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Friday, October 8, 2010

A Degree I Don't Want

Treasured friend,

I’m pretty sure I qualified for an honorary degree courtesy of walking with Dad through his recent medical odyssey. I’ve secretly aspired to one for years. Not that I don’t appreciate the black robe, and red and white hood I earned for my MA all those years ago at Ball State. I do. I worked hard for it—anyone who’s earned one knows they’re not simply bestowed, they indicate years of effort.

But as much as I’ve wished for an honorary degree I haven’t technically earned, I’m thinking the one I qualified for this summer may not be one I ought to wear with pride. It’s a Ph.W.—you know, a Doctorate of the Philosophy of Worries. You may have qualified for one recently, too. In my waiting-room hours and especially the long nights when I lie awake imagining the absolute worst eventualities, I’m quite sure I’ve taken the study of this particular science to new heights. Oh how I’ve worried, fretted, fidgeted, and feared.

And it’s begun taking its toll. Since I’ve been living it, I haven’t been as conscious of its escalation—or of all the energies I’ve been pouring into this study. But, this afternoon we ran into a nurse who cared for Dad in one of his earlier hospitalizations. We’ve seen her frequently in the ensuing years—and she’s offered a listening ear and wise counsel more times than we could count. Today, as she celebrated with us over Dad’s great news from last week, she squeezed his shoulder. Then she looked Mom and me in the eye. “This has taken its toll on you. All this worry. All this stress. You’re feeling it, aren’t you?”

Mom and I looked at each other. She knows our little secret. She can see in our drawn faces: the color of strain. The tell-tale lines of sleepless nights. The slump of pent-up fatigue. We nodded dumbly—and changed the subject expertly. But I couldn’t get that conversation out of my mind tonight, as I tried to settle my thoughts, calm my upset gut, and un-kink my shoulder muscles in preparation for bedtime.

Something about her concern and her candor reminded me of words our Master just might have said to us in that store aisle today, had He been visibly present:

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:27-34; ESV).

Gospel writer Matthew records five instances where Jesus chides His devoted but weary and worried followers for their “little faith.” (Matthew 6, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20). I looked them up. And for some reason, tonight when I read them again, I wasn’t my usual self—quick to wag my index finger at the disciples. This time, I understood. More than I ever have before, I got the slowness of the disciples to trust the Master when circumstances look hopeless:

• The boat is tossed by relentless winds—and the infuriatingly unconcerned Master sleeps in the bow.
• Peter steps out of the boat and sinks into the waves.
• The ministry team’s tangible reserves of life’s necessities are depleted.
• The cure they pray for is slow in coming.

I get where they were finding their fears. Because I’m there. Right there. Worried, not that the Master can’t intervene. But rather that He won’t. After all, in this life, things don’t always work out with fairy tale endings. Even those who received miracles in the New Testament, eventually passed out of this world and into eternity. Nothing this side is permanent. So it’s easy to worry about that—to look around at circumstances, and waver in my faith. (I’m saying my here, but I’m guessing you’ve been here, too.)

That’s where Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 both challenge and encourage us. Once we get past His nailing me for my little faith and nod in agreement with His realistic assessment that “tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (it will certainly have its share of trouble), we can sink our weary selves into the middle of the passage. Usually, when I read it, I focus on the seeking first His kingdom. Certainly that’s the prescription—ultimately. But tonight, I gravitated more to the “why” we needn’t worry. Abba Father in Heaven knows what’s happening here. He knows what we need. And His arm is ready to act on our behalf—maybe to deliver us from the storm, more likely to support and provide for us through it. He promised He would indeed see to our needs.

So, I believe if He were to be the one to endow me with that honorary doctorate, it wouldn’t be in a joyfully pleasant ceremony. I would look into His eyes and find them disappointed in my lacking faith. I imagine He would say something close to what He told the disciples on those many occasions:  “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt? Didn’t you know I care? I love you? I’ll add to you all the things I already know you need today—and all those things I know you’ll need tomorrow. Your worry is accomplishing nothing—in fact, less than nothing. It’s hurting you. This is something I don’t want for you. You didn’t need to earn this particular degree. Cease striving, and rest like your Master in the bow of the rocking boat. Your Mighty God has it all under control.”

On second thought, maybe I’ll turn down that degree, and see if I can earn one in a more appropriate field—I think I’ll go for a Ph.F, Doctorate of Faith. As long as it’s well-placed faith in this loving and compassionate Master, it will be worth the work. Want to join me in the preparation and study?

With my prayers for you tonight,


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