This morning's turned into a bit of a mess. Realised that I should have paid my credit card and yet couldn't locate my online password; was on a small piece of paper stuck to the fridge with a magnet that Katy likes to play with and isn't any more. Realised that I need a new tax disc for the car imminently and then while making an online application for that realised that the MOT is out of date. One of the children has written on the dining room table, Katy's room is such a mess that I trod on something precious when I went in there in the dark this morning to wake her, and I have a headache.
And it's raining.
And my coffee went cold while I was taking my car to the garage and locating the small slip of paper that contained the magic numbers to pay my overdue bill.
I know, I've been reading the daily devotional that emphasises the need for Christians to be efficient and methodical with their finances. I know. Stop reminding me. Usually it all trundles along, sort of, but just occasionally it gets derailed. Deep down I'm an organised person. Deep down under layers of confusion and apathy, that is.
Karen Carpenter sang:
'Talking to myself and feeling old
Sometimes I'd like to quit
Nothing ever seems to fit
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.'
I never knew Karen, but she was on my wavelength.
I'm off for a new coffee, a paracetamol and a scrub at the dining room table.
(Did you know that a combination of toothpaste and hairspray removes marker pen from laminate surfaces? I suppose you did. The wonder of the internet, and the wonder of twenty-first century chemicals. Our dining table is restored to its former glory. And the bookshelf.)
Right. I'm going to start this day again. If I could I would do so by returning to bed and trying again in a few hours but in the absence of that option I am going to flick a switch in my head and pretend that the last hour hasn't happened and I am gliding along like a swan, with poise and elegance. Never mind if my legs are going like the clappers under the water.
I'm going to focus on something positive.
I'm going to focus on something positive.
Yesterday was a strange day, Father. I was so depressed to begin with. The gloom had descended again and I was feeling very low. If I hadn't been doing the intercession prayers at church there's no way I'd have gone; I trudged in feeling very negative and all it took was a friendly face to ask me how I was for my eyes to fill with tears. Completely inappropriate with minutes to go before the start of a service in which I'm taking part, but you helped me pull myself together and hold myself there. The prayers went ok, I think, but what really woke me up was the sermon.
You spoke to me. I wasn't expecting it, or particularly in the mood for it, but you caught my attention.
Joshua 3 and 4. The Israelites are crossing the River Jordan to take possession of the promised land.
Now, I've never really given much thought to crossing rivers. It's dead easy. There are bridges. Big bridges to drive over, railways, viaducts, footbridges, ferries... sometimes I don't even need to get out of my car. But the Israelites didn't have these luxuries and an immense rushing torrent of water maybe a mile across might well have looked like an insurmountable barrier. So that puts a different complexion on it.
Still, Joshua knew that you wanted them all on the other side of the river. And he told them what to do.
The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant set their feet in the water of the river, which has overflowed its banks because it's in flood. It's a big, wide, fast river. Joshua has prophesied that you will stop the water from flowing so that they can cross. So they step into the water. I wonder if there was a
'No, after you.'
'No, I insist.'
sort of moment. But, Joshua said that you would take care of it. So they step in...
And you did. But you didn't stop the water right there, like the parting of the Red Sea - you stopped the water nineteen miles upstream. So, they stepped in, carrying this precious, heavy load, and they wouldn't have known immediately that they weren't going to be swept off their feet. They went in anyway. Surely the waters would have taken a while to subside as there must have been quite a lot of water in nineteen miles of Jordan, but they stood in the river and waited.
You didn't let them down. The waters subsided until there was dry ground. The priests holding the Ark of the Covenant stood there until every last one of the Israelites had passed by onto the other bank. That would have taken some time as there were getting on for three-quarters of a million of them, I'm told. They stood there, presumably in the mud, heavy burden on their shoulders, but standing firm.
So this was the basis of what Matt had to say.
1. I have to trust that you will do what you've said you'll do. The priests had to step into the water before the flood waters stopped. They had to commit themselves. Joshua said that you would hold back the flow and they trusted in you. They wouldn't have known that you'd honoured your side of the bargain for quite some time, but you had. You said you would.
