Green Pastures

October 4, 2013

The other night, I went for a run. As I finished my exercise, I sat down on the homemade chair we have on our outside deck in front of our house. The last streaks of sunset lingered to the west and the darkness settled around me. It was a calm Autumn night, not too crisp. But I knew it might be one of the last evenings I had before winter set in and would require a heavier jacket in order to sit outside.

In those last few moments before my family arrived back home from their errands, I rested. It has been a busy few weeks. I have been absent from blogging due to the rush. Amid everyday tasks and special engagements, amid lay offs at my husband’s work and daycare woes for my son, I haven’t had much time to sit. To rest. To breathe.

I love being busy. I love being busy with things that are meaningful. And so it’s easy for me when the calendar gets crowded to relish the day-to-day that keeps me active. Despite my enjoyment of this sort of life, however, I have learned the importance of rest. Of reflection. Because even while I do things I enjoy, burn-out is a sneaky force that can ambush in surprising ways. I have reached a place in my life where I have learned to embrace the moments of rest of I given- to discipline myself to not reach for the iPhone or the laptop, to not worry that I could be doing something with this time instead of wasting in rest, fun, or play. I remember talking with my favorite theology professor and mentor about the importance of “taking time for the trivial” in the face of crisis or urgency. How this ability to respond and rest and enjoy the reflections of life is in fact a very faithful posture in a world that is very rushed and anxious and afraid. How the way in which we continue to live without the breakneck speed pushed upon us is a lesson in peace.

I loved that conversation. I loved and respected that professor. I still do.

In the past, I was someone who fidgeted whenever there was a moment of peace. I’m not the type to fill silence in conversations or worship- I personally like the natural spaces our conversations bring- but I was someone who had to fill the spaces in my time. If I was not working, I was not worthy. Or some sort of silly thing like that. I probably stems from my childhood, but I have no desire to explore that because it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. This sort of time, even filled with things I enjoy, is no way to really live. Even when we don’t know it- it kills us slowly. Makes us into people we don’t plan on being.

There’s a reason the Bible speaks about rest. And the imagery of a green pasture and still water stand out to me the most. Partly because I have been in green pastures and by still waters the last few years. It was there I learned the value of rest moments, the usefulness of rejuvenating time spent enjoying moments and spaces in our lives.

But I didn’t like when I arrived there. I arrived there haggard and weary. I arrived there broken and scared. And when you arrive in that condition, sometimes it can feel more like a prison sentence than a pasture of peace. In the face of a body ravaged by sickness and a soul tattered by the battles of the dark valley, with the loss of everything I knew and trusted, the green pasture felt much more like “being put out to pasture” than a gift.

And I didn’t want to be in the lushness of the still water with a God I didn’t know how to trust anymore.

I struggled at first. A lot. Afraid that somehow this was the end, this was where my world ended, my vocation died, my life was forever bound to the boredom of laying in grass and watching the water slip by. I felt useless. Unsure of my identity and unwilling to let go of the things in me that made me sure of myself. So for awhile, I resented this place of rest. It felt too forced. Too isolating. Too quiet. And there was always that annoying presence of God I wasn’t too sure about.

But then something started to happen. I started to notice how the sunlight fell in different patterns throughout the day. How the water sounded different at its various bends and breaks. How the colors around me danced together and the smells of this place filled me with the strange mixture of longing and hope. And that presence of God… even though he knew that I was wrestling with his goodness, he lingered near, never too invasive, but enough to make clear he was comfortable in my presence, even if I was uncomfortable in his.

This season of my life became less a prison sentence and more a place of finding peace. Peace with the dark valley. Peace with the theologies that had rooted long ago in childhood that needed to be exposed and removed. Peace with the God who had witnessed my faith shaken and yet stayed put, willing to wait patiently for me as I healed. Peace with myself and the unique ways I am made, the gifts I have, the calling I share, the future I am given.

Of course, that took time. That healing, that coming to see even the boredom as gift. I recently spoke to a colleague about this. He is only at the beginning of his journey- his time in the green pasture by still waters. He is trying so hard- so hard- to see it as gift, but he can’t. He has been hurt. He has been betrayed. He has felt abandoned. I know these things well. And he describes his arrival to this part of his path as arriving to a pasture “dead with brown grass, and the still water frozen over with the lifelessness of winter.”

But as he spoke I had to remind myself that even winter has an end, and somewhere below the frozen water, life still runs deep. In time he will see. This season for him is for healing, for rest, for reflection, for a chance to come close again to the God to keeps that space for those of us in need of his healing.

I realize now how important this season has been. Not simply to recapture my sense of faith and God and hope and life, but to strengthen me for the journey out of green pastures and away from still waters. Because soon, I think, the path will lead me somewhere else. I don’t know where. The road may be treacherous or dry or easy or challenging. I don’t know. But I do know that this time, I will leave markers along the way. Because I will need moments, spaces, days, to return to the green pastures of my Maker and drink from his still waters.

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