Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life… Deuteronomy 30:19b-20
Many mornings, before the sun broke in the east over Lake Michigan to dispel the darkness, I could be found sitting, with coffee in hand, beside my kitchen window in Chicago. Up in the sky above were a few stars, and I would gaze intently upon them. This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel far from that little window and go where the stars blanket the heavens by serving at a camp in northeast Wisconsin. Among the several reasons for going, I longed to hear God’s voice on certain matters, especially that of my future. In my time there I did here His voice, though in a much different way than I had expected.
Despite the beauty of the land, abundant fellowship with a special crew of people, new friendships, the great purpose behind our labors (which often produced an immensely satisfying sweat), the thrill of horseback riding and exploring rivers and other ventures, all of which were unfettered by media and e-mail, there was something else. Amidst all these blessings existed a great angst in my soul, at times painful and overwhelming, that often found me where I least expected it.
That angst, or what I shall refer to as pain, found me many nights as I made my way to bed, walking through a large field that displayed the stars so wonderfully that it seemed they were crying out. It found me while sitting beside the lake after a long day’s work, beholding a sunset in the west, or while walking down the main road bordered by a great forest on both sides, trees forming a canopy above that allows bursts of evening sunlight to pass through. Pain found me while leaning against the wood fence at the stables, admiring the horses and all there power and mystery, or while in a canoe in the early morning, slowly moving along the glassy, fog-covered waters. Though I often found great peace and joy in those times, that pain remained. I wondered where it came from - was I not praying long and hard enough? Was I off somewhere in my thinking? Was I not embracing the supernatural peace of God that has so often come to my rescue?
In ‘Severe Mercy’ by Sheldon Vanauken, a poignant, true story of romance and faith, he shares of his discovery that pain accompanies beauty and joy. Vanauken first discovered it through an aesthetic experience: the beauty of creation and the longing for something beyond grasp, like a sunrise that you want to take hold of but cannot. He later experienced this through the passing of his beloved wife at a tender young age. Her life served as a gift to him and so many others, and grew more powerful through her departure. The depths of his pain and sorrow far exceed anything I have gone through. Yet being human, I have experienced similar feelings, such as those this past summer. Joy and pain seemed to find me everywhere I turned, and through this I would eventually discover that I was indeed very much alive - and perhaps not so alive in recent times. Longings, loneliness, hopes and dreams, fears and uncertainties, responsibilities and callings, spiritual opposition and the healing of old, persistent soul wounds that were bleeding prior to leaving the city – all collided in the quiet whisper under the stars and the rising and setting sun.
Sometimes choosing life, choosing God, means stepping away from comfort and safety into the quiet whisper, where one can often hear His voice most clearly, and embracing the pain, recognizing it as a sign of life. Other times it means holding fast to Him, especially in the storms of life and times when all seems foggy, resisting temptation and not turning to lesser things to temporarily ease the pain and fill the holes in our souls that can only be filled by our Creator, who is our life. Life like a flowing river that provides us the passion and ability to write and speak words of influence and freedom, to sing and dance without shame, to lead and serve, to enter into healthy relationships with others, to enjoy a sunset, to grow, to run, to learn, to love.
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6