You and I, along with the whole world, have lived holding our collective breaths for almost an entire year. We’ve stood firm, then waffled. We’ve read and researched, formed opinions, changed our minds, had heated conversations, and nodded our heads in passion. We’ve cried tears of repentance, relief, anger, anguish, and exhaustion. We will be processing this last year likely for the rest of our lives. I am not the same person I was at this time last year. You are not the same person you were this time last year. But through it all, we must give each other permission to process and change. We must give each other the grace to find our own pace, whether fast or slow or somewhere in between.
Isn’t this what we see over and over in Scripture? The Samaritan woman, boldly and immediately putting her faith in Christ. Jesus’ own brothers, rejecting and holding Him at arm’s length until after His resurrection. Nicodemus, coming to Jesus in the night, bursting with questions. The Bible is filled with people wrestling through the Gospel, finding their way to the cross, whether fast or slow or somewhere in between.
When Addie Zeirman wrote the foreword to Madeleine L’Engle’s book “Bright Evening Star,” she recounted reading the book for the first time in college. Her professor’s advice to her that day was profound: “Sometimes Madeleine writes things that are a little… out there. When you come across those parts, don’t get hung up. Just say to yourself, “Ha ha. Oh, that Madeleine,” and keep reading.”
Addie writes that her professor’s tone wasn’t condescending or accusing, but endearing and understanding. As she moved through her college years and beyond, Addie found herself wrestling more with the mystery of Christ, the questions of life. She began to see that, “a faith made up entirely of certainty and clear-cut answers would never survive an inexplicable world.” And so, she gave herself permission to go through seasons of doubt asking questions, seeking wonder, drawing near to the mystery. Her dusty L’Engle books came off the shelf and she found wisdom and the occasional penciled words in the margin from her college years: “Ha ha. Oh, that Madeleine.”
MAKING SPACE FOR GRACE
Something deep stirred in me when I read Addie’s foreword. I’m familiar enough with Madeleine’s work to know it’s true. Paragraphs of L’Engle’s writing are a stream of consciousness with seemingly nowhere to land. And yet I admire her tenacity and ability to put words out there that aren’t tied up in a neat package, making room for mystery.
I’ve sensed a shift in our society that sets off an alarm in my soul. It seems as if there’s little to no space for the process of forming thoughts. As changes come and events unfold, there’s immense pressure to immediately and clearly articulate a response. There seems to be little space for a, “Ha ha. Oh, that Madeleine” sentiment. We force ourselves to form quick opinions, able to withstand the test of time. If they aren’t, we find ourselves under scrutiny.
I admit, I struggle with this. Often, words fail me and I fall silent. It doesn’t mean that I’m unfeeling, it simply means that for me to sort it out, I must have time. I must listen and let my thoughts tumble around my brain first before anything meaningful will come out of my mouth. I must find my footing in the words of Scripture and what I know to be true. It can be frustrating when it seems as if the whole world has something to say. But just because I’m silent doesn’t mean I’m not invested. It just takes me longer.
We live in a society where we are expected to have an opinion about everything, yet our time to think about it is almost nothing. Even with little understanding or information, we feel pressure to form our thoughts quickly. But thinking requires time and space. We use our life experiences, our frustrations, our dead ends, along with our understanding of Scripture and relationship with Christ to draw our conclusions. For some, it’s formed more quickly than others. The process we use to come to our conclusions is never wrong, but it is very dangerous when we think our way is the only right way.
Several years ago, I began to spot the most hideous style of jeans. Why would anyone want to wear skinny jeans? I’ll pass, thank you very much. I kept pulling out my bootcuts with pride, until slowly I began to notice how cute girls looked with their sweaters and flannels along with their skinnies. Eventually, I found myself in a dressing room, begrudgingly pulling on a pair of skinny jeans—which I bought and loved. It wasn’t long before I was fully onboard the skinny jean wagon. (However, this ‘mom jean’ trend going on right now? Not even a chance.)
Fashion experts study the market enough to know that when a new style comes out, some will jump on it quickly, most will slowly warm up, and almost all the rest will show up eventually. In all areas of life, there are those who need more brain space and wrestling and those who don’t. It’s a beautiful part of our diversity.
What kind of jeans we wear is an easy, harmless opinion. But we’re living in 2021. What about racial reconciliation, vaccinations, impeachment, covid protocols—not to mention the litany of personal everyday decisions we’re making in our own families? Is there grace for us as we make decisions at the pace we make them? Do we extend the same for others, even when they come to radically different conclusions?
STEPPING INTO THE UNKNOWN
When the people of Israel were getting ready to enter the Promised Land, they faced a crossroad in their faith. For 40 years they had wandered in the desert, depending on God for their very existence. And now, their leader Moses had died, leaving Joshua in charge. They were stepping into unknown territory. Everything they had known was changing, except for one thing: The God who had rescued and cared for them would not forsake them. He would continue to be with them as He had been before. We can take hope in the words He spoke over Joshua on that day:
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do” (Joshua 1:7-8, NLT).
When you feel like the bottom is falling out and you can’t seem to string two thoughts together, do not give up. Keep the words of Scripture before you at all times. Find your grounding in the words of the Lord, not in the words of the world. Have grace for others who may be ahead of you or behind you. Just as you desire space to work out your opinions, give others space to work out theirs. In this season there is grace, grace, and more grace. Above all, be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
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