is either human or of the Talking Beast variety.

In the lonesomeness of dragon-ness, Eustace begins to change for the better.  But his own efforts are insufficient, and the dissolution of the dragon-spell must come from one far mightier than Eustace himself.  In the dark of night, Eustace-the-dragon finds himself led to a mountaintop bathing-well by Aslan.  The desire to be clean – and rid of his dragon-ness – launches a process much like peeling an onion.  Laboriously, Eustace attempts to shed his dragon skin by peeling one layer at a time.  He soon recognizes that his efforts are getting him nowhere, and the only way to be truly free is to allow the Lion to rip the scales off.  Though the pain is excruciating, Eustace willingly submits to the ordeal because he yearns for both mental and physical relief.  Once he steps into the pool stripped of the external dragon, he becomes human again.

I am the same way.  Obviously, I have not assumed the physical form of a dragon, but there have been times when my behavior or mental state is best described as dragon-ish.  Only when I come to the end of myself do I have any hope of finding relief.  Only One who is mightier than I can peel away layers of dirt, fear, pain, and brokenness to reveal His creation of humanity beneath.  So each time I despair of moving forward, of making progress, of healing, I remember Eustace and the dragon.  And my hope is renewed.