Mary Oliver Monday

Are you on the cusp of something shiny and new, that’s equal parts requisite and terrifying?

Me too. Here’s a good reminder from poet Mary Oliver to take a deep breath and go little by little.

The Journey

One day you finally knew Nice, France
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house

began to tremble
and you felt the old tug

 at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

There is No Magic Wand – Only Fire.

Galata Tower – Istanbul

The other night, while surveying my life and repeating my new favorite mantra “WTF am I doing,” my sister called. She was en route to JFK to catch the redeye back to her home in Istanbul. When she asked what I was doing, I said I was thinking of getting in the bathtub with my toaster.

When I started following Jesus like I meant it, I wasn’t banging my head and squirming under existential pressure all the time. In fact, several of my ducks fell into a quick and tidy row and I saw some inexplicably graceful things happen.

  • My cash + needy people = Demonstration of God’s provision.
  • My prayers + rival = A surprise easing of tensions.
  • My mouth + God’s word = Encouragement and joy.

Little victories like that were the C to my A+B. So naturally, I expected them to continue and grow in volume – especially as my obedience and faith grew. I’ll just keep working my righteousness and God will give me what I want. A+B=C.

Sorry baby doll, it doesn’t work like that. And BTW…your righteousness is like filthy rags, Isaiah says.

I think one of two things is happening:

a. I’m in a refining phase, growing up a little. God is burning off the old rags and rubbish that are cluttering up my yard, while increasing the difficulty of my math with equations like this, that are so far over my head I have no choice but to cling to him for solutions.

b. I’m just blowing a gasket.

Ugh, maybe I’ll cut and run. But where?

Just before Jesus was crucified some of his followers deserted him. Jesus remarked about it to Peter. Are you going to run too? He asked. Peter replied:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have learned to believe and trust and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God, The Christ, the Son of the Living God. John 6:63

Later that weekend, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus.

So even Apostles are unequal to the task. There is no magic wand. Following Jesus requires equal parts grit and stamina, humility and surrender – an unusual combination in humans. I want my life to leak love and demonstrate the grace of Jesus to people who don’t believe in him, but at the moment, I’ve got a raging grease fire in my kitchen.

Ironically, the only place I can find to cool off, is deep in the book that started the fire in the first place. Peter, who was later crucified upside down, says I should be happy about that:

Be exceedingly glad, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1Peter 1:7

I know it won’t last forever, it just feels like it.