The Quiet Miracle

I remember the feeling well. The perfectionist, people-pleasing part of my personality was fighting to have just one more small victory. Just tell them, I told myself. And I so wanted to.

It was my sophomore year of college and I had the awkward task of telling my small group I could no longer go on the mission trip we had planned for part of winter break. The thing is, I didn’t have a neatly packaged answer as to why. Instead, a knowing slowly grew over time within my spirit, telling me quietly, but confidently, that the trip was not what God had planned for me.

It’s not God’s will for me to serve Him on a local mission trip? I had a hard time coming to terms with that. Even more, I had a difficult time officially leaving the group because there was also another lesson at play here: God also didn’t want me to explain why.

Did I mention I’m a people pleaser? Because this one small part of obedience to God felt like it killed me inside. I worried about what people would think of me and where my heart was if I abruptly left for no reason.

An explanation would have helped me to feel justified before my friends and mentors. And that’s exactly why God wanted me to keep it just between me and Him. In truth, the only reason I craved justification is because of my pride, my worry about what others thought about me. In this circumstance, glory to God rested in the quiet obedience between Him and I. I needed to know and trust that pleasing God was enough.

After informing the leaders of my decision, I returned home for winter break with lingering questions and frustrations. I didn’t understand how this could possibly be a good thing.

A few days after being home, I got a call from a close family friend who needed me to drive her to the hospital. She was in, or at least nearing, her third trimester.

I don’t remember how long we were there, but I do recall sitting in the waiting room and feeling a rush of gratitude to God. I was, and still am, grateful I was able to be there for someone who means so much to me. Thankfully, this story ends well, but it may not have. We never really know how things will pan out; in this instance, I just felt humbled to be someone that others can depend on. I’m thankful my obedience to follow the Lord’s leading gave way for an unexpected blessing.

After returning to campus the following semester, I so longed to explain myself once more to the friends I had bailed on. It would be a way to glorify the Lord, to show how He works, I told myself. But still, deep inside I knew it was a way for me to clean my slate and try to justify myself. It’s now been five years since this all took place, and I’ve only shared the truth of what happened with a couple of friends.

I still struggle with people-pleasing, but when I do, I try to remind myself of the unexplainable sweetness that comes from choosing to obey God’s leading, even if no one else understands, even if no one else even knows.

Jesus exemplifies this time and again throughout the gospels. He lived a life of holy obedience to the Father at all times and in all circumstances, from the public square to the temple, even alone in the wilderness.

During a recent rereading of the Book of John, I was struck by the quiet nature of Jesus’ work in his first miracle on earth.

John 2

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Did you catch it?

In this gospel account, the bridegroom gets the praise for having accomplished what was really the work of Jesus. This was Jesus’ opportunity to say, “Hey, here I am! This is who I am. Look at what I’ve done.” But he doesn’t.

Only the disciples know what has taken place here. And they believed.

When He calls us to it, may quiet obedience be enough for us as we walk with Him.

The Hope of a Future Song

On January 1, we said yes to forever with each other.

On March 24, our city shutdown, effectively saying no to everything else. At the time, we lived nearly 50 miles from each other. In the new world of stay-at-home orders and face masks, it felt like 500 miles.

Now barred from going anywhere but the grocery store, I projected my dashed hopes and dreams of this would-be-wonderful year into planning our July 26, 2020 wedding. 

And then as the “two weeks to stop the spread” slowly morphed into one month, and then two months, and then three, I didn’t know where to place my hopes anymore. 

Could our wedding day even happen as we planned?

If not, what should we do? 

Will they give us our money back?

What if we scale back? And if we do, how far should we go?

Will our immediate families even be able to attend under the current orders? 

The one thing I hoped would bring me joy became a moving target.

Maybe for you it’s the hope of a new or perfect job, the relationship you’ve always wanted, the education or lifestyle everyone else seems to have. I’m convinced we all have that one thing we’re reaching for. 

Even more than that, I’m convicted that it is all in vain.

It’s no coincidence that around the time quarantine began, I happened to be studying the Book of Ecclesiastes. The paradoxes found in this book of the Bible helped me to embrace the fleeting nature of my pursuits while also encouraging me to find meaning in each moment.

Ecclesiastes teaches us that life is hevel. That’s Hebrew for:

  • vanity
  • emptiness
  • transitory
  • unsatisfactory
  • breath
  • delusion
  • vapor

 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
What does a person gain for all his efforts
that he labors at under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-4 (CSB)

As much as I tried to hold on to my wedding as a source of joy during this uncertain season, I was reminded again and again that life itself is uncertain, a vapor, temporary.

The things we look forward to, the things we reach for, can vanish so quickly.

This is a sobering truth. What do we do, how do we live in light of this?

Here are a couple of my reflections:

Enjoy the gifts of each moment.

The fact that life is short and fleeting does not take away meaning from our everyday experiences. Rather, this truth should encourage us to find more joy and meaning in our day to day. This requires a paradigm shift in how we view ourselves, our role in the world and the story God is writing.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 (ESV)

The brevity of life doesn’t take away from the truth that it’s still a gift.

Remember the big picture.

In instances where joy or meaning are hard to find, as followers of Jesus, we have the future hope of glory. As my dear childhood pastor always said, “this life is a dressing room for the next.”

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)

Ultimately, it is keeping an eternal perspective that has given me the most heart as I prepared for this new chapter. I’m so grateful for this future hope. Unlike the things I am tempted to look forward to or put my trust in, I know that my God is good, faithful and trustworthy.

“In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we learn that ultimately in this world there is no finished symphony.”

Karl Rahner

For the believer, Karl Rahner’s words are a comfort. Ecclesiastes teaches us to enjoy the music now with the hope of a future song.