Tuesday, May 5, 2015

That's The Difference


“YaYa,” my seven-year-old granddaughter told me, “you’re just a tiny, little bit, not too much, but kind of a little . . . old.” 
It’s true. I already knew it, though. Allie’s little sister, Juliet, had recently let the cat out of the bag.  “Pretty soon you’re gonna need a cane, YaYa, because you’re kind of old.”
And you know what they say—two out of three professionals can’t be wrong. The third one is only two and hasn’t figured out the obvious about his YaYa yet. But the mirror doesn’t lie. I am kind of old.
Fifty-six. Next week I’ll be fifty-seven. It feels a lot younger than it sounds on this end of my life, except when my joints hurt or I get brain fade or when I find myself on the wrong side of a generation gap. I’m so old, I’ve lived through about twenty-five years of disappointment and experience that my younger, adult self couldn’t have imagined.
When I was in my thirties, I had a lot of answers. After hitting rock bottom emotionally, I’d just been set free from the religious legalism I grew up with. I began to learn the truth about Jesus and God and the Spirit: God is for me.
But I didn't know everything. I didn't know there's more to life than easy answers.
This year my best friend, my beloved, the man I’ve clung to for forty years, had his second stroke and third dangerous blood clot. This year we’ve struggled with the surprising and sometimes painful adjustment of living in a small space in full-time retirement. This year there has been stress. There has been failure. There has been a lot of pain we can share with nearly no one else. Few understand any of what we’ve been through together in the last year alone.
So at 2:30 this morning, anxiety rolled in on me and robbed me of a precious hour of sleep. Which wasn’t nice, because old people like me really need sleep. Even worse, Anxiety brought its sidekick, Guilt, along to condemn me while I lay there in the dark. Every reaction, every fear, every harsh sermon I’d ever heard ran through my mind like a horror flick until my heart cried out for Truth.
And the truth I had learned while I lay crushed and broken in my thirties was still the truth this morning—Jesus isn’t expecting anything from me, and He loves me as I am in the ever-now.  Ever since I first learned that, I have sought to know the One who will be there for me in the frightening times when I have no one else.
And then I heard Jesus whisper to me, “That’s the difference.” 
See, you can live with a harsh, angry God when you are young like I used to be—youthful and strong, loved by your family, surrounded by your children, beginning your career with your whole life ahead of you.
But when the nest is empty, when your health fails, when your spouse is ill and you sit in hospitals alone, waiting endlessly for medical tests and results, fearing for the future, listen to me—an angry God doesn’t cut it.
At that point, you’d better hope you are strong enough not to need a God like that because that God knows better than you do how weak and imperfect you are on your own. There can be no comfort from that distant God.
But the God of the Bible condescended—He came down to our level. He identified with us. He carried our sorrows. He bore away all our sins. He proclaimed, “It is finished!” He forgave when no one asked for it. He included even the thief hanging beside Him who never expected that much. Jesus went to the failure, Peter, and lifted him up.
This God is not one of my imagination or indulgence. Jesus is not harsh to His lambs. He doesn’t demand they find their way back to Him and walk on their own two feet. He goes after them, His lambs, and He carries them.
In all the days of old, He felt what they did, suffered with them, and carried them. The more candles I see on my birthday cake, the more I must know how to hear God speak clearly to me of His love and promises. I must know He is for me. I must know confidently that He has my back—He is my rear guard. That He sees and understands my wounded, fearful, desperate heart when no one else can or does.
I must know He is the Lover of my soul that the Song of Solomon describes. If I don’t, I will not make it. I can no more cozy up to a rigid God than I could to an offended rattlesnake.
It scares me to realize how close I came to losing my beloved or, at least, to losing his cognitive companionship. I weep to think how close I came to losing his comforting strength and leadership. We have both come close. I have faced cancer twice and survived with my body mostly intact. Now I deal daily with disruptive hormonal surges that make me hard to live with sometimes. I mourn the loss of my youth. The years are both a gift and a curse, it seems, though by far they are a gift.
It’s taken me nearly a thousand words to try to capture the meaning of what Jesus said to me in the dark this morning:  “That’s what makes the difference.” I need the intimacy and acceptance and unconditional love of God because as life gets more fearful, this Love is my constant.
God is for me.