I haven’t written much in the last couple of weeks. Words feel like too-old milk: choked and clotted, or watery and weak. I’ve been lost in a sorrowful ache, finding it too easy to choose death (see Paul’s choice in Philippians 1:21-25). For so long when the passage from Paul is read – where he doesn’t know whether to choose of life or death, my depths have answered it easily. Death has been my preference. I would gladly release my grasp on this life. Perhaps too easily for some people to be comfortable with. But I have lived with this a long, long time. Not sought it, but willing.
It feels like this desperation, this hopelessness, has snuck up on me; I was so determined that I was doing okay, that things were moving steadily forward. But looking back I can see some precursors, small warnings dotted through the previous few weeks. This feels like a sudden crash into weightlessness, like my trusted vehicle has just stopped beneath me but I keep going, no gravity to hold me down. There is nothing to tell me up from down, forward from back. I am just floating in nothingness.
Last week God gifted me with a word, just a single word, that helped anchor me a little: Remain. That was all, but that was enough.
When I stumbled across it down the blogsphere-rabbithole, it thrummed through my being. I wrote it on the inside of my wrist as a reminder, trying to teach my veins a new rhythm: remain, remain, remain. Asking my pulse to push it through my being, that it might settle into the marrow of my bones, press into the ends of my fingertips.
I want this word to become a part of me: Remain. It says: stay and be. It says: hold on a little longer. It says: don’t leave yet, there is more good to come. Somehow it spins a thread of hope into my veins, the smallest thing, but I am willing to stay a little longer if that is what my God is asking of me.
Can I choose life? I don’t know. Can I be willing to live fully, in wholeness? I’m not sure I know what that is right now. But God has made this choice for me. It is not my choice to make.
Knowing that life is chosen, can I live into it? Can I take the letting go I am so willing to do and let go into life? God bids me remain, but I don’t know how to do that in all fullness.
O Lord God, teach me.
Mother God, show me how to bring forth the fullness of life.
Spirit breathe Your life into me.
There’s lots of talk about laying down our lives. Jesus himself says to lay down your life that you might save it (see Mark 8:35 and parallels in other gospels). And Paul writes of being living sacrifices to God (see Romans 12:1). There’s all that rhetoric about if you truly love something you should let it go. But what if you don’t? What if laying down, letting go of your life is no hardship? What do I do then? Do I not love God enough to live for Her? Or is that just another way of saying the insult of ‘you need more faith to be healed’? I’ve had enough of that, thank you. Our God is the life-giver, the One who brings fullness and abundance.
Riding on the bus, I saw a young man with a t-shirt which read: “the future is a thing of the past.” And I wonder, how can we speak life and hope into a world without it. I wonder how I can speak of life to a world which barely dares to hope when I can barely hope myself.
Everywhere I go today, spring grass is being cut, the new growth chopped off to uniformity. Have I been cut down too, so that I might match my world?
But this is not about me. So what if I am cut down, bowed low? I am reminded again and again that I am to be living this life for Christ, that it is the resurrected Christ who now lives, it is no longer me (see Galatians 2:20). But I cannot see why God might want this vessel, this brokenness. And I know all the platitudes: that God can work best and greatest through brokenness, through weakness, that it is not about me. But I still have to live this. And some days I don’t know how. I only keep going because I choose not to end it. I insist to myself that God must have some purpose, some use, to keeping me here in my life, like this.
But sometimes it doesn’t feel enough.
I long for a miraculous transformation, but I know it isn’t coming. I try to hope for some of the joy I thought was promised. What kind of Christian am I if I wish for death?
I tell God, “I’m yours,” hoping for something to shift, hoping to find joy in it, but nothing does. How do I trust God when it seems like the Divine doesn’t want to remove this ugliness from my life? Can I trust that God has some purposes even in this? Or am I just trying to grasp for hope?
The irony of telling myself platitude, because I know nothing else in this space, is not lost on me.
Time and again I have done what I could to move my life away from this shadow of Death, but I find myself returning again and again, drawn to it like a lodestone. Didn’t Christ come to set the captives free (see Luke 4:18)? Because that’s what I feel like, that I am chained to Death and she is once again drawing me close.
Can I pass into Christ’s death and be born anew? Paul says I have already done that. In Philippians 3:10-11 Paul talks about being continually transformed to Christ’s death that he might “attain to the resurrection that lifts [him] out from among the dead even while in the body.”
I feel like I’m getting to know Lady Death quite well; we’re getting well acquainted, she and I. Like the Buddhist practice of welcoming Mara, I will not try to shut Lady Death out, she is welcome in my life (we all go to her at some point anyway). I’m not going to run in terror, so if that’s the response she wants then she needs to go somewhere else. Here she is just another part of life, one to learn to recognise and learn to live with. As if she’s moved in, and I don’t know how long she’s staying, but she is welcome for as long as she likes.
Strange how now I’ve come face-to-face with this (I struggle even to label it), I see it everywhere in my life. And it’s okay. I’m not trying to hide from it or hide it away, it’s just part of my life. I’m not going to act on it, but I don’t know what I can do about it either. Fighting won’t get me anywhere but exhausted and disheartened. So I’m kind of at peace with living in the shadow of Death right now.
Glancing at my wrist, the word Remain thrums through my being again, interrupting grey thoughts of death. For curiosity’s sake, I do a Bible search on the word, expecting it to bring up things like Jesus saying “remain in my love” (see John 15:9) and “these three remain: faith, hope, and love” (see 1 Corinthians 13:13). Important ideas. But it is hard to remain without hope. Hope helps faith stretch out into the future, and I want to strengthen that tiny thread running through my veins.
I am surprised when my search turns up Leviticus 6:9, and it rings like a gong in the centre of my being:
“Give Aaron and his sons this command: These are the regulations for the burnt offering: The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire on the altar must be kept burning all night.”
It fits with Paul’s writing about submitting ourselves as living sacrifices (see Romans 12:1). And it promises that although the fire must be kept burning through the night, morning will come.
Who would have thought I’d get hope from Leviticus?! But there it is.
And so I will remain.