God marks the way home with the bread of his Word.
I don’t know when the realization came that my priorities were off. I’d had inklings before and even after a disastrous number of years, I still didn’t clue in that I needed to change. I wish, as a human race, we could mature faster than we do, that our wisdom and ability to follow through wouldn’t show up just as our bodies are starting to give out. Am I the only one who feels like life has just begun and I’m almost in my 50’s?
It was a verse of scripture that flung open my eyes and revved up my heart, causing a sharp intake of breath. I had read it over and over and it finally bore a hole in the great wall of Pollyland. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This verse comes on the heels of Jesus exhorting us not to fret about stuff, as some are inclined to do. I knew the verse; I never thought to ask myself if I was doing what it says. In the stillness of awakening, I knew I wasn’t.
I’ve never been a person with a plan, preferring to wander, to dance, to float through life and see what happens. Though this may smack of freedom, those who live this way seldom arrive anywhere. It’s a life of endless sampling without ever purchasing the product. If I really wanted to know God, to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, I would have to do something. It wasn’t just going to happen to me, but I had to make it happen. Obedience requires action.
I started by focusing on His word. In the past, I would eagerly scarf it down in generous helpings and then I would go for days, weeks and months without, starving myself, hampering my communication with Him. If I was going to seek Him, I needed to be faithful rather than frenzied or noncommittal. I needed some sort of reminder this was the path I chose, a visual to spur me on. I copied the picture of Red, from Shawshank Redemption, heading out under the hot sun into that field, looking for whatever his pal Andy Dufresne left him. I captioned it with Matthew 13:44 which says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” I put it over my bed and whenever I entered my room I would see it and ask myself, “Did you seek the kingdom today?”
We had an old bible lying around, a translation I wasn’t familiar with and I began to read the gospels with fresh eyes. Certain scripture verses took hold of me and I felt the urge to “write them on the doorposts of my house” (Deut. 6:9). I began looking for interesting, artistic pics to fit the words of scripture capturing my mind and heart. Thankfully, my husband is not unduly concerned about the decor in our bedroom, because the wall across from my bed looks like a crazy quilt. I’m surprised at how much joy this practice brings and I read through the verses daily for inspiration. I’ve committed many of them to memory.
One of the first verses I chose was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I picked a whimsical photo of flowers in soft pastel hues, because it resonated with joy. After working on it for a while with no satisfaction, I abandoned it to work on other verses where success was more forthcoming. Not wanting to leave it out, I returned to it, scanning the images I already collected. There it was. A lone woman clad in a long, dark coat, walking away into a forest of naked trees, rotting leaves scattered about her feet. The whole scene is dark, but for a smidgen of light in the background and the red, polka dot umbrella the woman is carrying. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before. Maybe it was because I was seduced by the word joy. Everybody wants to be happy, right? Yet, this verse is not primarily about joy, but about joy in all of life, not when joy comes naturally, but when it’s hard to find and to choose. It’s an outlandish standard, surely not meant for the average person, but for nuns and monks married to God, cloistered away in sanitized piety with no other concerns than washing their shiny faces and pleasing their master. It couldn’t be for those of us with sick children, aging parents, wayward spouses, lost jobs, mental illness, addictions, bad hair days, zits and blubber, could it?
The more I read the Word, the more I meditate on this verse and others, the more I’m convinced of my inability to live the life Jesus calls me to on my own. Philippians 2:14-15a says, “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that you will prove yourselves blameless and innocent, children of God without reproach…” I laugh at this. Is this even possible? My cynicism is showing. His ways are most certainly not mine, but the funny thing is, when scripture is etched on your brain, the Holy Spirit brings it to mind wherever it applies. No more feigning ignorance, or following your heart, which is mostly selfish in its impulses, or going with the flow. No, the Holy Spirit is there dogging you to do the right thing.
There was an incident the other day and the Spirit flagged it with the above verse and it was all I could do to stay quiet. The idea of biting your tongue is not far-fetched, because a bloody mess is what it would’ve taken for me to shut up. I wanted to rail at the injustice of it. I felt it was my right. The Spirit called for grace and, in the end, I had none of it. I’m ashamed to say, I erupted and not just once. The word spew comes to mind. Complaining is something that builds on itself, like layers of old, garish paint. The avid complainer’s eyes narrow and darken and the face puckers up like an old kitchen witch and the world turns sour. This is not what God wants for anyone. It’s a miserable way to exist and it’s not how I want to be remembered.
I chose to deliberately disobey that day and returned home feeling discouraged and defeated. Did I go crazy-eyed mental and rip the scripture verse, that vivid emblem of my failure, off the wall, tearing it to shreds while sobbing and drooling, resigning myself to being an ogre of a human being, unfit for sunshine, daffodils, and Skittles? No. It was tempting, but, you see, there are other verses I’ve discovered in my seeking, besides those overwhelming ones, that speak as powerfully, if not more so. Jesus said in Matthew 19:26 that “all things are possible with God” and he was talking about salvation, not about something as everyday as controlling one’s impulses. If his Spirit lives in us, he’s promised to produce good things; “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”(Gal. 5:22) His word also tells us Jesus understands, having been “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.” (Heb. 4:13) 2 Peter 1:3 assures us that, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Do you remember when Star Wars first came out? I was 11 years old, living in Detroit, when my brother and I went to see it. We were obsessed. We had all the action figures and spent hours drawing the characters, especially cute and quirky R2-D2. It’s funny what remains of all that devotion. I regularly recall the scene where R2-D2 projects a message from a desperate Princess Leia.
“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi,“ she pleads. “You’re my only hope.”
I’m her, without the cinnamon buns on the sides of my head, because we can all agree that was a mistake. I’m on a mission and I’ve exhausted my resources. I’m failing, stumbling, falling, crawling, walking, wandering, dancing, floating, and sometimes running toward God and, in those moments, when the following seems the hardest and I feel the most hopeless, it’s then I must remember who it is I put my hope in and go, not to the force, but to the Source. “Help me, Jesus. You’re my only hope.”
Complete the experience. Listen to Brandon Heath’s Whole Heart.
Posts come out every Monday morning, a poem every third Monday. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to receive notifications of my posts via email. Follow me on Instagram username: pollyeloquent. Thanks for reading. 🙂