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Seeing God with Us

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Seeing God with Us
Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed about God's Abundance
Image: IVP

Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed about God's Abundance

In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling book Wild, she recounts her 1,100-mile trek across the grueling and beautiful Pacific Crest Trail, a trek she undertook mostly because she was beaten down by hardship and heartbreak and was headed down a dangerous path in life. Knowing she needed change—something to jar her out of her figuratively dangerous path—Strayed chose a literal one. A path she hoped would help her “find herself,” heal her wounds and set her straight. So, although she’d never hiked anywhere before, and though she had no clue what she was in for, Strayed headed out, alone, on a journey through the wilderness.

It’s a wonderful story, a book good enough for Oprah to consider relaunching her book club, in fact. Strayed is a master writer; her prose dazzles and delights even when describing the harrowing. In fact, while reading this, I often marveled at how much Strayed’s writing reminded me of David’s psalms—the beauty of the language, the rugged and desperateness of the environment, and the stunning displays of God’s creation and his intervention.

Of course, there’s one (or probably a few) big difference: David recognizes God’s hand as he wanders through the wilderness. Yet, straight through to the end, Strayed never does. For the Jesus-y set, this means that even as the book ends on a high note (speaking fi guratively only; it ends with a literal descent) with Strayed’s “healing,” with her being found, we can’t shake a sadness for all Strayed missed on her journey. Because we see God there with her, in the beauty, in her stamina, in the warning rattle of a snake’s tail, in the goodness of the people she met, in the protection from the few “bad” ones. We see God reaching out to her. But Strayed never does.

Of course, even those of us who believe in God, who profess that he is with us always, have a hard time seeing God on our own journeys too. And yet, in many ways, it’s in the present moments, in the twists and turns, in the harrowing and sketchy, in the rough climbs and emotional descents that God is most evident. If we’re willing to take note.

After finding my old Brownie “I Spy Hike” award in a tangle of childhood memorabilia, my daughter wanted to know my secrets so she could become an I Spy champ herself. I told her that to win at I Spy is to realize that I Spy is really a misnomer—because when we speak of “spying” something, we really mean “seeing” it. In fact, whether you’re an international spy or simply a bird-and-squirrel spy, spying requires much more than eyesight. So when my kids and I are wandering through woods or along creek beds—hoping to spy a deer, chipmunk or one of those badgery-woodchuck-prairie dog guys—I tell them to be quiet, to step lightly, to breathe gently and to almost become one with the path we’re on. That way, while we don’t scare off animals who are as eager to run from us as we are to see them, we also become in tune with the world around us and are able to hear, feel, see or smell the animals we seek.

Of course, my kids think I’m out of my mind. But they aren’t I Spy champs like me.

So when they roll their eyes as I become hyperaware on our walks, they miss that our journey is more than just a walk in a patch of suburban woods, more than a trek through a trail that borders the Sanitation Department. Instead we are transcending, and the journey transcends. So it is with us and God on this journey through life. We can plod along on our journey, heads down—busy with the present things, worried about the future things, regretful of the past things—or we can skip along the journey, smiles bright—cheering the present, hopeful for the future, shrugging off the past. But if we aren’t mindful, if we aren’t aware, if we aren’t noticing, if we aren’t “one” with our surroundings, then we miss so much. Most of all, we miss Who is next to us on that safari, Who has gone ahead of us on it, and Who is behind us, sweeping away our missteps and mistakes and redeeming them for what comes next.

As I type, there’s a God meme getting some good play on Facebook. Were I to click over, I’d guess it’d show up in my newsfeed from seven different friends. It’s a black-and-white, silly cartoon takeoff of the old “Footprints in the Sand” picture. In one panel of this cartoon, we see Jesus (or a God-looking guy, I’m not sure) and a man at the beach. Jesus has his arm around the man and is saying, “My child, I never left you. Those places with one set of footprints? It was then that I carried you.” In the next panel, Jesus points and says, “That long groove over there is when I dragged you for a while.”

While I’m not sure the theology of this cartoon lines up with my understanding of free will, the point is well taken—at least, it is if the point is that we need to pay attention to where we are and where God is in our walks along life’s beaches, up life’s mountains, over life’s deserts, or even life’s rockets right over the moon. That God is “God with us” in each and every one of the places we trek through in life should never slip our minds. And sometimes, when we are so weary, so unable to take another step, God does sweep in and carry us, maybe even drag us a bit if we’ve given ourselves to him and his leading, if we’ve asked him to take us where we should be. We should not only turn around every now and again to see where he has been with us, but we should look to see where he is now and where he’ll be tomorrow and the next day.

Because if God is anything, he’s a God who journeys with his people, who hitches right along in the Land Rover on our safaris through life. He’s there bumping along, pointing out zebras, spotting the lions, then tucking us in below the mosquito netting with a good meal and story of his legendary love.

The Old Testament is not exactly filled with or known for its “precious moments.” But when one of those moments appears, it’s hard not to sigh and bring a hand to your heart, thinking of how mighty and just plain sweet our God is. This is what happened to me smack dab in the middle of the not-so-soft-and-cuddly 1 Kings. But in the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters, we find the prophet Elijah in a mess of trouble. Jezebel wants him dead and he hits the road. After dropping his servant off in Beersheba, Elijah takes off for the wilderness alone. Just one day in, the fear, the hunger, the exhaustion has caught hold of him. Elijah has had enough, and he crawls under a “broom bush” and prays “that he might die.”

God apparently has a soft spot for people crawling under bushes to die (and I have a soft spot for the stories of God’s soft spot), because after letting Elijah sleep a bit, an angel swings by, touches Elijah on the shoulder, and tells him to get up and eat. Elijah looks over and sees fresh-baked bread and a jar of water. He eats it and falls back asleep.

The angel comes back, and this time, says the loveliest thing: “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” I’m no angel expert, but it seems to me that since other times in Scripture angels appear as messengers from God—with their “do not fears” and “glad tidings”—it isn’t too much of a stretch to see this as a sign of our mighty God’s empathy for his children. This is God at his most maternal, offering food and drink and a comforting hand on a sleepy child, saying, “There, there . . .”

After resting, Elijah heads up to Horeb, “the mountain of God,” where God reveals himself once again in one of the most amazing scenes in Scripture.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19:9-13)

I love this because Elijah recognized the Lord. Elijah recognized the angel, recognized God’s speaking voice and recognized the Lord in a whisper after quite the creation show. I love that Elijah understood that, although God is capable of whipping up and being in avalanche-starting windstorms, of shaking the very earth on which he stood and of sparking fl ames, the Lord was not in those. I love that Elijah knew God enough—was in tune with him enough—to recognize God in the comparatively silent.

It’s an astonishing skill, really. But not one only for Old Testament prophets. I believe it’s available to all of us, and we learn it—the ability to recognize God and his revelations—through our journeys.

Excerpted from Broke by Caryn Rivadeneira. Copyright (c) 2014 by Caryn Rivadeneira. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

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