“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you” Isaiah 54:10
So….. I may have fallen down a manhole last night. Sadly, I’m not kidding.
It was late, and I was parked in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Nervous about getting a parking ticket, I had almost moved my car about five times over the course of the evening, but each time had gotten distracted and forgotten. Eventually, it was too late to bother.
Now it was after midnight, and the neighborhood was quiet, save for the distant occasional whoosh of late-night drivers on the main road. I walked quickly but gingerly to prevent my heels from clacking loudly on the sleepy pavement, keys interlocked and jutting from my fingers until my car was in sight. To my relief, no tickets mocked me from my windshield and no muggers stole my purse. All potential dangers had passed.
Or so I thought. Approaching the car, I briefly considered the acrobatic trick where you enter through the drivers’ side door arms first, shoving purse, bags, etc. onto the passenger seat before making the quick twist to sit, hopefully landing squarely behind the steering wheel, having avoided a head butt to the rear-view mirror or a game of Twister with said bags and the gear shift. But, it was late and I was tired. Acrobatics were for busy afternoons and speedy get-aways. I had time.
I stepped onto the curb by the passenger door, inserted my key into the lock and BAM! The ground collapsed. Suddenly, I was looking up at the key in the door, one leg dangling free into recesses beyond the iron ring I straddled, the other awkwardly shoving my knee into the space between the corner of my jaw and my right ear. A gnarled tree root pressed mud into my palm. I felt a bit like Alice, halfway on her way to Wonderland, one leg down the rabbit hole, the other awkwardly stuck in the reality of this world, caught between the unlikely and the mundane. Alice at least got biscuits and tea with the Mad Hatter for her trouble. My unwelcome adventure left me muddied and bruised.
As I drove home, having extricated myself from the manhole and trying to soothe my throbbing dignity with hopes that no one saw, I wanted to be angry. But, who to blame? The city of Washington for placing a manhole on a quiet neighborhood curb? My colleagues for not showing me where to park? God, for somehow not alerting me that danger lurked near the passenger side door?
It occurred to me then how often we expect God to keep us from every potential harm. We praise Him loudly when we, or our loved ones, are kept safe in the face of physical danger, are healed from painful diseases, or are financially rescued in a crisis. We base our perception of His love for us on our circumstances: God kept me safe – He must really love me. More than that, we measure our love for Him on the same scale: How could I love a God who would allow me to be ill, injured, or heartbroken? Can I trust a God who would let me fall (down a manhole)? It seems that sometimes our entire spiritual lives are reduced to asking for God’s favor (read: a comfortable, stress/pain-free life) and judging His character on whether we receive it or not. If life is good, God is good – if life is hard, God doesn’t care.
The problem is, God is not my fairy-godmother. His role in my life is not to wave His magic wand over the rags of my circumstances so that they disappear in a cloud of sparkles, replaced by ball gowns and glass slippers, morphing my everyday self into the belle of the ball. For too long we’ve been convinced that if our mice were only stallions and our plain old ordinary garden gourds sweet rides instead, our dreams could come true. We expect happily after to be just around the next corner. And we get mildly irritated when it isn’t.
The truth is, life is hard sometimes. We get unexpected news, unexpected frustrations, unexpected holes lurking along the curbs of our otherwise well-ordered lives. We prepare for all contingencies (parking tickets, muggers), trying to guarantee safety, never once thinking a manhole may lay under our next step. Then suddenly, we’re down on the ground and dazed, gazing up at the world from an all-together awkward angle and wondering what happened.
What happened is that God, while legitimately concerned about my health, wealth and happiness, is actually more concerned about who I am than what I have. I'm going to fall down sometimes, whether by my own doing or by circumstances I can't control. God is still God if I do. Whether my life is a fairy tale or whether it resembles a dark and twisty rabbit trail, I don't run to God simply for Him to wave a magic wand. He's not a fairy godmother. He’s the Prince.
He’s got a Kingdom to run, a long-term vision for me and for those around me that far exceeds my understanding. He makes His love known to me the way lovers do, in the little things. Tiny heartfelt gifts – a breathless kiss of sunset, a diamond flash of light dancing on leaves in the afternoon - timely words whispered from His Word to my heart just when I need them. If I look for Him in the realms outside of circumstances, knowing that He meets me there, I need never doubt His presence inside the hurts that come, whether He exercises His authority over them the way I expect Him to or not.
There are days He pours His blessings over me and I stand breathless and dripping beneath the torrent, worship rising and bursting in response. There are days when life collapses beneath me; worship is still the appropriate response. Hard times come – it’s the way of life. The point is, God is good either way. His reputation does not rest on my circumstances. He is good when I fall down a hole and He is good when I sidestep it neatly. Mud and bruises do not challenge His character - they challenge mine.
My life is spent seeking Him, Himself, not simply His blessings, because the sacred tender knowing of His heart is what gives me the ability to rejoice when life is good and to mourn with hope when life is not. I am confident God knows what He’s doing. He has His Kingdom in hand, and I cannot possibly understand all the intricacies involved. My everyday me is being transformed into the belle of the ball, but My Prince does so from the inside out, and He’ll use whatever it takes to uncover the beauty He knows is there. Sometimes He uses ball gowns and glass slippers, and sometimes, just a manhole will do.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." -Romans 8:38-39