Save me, O God,
For the waters have come up to my neck.
My eyes grow dim
With waiting for my God.
Psalm 69:1, 3b
A lot of people could identify with the Psalmist who feels that he is sinking into a mire while waiting for God to do something, anything, to rescue him. Sometimes our life experiences propel us into such dire circumstances that we feel completely overwhelmed, and we can hardly imagine that God will actually do anything to help us. We know we don’t deserve any help, and we remember when our parents warned us, “Don’t come crying to me for help.” We go to worship on Sunday and recite the Creed, saying over and over, “I believe …” but in our heart of hearts we wonder. We doubt. We question. We say things such as, “Sure, Jesus fed five thousand with a few loaves and fish, but look at this huge problem! He isn’t going to take this one on. It would be crazy to think God might do something about my big problem.”
We act exactly like Martha. She and Mary had sent for Jesus when Lazarus got sick, but he did not arrive until after Lazarus had died. Both sisters greeted Jesus with accusations thinly veiled as faith statements. Each had protested, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They believed that Jesus could have healed Lazarus before he died, but they considered death to be final—irreversible. When Jesus stood before the tomb and ordered the removal of the stone, Martha protested as if Jesus had somehow forgotten, or maybe did not know, that dead bodies have a terrible odor. Her protest expressed complete despair that there was anything left for Jesus to do. Like the Psalmist, Martha had wearied of waiting for God. Yet, when the stone was rolled away, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Mary and Martha saw the situation as final, written off, dead, but Jesus was able to act and turn things around in a way that blessed people as no mere healing could possibly have done.
I recently had a similar experience.
We crossed theGulf Streamto cruise theBahamas this winter knowing that we had a situation. We believed we knew how the situation would work out, but we were wrong. We had replaced our diesel engine last summer, and when our generator failed 300 hours after it had supposedly been repaired, we believed we could use our new engine to keep our batteries charged. It was new, and we believed it would be reliable. It was. The new engine did not fail; the starter failed. An engine that cannot be started cannot run. One morning we discovered that we could not start the engine, we could not charge our batteries, and we were in the southernBahamaswhere it was no simple matter to order and receive a replacement part. On top of that, weather had closed in that prevented us from even starting the order process for three days.
To manage without charging our batteries required extreme measures, but even those extreme measures were not likely to work more than a week. Certain minimal things had to work. We had some water, but it would not last forever. We could use purchased ice to keep food cold for a while. We could use flashlights after dark and only turn on the radio when needed for weather or emergency communications. Nevertheless, we faced two serious problems: 1) our location at a remote island in a foreign country meant it would take a long time to receive a replacement part, and 2) after we had installed a new starter we could not possibly start the starter if the batteries had been depleted during the long wait. We could almost imagine how to order and route the delivery of a new part, but what would we do about the batteries?
I felt myself sinking in the mire along with the Psalmist.
This situation was discouraging, frightening, and even angering. It is exactly the kind of problem where people start thinking, “If only ….” If only we had replaced the starter when we replaced the engine. If only the generator had not failed before the starter failed. If only we were someplace where more direct shipping options existed. If only we could carry batteries to shore in the dinghy. If only ….
I started praying, and at first my prayer asked God for specific things. I prayed that our anchor would hold during the three days of high winds. I prayed that the vendor would have the part we needed when we called. I prayed that vendor would work with us cooperatively, because we have experience with this vendor that made us fear otherwise. I prayed for a good option for shipping that would deliver the part to us right away. In other words, I prayed my shopping list and my project plan. I prayed that way for three days, but the more I prayed, the greater my consternation. What if God didn’t want to do what I wanted? Was it possible God would decide we needed to grow some character and suffer before he acted and did what we wanted? I mean needed. I mean – well, that is when I began to think about the way I was praying. Like Martha, I thought I needed to tell God what to do for us and when to do it.
I remember the feeling that I was trying to give orders to God, and that worried me. What if God got mad at me for being so pushy and demanding? That was scary, even scarier than the prospect that the starter would not start. I almost went into a panic. I couldn’t even pray right. Could I do anything right?
Then I remembered a meditation a friend had shared with me years ago. It goes like this:
Be still, and know that I am God.
I needed to remember that God is not like you and me. He is God. God is love. God cares for us and shows his lovingkindness all through our lives. I could recall how grateful we had felt as we cruised, because God seemed to have provided everything we needed in every way. God didn’t fail us when the starter failed; it was a risk we assumed and we dared to accept it.
Be still, and know.
Don’t doubt God. You can trust him. You can count on God to do what is good, even what is best. You don’t have to know how it is all going to work. You simply trust God to do all things well. You don’t need a shopping list or a project plan for God.
Oh, I needed this. I was frantically working my feet and working my nerves. Frenzy was a good word for the way I felt. I thought about the gift of peace Jesus gave to his disciples on the night one of them betrayed him. He could see horrors I can’t even imagine ahead of him, yet he gave them peace. I allowed him to give me peace as well.
Just be. Don’t dash madly off in all directions. Do not take ownership of this problem you can’t begin to touch. Just be. Let go of your need to control the planning and the definitions and the analysis and the outcomes. Just be.
The most important thing about this experience was the word “trust.” I believed all the things in the Creed, but my behavior and my attitudes did not express trust. I had faith, but I didn’t trust God to do it right. I was so busy telling him what to do and how to do it that, like Martha, I almost interfered. It wasn’t easy, but I quieted myself and took into my heart the truth that I can trust God. I anchored all my expectations in trust that God would do all things well.
First, we needed a cellphone in order to place and follow up on our order. We discovered that we had to travel 60 miles roundtrip to acquire one. Just as we had absorbed this fact, a woman stopped and hailed us, we didn’t hail her, and she offered us a ride anywhere we wanted to go. Before our whole adventure was over, she had driven nearly 100 miles in order to help us do other things beyond merely getting a cellphone and ordering a part.
Second, we needed a way to charge our batteries so we could have lights and refrigeration while we waited, and oh, by the way, in order to be able to start the new starter when it arrived. We had an appointment to visit by radio with friends in another anchorage. When they learned of our problem, they offered to lend us a portable generator until we could get our part installed, and our new friend with a car drove us another 100 miles so we could pick up the generator.
Along the way, because I had accepted God’s peace, I had some wonderful experiences, and they aren’t over, I am sure. I had tea with lovely ladies at the Ladies Friendship Club. We had dinner with an interesting couple and were able to share with them where to find pink flamingos, a dream of theirs. We attended church and heard a great sermon. We were invited to ride to a future service in the church bus (We are going to be here waiting for a while). We met other local people who share our faith and who welcomed us warmly. We have a lot of new friends we only met because we were waiting for the Lord.
The Psalmist had his moments of despair. He was human, just as I am. But he didn’t remain in despair forever. He had moments of great ecstasy, because like me, the Psalmist learned how to really wait for the Lord, how to wait in faith and trust and peace.
The Psalmist did, indeed, say, My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. But he also said,
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
For my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
My fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
My mighty rock, my refuge is in God.