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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mona Lisa

Patient friend,

I’m in a petulant mood. I blame my mother for it. She never let me sulk when I was a child. So I have a lot of it simmering inside—and after forty-never-mind-how-many years, it’s getting close to boiling over, like my overfilled pasta pot likes to do all over my flat-burnered stove.

With the exhaustion of not being able to sustain sleep for very long at a time (last night I was awake every 20 minutes replaying events of recent days) and the dulling sadness over diagnoses Dad has been getting (not to mention the un-tally-able count of conversations I’ve had with doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and their various and sundry assistants over his prescriptions and his restrictions), I think I have the right to a little self-indulgent petulance.

Even a search of the Psalms for words of comfort has done little to quell my bitter swell. Which is why for more than a week, now, I’ve been avoiding writing a God-is-on-your-side devotional to share with you. I know it to be true, of course. But I don’t feel it. What I do feel is, well, petulant. Or as my trusty Yahoo dictionary puts it:

Unreasonably irritable or ill-tempered; peevish. …
Or, to put it another way, I feel any number of the emotion’s trusty synonyms:

miff: a huff … offended or annoyed.
pout: To exhibit displeasure or disappointment; sulk. To protrude the lips in an expression of displeasure or sulkiness.
They’ve got it exactly—it’s like someone painted my picture with words. And even in my peevishness, I must admit it’s not the prettiest of pictures. Which, I suppose is why Mom tried to break me of the pouty habit early in life. Mona Lisa she used to call me, whenever I’d sulk. I always hated that!

So somewhere around 3 a.m. today I brought my sulk to the Lord and laid it out. It was as well-rehearsed as Elijah’s conversation with God in 1 Kings 19:9-10, and restated in vv. 13-14.

In Elijah’s case, both times it went,

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

In my case, it went:

God: What are you doing here, Julie?

Me: Life stinks, God. I’ve done it your way—and more importantly so has my dad (mom, too!); and this is where it lands him, where it lands all three of us? In a medical holding pattern with an orbit that seems to be degrading with each rotation around the sun? It’s not fair, God. It’s not fair!

Have you ever had that conversation with God? I suspect every exhausted caregiver has reached that boiling point on more than one occasion (if you haven’t, you will).

Here’s how God responded to me … He didn’t speak audibly, didn’t point me to a specific verse of Scripture. Instead He brought to mind a song I hear almost daily in my Pandora mix: “More Than Enough” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. It speaks the names of God, that taken together assure us of His all-sufficiency for us, no matter our circumstances. So, my fatigued mind spent the wee hours rehearsing what I could recall of these names:

Jehovah Jireh: That one’s easy to remember. It’s the God who provides. (This brought to mind the one time where this name appears in Scripture—when God provided a ram for sacrifice just as Abraham was about to offer Isaac on the altar--I wrote about that one in Praying Like Jesus, so I know it well.)

Jehovah Rapha: I know that one, too: the God who heals.

Jehovah Shalom: That’s easy: God, our peace.

Jehovah Shammah: That one I had to look up. (The Lord is present)

Any one of these powerful names of God--indicators of His character and nature--would be “more than enough” to sustain you or me. But I camped out on the one name I had to look up. Once I learned its translation, I examined it, prayed it, and used my trusty Bible software to find how it’s used in the Word.

I found it one of the more frequently used compound descriptors of God, woven through both Testaments. It is the name that will one day appear on the City of God (Ezekiel 48:35, where the city is inscribed with the name YHWH is Here—talk about sufficiency, that’s the place I want to live).

And it’s the name God gave to Moses when he interceded for the people of Israel, while they were in the dire straits of the wilderness (a setting to which I can relate emotionally). Moses asked God to send someone to walk beside him in the difficult journey that was ahead (Exodus 33:12). “You have not let me know whom You will send with me,” Moses complains. And God’s reply in the next verse is the essence of Jehovah Shammah: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Because God Himself volunteers to walk beside Moses (and to do so visibly in the Pillar of Fire and the Cloud of Glory), the victorious result is sure. And so it is with us. Jesus volunteers in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always.” The writer of Hebrews assures us that the Father promises us, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

And so, in my ebbing petulant mood, I returned to God’s words to Moses. He didn’t only promise His presence—there was even more to the guarantee: “… and I will give you rest.” The Hebrew word there means that in His nearness God will settle us down, comfort us, give us soul-rest. That’s what I need, today: the full assurance of Jehovah Shammah making His way through my day alongside me; settling me down and allowing me to rest in the middle of the desert. Maybe you could use that assurance, too. Practice hearing Him respond to your complaint that way: "I'll be right there with you--I, Jehovah Shammah! And I will give you rest."

If you feel like being a little vulnerable—you’re among friends, here—I’d love to hear how God has spoken words of sustaining grace and comfort to you in your boiling-point dialogue. So, if you’d like to post a reply to this blog, with a Scripture God uses to sustain you, I know it would be a comfort to me, and to other readers.

Thanks for allowing me to do a temporary name change to Mona Lisa this afternoon. Sometimes it helps to talk it out—with each other, and more crucially with God.

Blessings and prayers,


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