I’m having trouble remembering, in this body which cries death, which shouts destruction. I’m having trouble remembering that there is work to do, that there is life to breathe. I get lost in this echo chamber of pain I inhabit, lost to all sense of purpose and direction. What is there for me here? What is there for me to share? Some days I feel like all I can do is spew forth pain and despair. What hope is there in me? What hope is there for me?
Outside the window, some waxeyes have found the kōwhai bush. They feast on its nectar, hungry, as the angry wind tries to throw them off. They know what the Good Father has provided for them (Matthew 6:26). Surely, I can see the same for me.
And I can. I can. But through a haze. I know that ground is there, but it is not my focus. But why not focus on the sure and simple, when everything else feels lost and distant?
I have bread, fresh out of the oven, filling my house with its scent. And isn’t that how the prayer goes: give us today our daily bread? That our bellies might be full of sustenance, our nostrils with hope and security?
But this bread didn’t appear on our doorstep this morning, we had to work for it, we had a hand (or four) in its making. And yes, our salvation is a gift, but the Bible also tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). This new gospel we live, fueled by the Spirit, is not simply a gift for us to step into, it is an invitation to get our hands dirty, kneading alongside our God. It is a task which will take up the whole of our remaining life if we let it. It will colour everything we do, no matter how innocuous it might seem.
I’ve been reading Paul’s letters lately, and I am continually amazed at his willingness to pour out his life for Christ. We don’t know a lot of detail about how he lived, what his day-to-day looked like, but he was willing to work for his keep, to use the skills of his hands so that he might preach Christ (Acts 18:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:8). We have this image of him from his letters as a sure and powerful preacher, but he quotes others as saying his speaking is uncompelling, his presence weak, especially when compared to his strongly worded letters (2 Corinthians 10:10). Yet even knowing this, he felt compelled to keep doing it (1 Corinthians 9:16). He could have set himself up somewhere comfortable (and safe) and had a ministry through his letters, letting others, more polished in their speech, take the risks of travel. But he knew the work God asked of him. And he poured himself out to do it. Paul returned to Jerusalem, knowing he would almost surely be arrested (Acts 20:22-23), and look how God used that as an opportunity: spreading the gospel through the guards set to hold him prisoner (Philippians 1:13). In spirit, he knew himself to be free and about God’s work.
So, am I really trapped and bound in this body of pain? Or can I be free in Christ within it? Can I continue to go about God’s work inside it? Will I? Will I work how I must to “earn my keep” in this body, that I might be free to pour out my life for others?
I never did catch a photo of the wax-eyes, but even their food isn’t handed to them without their effort, their small bellies aren’t magically filled. They fight against the wind to dig deep into the kōwhai flowers for what they need, knowing it is there for them to take hold of. And they’re willing to do the work.
I’m not sure what the moral of the story is really. I’m not sure how this might be useful or applicable to anyone else’s life. I am trying to work out if taking painkillers now, so I can free myself from pain enough to do God’s work, but risk liver damage later, is worth it, or if I should keep my liver safe, but remain bound in my pain and risk not doing what I can for God.
It sounds worth it to me – a little possible liver damage for a well-spent life. Like Paul, willing to work to support himself so he would be free to pour himself out in God’s work, I think my painkillers are much the same.
I guess it comes down to a simple question: Am I willing to do whatever it takes to follow the Spirit’s leading, to do as She compels me?
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