Today I am given the task of writing about something I am terrible at doing. But anyone who knows me well will trust I’m not going to try to do this unless I found a role model to glean from. I’ve always taught, in order to learn a life skill, you have to study the successes of someone who has mastered the objective. For this lesson, our role model will be nature itself. Follow along with me.
Here’s our new challenge to master: To learn how to simply do nothing in and of our own strength, while waiting for an intensely important area of life to return again.
This subject came to light while out for what felt like an early spring walk last week. Actually, it’s still officially winter, but this particular day was unusually warm for early February. My wife, son and I took advantage of the thaw and went for an afternoon walk in an Allentown park. (Thank you, Josh!) About mid-way through, we came across the following scene. There was this shimmering blue sky, contrasted by bright green grass popping out from under the dull remnants of melting snow. Then, in a clearing, this massive tree with no buds or obvious signs of life was standing bold and strong, arms reaching up to heaven, doing absolutely nothing except feeling the warmth of the day, seeing the world around itself waking up from Winter’s freeze, and knowing with full confidence that soon buds will pop out, then leaves, then full foliage, followed by an entire season of warm summer days. But today, it did nothing other than wait in stillness, in praise of it’s Creator. Go ahead… take a good long look and meditate on this picture. It’s not such an unfamiliar scene these days, but has much to teach us.
When I think about the potential static energy found in this massive plant, possessing such power I will never know, and to see it just standing there, doing nothing to bring about what must seem to it so natural, so inevitable, expected and anticipated; yet offering no outward signs whatsoever of struggling to burst into life… I was humbled. This tree demonstrated perfect, complete and utter trust in God, that He alone would defrost the soil around it’s roots, flood it with water and nutrient filled dirt, blow gentle wind over it’s branches, and bring an occasional gail-force breeze to prune dead limbs so as not to zap life from healthy new shoots; day by day heating up the air, until one Spring morning, at a just the right moment, all the forces of nature would proclaim, “Now! It’s time! Bloom into life once again!” The moment was amazingly awe inspiring.
Do you do that too, with whatever challenges you face today? Questions about career, marriage, relationships, a move, finances or health? Truly, all the fretting, planning, and struggling we do to force things, people, and even God into action, can eventually turn us into disquieted monsters that are unenjoyable to be around. We lose friends and quality relationships with loved ones as a result of self-inflicted isolation, disappointment, despair, depression, and gloom. It leads to manic and sometimes addictive behavior as we search for something to replace our lost senses of joy and confidence. Some turn to substance abuse… maybe like me, in the smallest amounts, like a drink at the end of the day to blow off some stress, or the need to go out and spend money on some article of clothing, the latest electronic gadget, decoration for the home, or over-eating our favorite comfort food, or obsessive behavior at the gym or at work. (Dear Lord, we waste so much trying to fill our frustrations from stalled efforts with poor substitutes for all the blessings otherwise so freely given by You.)
In his book, You Can Help with Your Healing, author Vernon J. Bittner writes these words. “I found myself all alone, and I could find no solution to my problem. No matter how I tried to unravel the patterns I was used to, my efforts did not work. I had never learned how to have healthy, mature relationships with people. My feeling of isolation was heightened by self-hatred and self-pity and by the resulting depression. Those were dark, hopeless days—days of suspicion and unbelief. My life was out of my control, and I was governed by all that was evil and destructive in myself.” ( Bittner, V. J. (2008). You Can Help with Your Healing: A Guide for Recovering Wholeness in Body, Mind, and Spirit (Revised Edition, p. 20). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.)
These past months, I feel myself so dangerously close to that state, a pattern so opposite to the lessons learned from the tree in that park who is so vastly more aware of God’s peace and control in all circumstances. How desperately I need to once again “First seek the counsel of the Lord.” (1 Kings 22:5); to simply meditate, doing nothing other than lifting still arms in surrender and frozen patience, waiting for God, and not struggling to find the next “logical” step in my own thinking – which inevitably requires manipulating everyone around me to fall in line with my plans for their lives.(My poor oncologist must be so exasperated with me by now! Not to mention my wife and children.) Think about it. This methodology is really no fun for anyone at all.
In contrast, June Hunt, in her study on facing terminal illness, writes so clearly and elegantly, “Territory is gained in the emotional battlefield of acceptance. When your heart is willing to trust in God’s love, you depend on His grace to live day by day. A new freedom emerges within … the freedom to live or die under the ‘shelter of His wings.’” (Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Terminal Illness: How Can I Ever Let Go? (p. 7). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.) How many of us long to dwell in that tranquil place of life right now? That place where we can truly let go and still trust it will all work out in the end.
There have been a few times when my family suggested I re-read my former posts when facing seemingly unsurmountable challenges (and soured behavior). I’m confident this will be one article they will continually refer me back to, as I am so bad at letting go of being in control. My entire life was spent as the master musician, senior pastor, building contractor, “Genius Bar Specialist” at the Apple Store, and most importantly, almost 30 years as father and head of household for the most wonderful people I have ever known, but have always felt so (overly) personally responsible for. At a time in life where illness has taken virtually all of this confident ability to do anything away from me, I find I’m left – and truly we ultimately all share in this commonality regardless of our health – with only one lasting challenge: “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the LORD!” (Ps 27:14)
Some may suggest that God is aware that my days may be limited and He is therefore preparing me to pass on all my responsibilities to others. However, as I walk through this journey I continually find the opposite to be true. Whether we have months, years, or decades left, each moment is far better spent in quiet submission to God’s love and understanding of His good plans. The time for control and manipulation of our will must come to an end regardless of how long we have left to live. This is really the only way to fully experience peace, love, joy and fulfillment. And when we reach the day when it finally IS time to pass from this life to the next, we’ll be able to look back on years gone by with a deep sense of awe and satisfaction, and confidently be ready for that which comes next.
I hope we are all able to seek out and enjoy those moments of being a big, tall, strong, still tree… doing nothing at all to change our circumstances, other than simply trusting God, and waiting for life to return again.
– Sanford Kravette