My husband is both an excellent judge of character and an enthusiastic exegete of the human condition. In short, he loves people—unabashedly and often undeservedly—and he loves trying to figure out what makes them tick. One of his characterizations that resonates the most with me is the belief that we are, at our core, meaning-makers. We seek connections and purpose in our relationships, our jobs, and our homes. We believe in the interconnectedness of our lives and see God’s fingerprints over everything from an answered prayer to a moment when the sun breaks through the clouds and we feel, even if for only a second, deeply seen and known.
When these links seem to break down and we lose our ability to follow the thread of God’s story in our day-to-day, it can leave us feeling at loose ends. In the first part of this article, we talked about how remembering where we’ve been can anchor us to the divine narrative. Today we’re going to shift our focus to the present and the future.
Who We Are
“I just want things to go back to normal.” It’s a common lament and one that I have wept over many times during the last several months. We want our lives back—for the world to be as predictable and comfortable as we perceived it to be in January, before rumblings of a deadly coronavirus started to echo through the bedrock of our lives. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that for a long time, this was what our family clung to—the hope that everything would return to how it once had been. And yet, I think by now we’ve all accepted that it never will.
We are forever changed. The trajectory of our lives is altered, and this fundamental shift has left many of us wondering: Who am I? Where do I fit in this new world? We’ve lost jobs, sparred with friends, suffered illness, buried loved ones. Nothing will ever be the same, even if a vaccine is created, a hoped-for political win unites the country, and a new understanding of racial relations sows a harvest of peace.
How blessed we are that God is continually in the process of making all things new, of transforming us moment by moment as we live more fully into His purpose for us. May we have eyes to see it in this time, even when—perhaps especially when—the metamorphosis is born out of suffering and pain.“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)
Fred Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” This is such a good way to focus our energies in this present moment, and yet my family likes to take it one step further. When we are confused about who we should listen to, where we should align ourselves, and how God is working in our community and our world, we follow a simple rule: find the fruit.
In John 15:1-4, we read: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” This passage makes it crystal clear that fruit is produced when we remain in Christ. And what exactly is fruit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How do we recognize it? Actually, pretty easily. I love this metaphor because it doesn’t require much interpretation; it is as simple and straightforward as it seems. Fruit is beautiful, fragrant, delicious. We want to taste it; we long to share it. No one has to convince us of the inherent goodness of a perfectly ripe, crisp apple, nor do we have to wonder if someone is plugged into the love of Jesus when they display good fruit. I have no doubt that this time of pruning will lead to an abundant harvest.
Are you feeling at loose ends today? One way to plug into the divine narrative and reorient yourself is to simply ask: Where do I see beauty today? Whose lives are rich and generous, overflowing with compassion and goodness and light? What is the Christ in me drawn to? Find the fruit. God is always in it.
What We Hope For
The world has changed so much in the last six months, and even now it’s impossible to predict where we’ll be in a year…or even next month. Travel plans have been disrupted, weddings and baptisms postponed, sports seasons abruptly suspended. Half of our family lives in Canada, and since the border is closed, we don’t even know when we’ll be able to see them again. It hurts to face so much uncertainty when we pride ourselves on being careful planners—on knowing and preparing for what comes next. It feels like we’ve lost control, when the truth is, we were never in control. Tomorrow was never guaranteed.
Our Liberian friends grasped this long before we did. The simple question “How are you?” is usually met with some form of “Praise God, I’m here for another day.” How many days have I taken for granted? How many tomorrows have I assumed I deserve? The humble acknowledgement that every single day is a gift is one way to remain in God’s story as it unfolds minute-by-minute rather than trying to skip ahead. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1) Our family now begins every prayer with: Thank you for this day. This one, precious day.
Of course, this is not to say that we shouldn’t hope for the future. My oldest sons are already preparing for the ACT, their senior pictures, the upcoming sports seasons, and more. But loosening our grip allows us to hold the gifts we’ve been given without the ironclad assumption that we have the power to control what happens next.
Loosely held tomorrows also give us a posture relaxed enough to be open to God’s promptings. Maybe that plan to build a house, move to another state, go to a certain college, or change careers is being challenged in this time. Maybe God wants to say something about what He has planned for us that we didn’t have the time or inclination to hear before we were forced to slow down and truly examine our place in His story. He knows what happens next (Psalm 139:16); He has a plan (Jeremiah 29:11); and He has already overcome this world (John 16:33). What do we have to fear?
Come what may, this divine narrative can never be derailed, sidetracked, or thrown off-course. Our God is still the author of our every single moment, and because he holds the pen in his hand, we know exactly how the story ends. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17) The invitation has been issued and our happily-ever-after is assured. For the days we are given in the in-between, may we join the Author in crafting a tale that is overflowing with beauty and hope…yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Come, Lord Jesus.