So - all those times when I think, 'Where are you in this? I asked for your help and you're not helping me', it could be that you have built a dam nineteen miles upstream and I just haven't felt the effects of it yet. You may have done the work, but I am just not yet in a position to know.
2. I have to stand firm. If I feel as if I'm standing in mud with the tide against me trying to carry a heavy burden, then I have to just keep upright and be strong because relief is coming. Perhaps you have given me a job to do and I'm wavering and uncertain that I can carry on doing it - I should stand firm. Maybe the priests were tired and aching and needing a rest but there were still a few thousand Israelites still to cross. They stood firm.
3. Maybe I'm still on the river bank and I'm scared to put my toe in the water. Time to climb in. Time to step out in faith.
So here I am contemplating where I am in this scenario. Maybe all three? I definitely feel as if I should be taking a step somewhere but I've long been asking you which direction. Are you telling me that I should just step off the edge in some way? I've had so many questions about what you want me to do with my life and I've had ideas, some of which have just evaporated, some of which seem to be coming to nothing, and some of which (the most precious and fragile dreams I have) I have not even explored yet for fear of failing. In case they don't work. In case I make a fool of myself. In case I have to discard hopes that I've had for a long long time.
So maybe now's the time to put my foot in the water. And not in a dangly-what's-the-temperature-like-shall-I-shan't-I sort of way, but a wholehearted step-off-the-edge-into-the-torrent sort of way.
But you've said that whatever my own personal promised land, you'll get me there if I follow your lead. You've planned something for me and if I can only hear your voice, you'll guide me. So if you are with me, who can be against? If I hold onto you, you'll keep me upright until the waters abate. After all, you've made a dam upstream, if only I can wait for relief. If only I can trust that you'll do what you said you'll do.
Like they did.
And then at the same time as hesitating on the bank, I am stuck in the mud. At times lately I've felt as if the burden I'm carrying is far too heavy and I shouldn't have to carry it on my own. I've felt misunderstood, resentful, frustrated and angry at things that have happened and I've felt isolated and hurt. I've felt that the anxieties building up around me have grown to monstrous proportions and I'm no better equipped to cope than I've ever been. You told me on Sunday that I should stand firm. Sometimes movement is not required; I only need to stand firm and hold onto my precious burden, and fix my eyes on you rather than down at the mud. I'm playing to an audience of one. Stand firm until the job is done and then I can lift my feet out of the mud with a satisfying squelch and climb onto the bank. (Where, presumably, the priests had a bit of a break from carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Surely they sat down and put their feet up and had a snack while someone else took over then? The Bible is strangely quiet on these details.)
So here's the thing. I know that I'm vacillating a bit at the moment. I know that I've got some things wrong recently. I know that I'm filling my time with so many things that there is so little left for you. I know that I have so many unanswered questions and I'm constantly complaining that you don't speak to me when it's quite likely that you're there, just where you've always been but I just can't hear you over the background noise of my life.
I need to stop and listen. And then I need to get on with it.
Give me strength, Lord, and courage. Help me to believe more than I do now that I can step into the current and not be swept off my feet. Help me to believe that upstream you have made a dam and even if it doesn't feel like it straight away, you have honoured the step I've taken. I just need to find the courage to climb down off the safety of this riverbank.
Even though this bank is the wrong side of the river, and I can see where I want to be, and you've promised to see me safely across, I am hesitating. I'm not sure. I keep making excuses. I'm scared of committing myself. What if it goes wrong? What if I can't do it? What will people think? What if...
'And there they stood; those priests carrying the Chest of the Covenant stood firmly planted on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground. Finally the whole nation was across the Jordan, and not one wet foot.'
Joshua 3:17 The Message
I'd love to have seen that.
I wonder how this translates into what you want from me in my life. I wonder what my River Jordan is. I wonder what you want me to carry across. I wonder what you are doing upriver. Show me, Father, because I want to know. I want to climb in.