Unclenching the Heart

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. – 1 Kings 19:11-12

The Holy Spirit has been a puzzle to me, despite how I know he’s a living presence of God in my heart. I want him to make grand announcements and lead me in absolute certainty through life’s twisty choices. I want him to point his finger and say, “There” when I ask for any answer. But he doesn’t do that.

I wouldn’t begin to box up the Spirit and say he can’t speak in those ways. God moves all things for His glory, and if it takes a loud shout to accomplish that, He will shout. It’s just that me, when I expect His obvious direction, it’s typically for the sake of my glory and to give me an easy out. Tell me where to go, Lord, so I get what I want and don’t have to make choices – the sooner the better.

Turns out the Spirit isn’t in the business of easy outs. In fact, you can find these verses in close proximity: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17) Then, two chapters later: “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33) Well. So much for personal convenience.

But as Jesus promised, the Spirit IS a help, and he IS constant. His help just isn’t always what we expect. I’m sure there are ways to theologically or Biblically prove this point in an intellectual manner… But all I have for you is this story:

It’d been a long day at work. Walking into church that Wednesday evening, I hadn’t quite sluffed the cantankerous attitude I’d been building the last few hours, and I wasn’t particularly willing to release my sour temper. Still, I’d recently determined to let God work through circumstances in spite of my mood, so on my way across the parking lot I said a prayer that went something like:

“Okay, Lord, fine, I’m going in with a ‘tude, but that doesn’t mean You can’t use this time to change me. I’ll give it over and trust how You manage the evening. Just…gimmefivemoreminutestogrouseokay?”

I actually expected to walk in on a sermon preaching gratefulness not-so-subtly to my reticent heart – again, supposing holy intervention on a grand scale. Instead, as I sat down, two cohorts I knew through volunteer service stepped out of their way to greet me. That’s it. Two people, two quick hellos. But suddenly my mood flipped around. They were simple gestures, yet I knew they’d served the Spirit’s purpose to me.

The Holy Spirit, I believe, is the unclenching of the heart. He’s a chance encounter with churchmates, the prompt that tells me to sing praises when I’m uncertain, the communion with a fellow believer that changes my perspective. He nudges me to step out in faith, even when I don’t know the outcome. These are small, almost imperceptible ways in which he works. A whisper instead of a megaphone.

I’m learning to change my expectations for how God chooses to speak to me. One day He very well may take the direct approach, if that’s what it takes to grow our relationship. But it seems at the moment I’m better-shaped by the subtle nature of detailed adjustments.

For When It Gets Lonely

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My grandma wrote in marker on my bathroom mirror: “Shalom – nothing missing, nothing broken”. We are single-lady comrades, my grandma and I, even though we’re in different age-related circumstances. So I feel like I know what she meant to me by that phrase.

Even alone, there can be Shalom.

That’s hard, as I look in the mirror in the morning, those words trailing down one side of my reflection. I woke up in a bed that sometimes feels too big, to an apartment quiet and dark with the influence of but one person. And I look at what Gramma wrote: “nothing missing”. My first task of this new day is to believe that.

I’m privileged, I realize, to be able to pray to God for desires, since all my needs are met. (A reminder for when I think Sovereignty has abandoned me.) “Nothing missing”, I pray as I prepare for my job, dress in good clothes, paint my face from a gamut of make-up, eat a breakfast that I’ve never had to skip. Shalom.

But what about broken?

Me, as a person – I’m broken. Daily, by loneliness and questions and the thought that my place in Christ’s church is insignificant and unnoticeable. Waiting years without feeling like my life has moved forward, wondering how much of faith is “ask” and how much is “action” – I struggle with this limbo and pray, frustrated, over my morning of plenty:

“But God, I can’t say ‘nothing broken’. Even my days are a broken record, the same one after the other after the other after the other. I feel like I’m always either picking up the chipped-off parts of me I can’t fix, or trying desperately to ignore the cracks running through my heart.”

Some years ago God gave me this image: “I hold you together like a cracked figure of porcelain: gently but firmly.” And maybe that’s what it means to be able to say “nothing broken”. On our own, we are fissured, lacking, chipped. But God takes us in hand, puzzles out our mixed-up jigsaw pieces, and sees our wholeness. When I can’t see the complete product, He. Always. Does.

So I head out the door, leaving behind another lonely morning out of 365 a year, and my prayer is to see the wholeness that God sees. And maybe it’s time I start thanking Him for giving me a grandma who heeds the Holy Spirit when her granddaughter needs a daily reminder of God’s omnipresence.

That, after all, is Shalom.