Karen Carpenter sings:
'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.
Here's a thing. I found myself exploring the book of Joshua in the Bible. I started out searching online for cuddly walruses (surprisingly hard to find) and then, link by link, I found myself reading the book of Joshua online. Walruses to the Ark of the Covenant.
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... most of the time 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 imagine they're not that keen.
'No, after you.'
'No, I insist.'
'I went first last time.'
But, Joshua said that you would take care of it, and they believe him. So they step in...
And take care of it 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.
This is what I scribbled down:
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.
Oh, Lord, so much of this year is about TRUST. It's my word for the year and, blimey, you've taken me at my word indeed. I'm trying, Father, I'm trying.
2. Am I standing in mud with the tide against me, holding on to a heavy burden? I have to stand firm.
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.
It's hard work, and I'm not very good at suffering in silence, am I?
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? What does that mean, exactly? I'm good with metaphor and analogy, but not so good at applying it in any concrete 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 properly explored yet for fear of failing; in case they don't work and I make a fool of myself. In case I have to discard hopes that I've had for a long long time.
But I'm afraid, and I have so little energy.
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, back in the book of Joshua.
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 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.
I hear you telling me 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 MessageWell, not one wet foot, apart from the brave souls who stepped out first, now standing with their feet planted in the mud, Ark in their arms, thinking, "Get a move on. This thing's heavy and my feet are freezing."
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 have the courage.
I want to get to the other side.
*Rainy Days and Mondays, The Carpenters, 1971, A&M Records