It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent. Jeremy Taylor
I cannot fathom existence without divine life support. It is overwhelming to manage the mundane, much less the fear of the what ifs and what might actually occur to go without.
One of my sons once quizzed me on my faith. He is in college and had recently taken a Comparative Religion course. Wanting to answer him honestly but not sound preachy, I took time formulating my answer. Finally, it came to me and I said, “Because I like it and it works for me.” I could tell he wanted to debate the subject but my simple explanation warranted none.
I understand everyone’s need to question and find their personal faith. I also understand it is everyone’s right to choose. As I once read, “God is a gentleman. He won’t impose Himself on anyone.” This is true. I just hate for people- especially my loved ones- to miss out on this marvelous, mystifying, meaningful power source.
Watching my children suffer, hurt, or struggle is particularly painful. While I can intercede with prayers and support, I cannot force or impose my faith onto them. It’s their free choice. Their quality of life and ability to dig deep down within is completely out of my control. I won’t stop praying for the Holy Spirit to disturb them some, however.
Traveling to Israel recently, it stuck me how very simple Jesus’ message was. It has been man and our interpretation of His message that has created the complications of religion. So, I don’t talk about being “religious” but rather “spiritual.” People are created so complex and unique it’s no wonder there are so many ways to worship. I don’t judge anyone’s choice as God is a big boy and can handle meeting us all where we need Him.
To boil it all down, I was driving this week and was behind a car with a bumper sticker reading “If you have breath, speak LOVE.” I would like to practice more of that.
Staring at 4,000 year old ruins bent my mind into a new shape. I was literally walking through the Old Testament. Item one on my bucket list was checked off. I was finally in Israel and on a pilgrimage through the Holy Land.
It seemed the timing was perfect and I felt drawn there. Having declined an opportunity to go years prior, I decided I wasn’t letting this chance go. One of my sons wanted to go too so we signed up together. Classes were attended in preparation and 9 months of anticipation followed.
The first day we overlooked azure waters of the Mediterranean while sitting in a Roman amphitheater- otherwise known as the “Vomitorium.” Next door were palace ruins of the Roman Centurions. Pontious Pilate was one. Progressing inland from Israel’s coast, we traveled through time going back four millennia. The toppled remnants of ancient cities whispered their stories both sad and shocking. One site, Megiddo, was a layer cake of ancient city upon city that literally stacked on top of the other. The valley below was Armageddon and we wondered if all would one day end there?
Our guide was unusual in that she comprised the last remnant of Christians living in the Holy Land. Less than two percent are left in all of Israel, including Palestine. She shared that when she asked her mom why they stayed when others moved away, her mother said, “We have to stay. Otherwise there will be no more living stones in the Holy Land.” That saying inked itself on my heart. I realized as a Christian, I also am called to be a living stone- wherever that may be.
The landscape of Israel was glorious as wildflowers in brilliant yellow, red and lavender peeked between ancient stones. The lush, green valley of “milk and honey” was blooming with fruit and olive trees. I could easily understand why it was the “Promised Land.” Israel was achingly beautiful.
Our sacred site visits included history and geopolitical lessons that increased our understanding of the past and present. Scripture readings added to the spiritual significance of each location. The Bible suddenly became three dimensional. Stories were no longer fable-like but tangibly real. All of a sudden I wanted everyone I knew with me. Instead, I did the next best thing and posted pictures each day on Facebook.
Our schedule was extremely tight allowing for little rest. It did not matter, however, because as our guide said, we were pilgrims, not vacationers. Rain was a mere inconvenience and didn’t stop the day’s schedule. Danger was never a concern — the most dangerous thing about Israel was walking while looking down at your phone. You were sure to trip or fall over something if not paying attention. No, I was not once scared and yes, I will go back, God willing.
My “aha” moment occurred while in Jerusalem. I was down in the Sacred Pit where Jesus was thrown after being wrongly convicted. He was beaten, deserted by all His friends, and thrust into a pitch-black, cavelike prison. He must have fallen 20 or more feet against the cold, hard stone. All of a sudden His pain, suffering and loneliness hit me. HE KNOWS, I realized. HE FELT EXACTLY HOW WE DO BUT WORSE…I began to cry and couldn’t stop. (I am not a cryer, for the record.) Recognizing He felt every imaginable human suffering and knowingly went through it all gave me gratitude beyond measure. It was comforting to know that even though He experienced extreme, human suffering, He loved us enough to die on the cross. He became the ultimate sacrifice and sin was defeated. There was nothing left to fear, I realized! My heart nearly exploded with gratitude.
Once we reached Golgotha, tears dried as I knew the triumphant outcome. Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, nor would He ever be. He arose and ascended to be with His (and our) Father. The stone, skull facade of Golgotha peered at me but I didn’t feel dread. I had received the hope-filled message. I needed to bring Israel with me and become a Living Stone.
Picture this- You are driving down an unknown road and there aren’t any signs posted along the way. Potholes aren’t blocked, there’s barely highway lines and you can’t tell where you are. You have no idea if you’re driving to your destination because there aren’t any town markers. It’s pitch black because there is no light other than your dim headlights. You are creeping slowly along, wary of an animal potentially darting in front of you. There’s no indicated speed limit so you are constantly afraid of getting pulled over. There are no directions, no safety measures and you don’t know your way.
Finally, you spy a gas station ahead that has bright lights, and a stocked store. You feel relieved and a sense of normalcy. You are sure that you can get help finding your way. But when you ask the clerk about directions, they end up giving you directions to the wrong place and you end up even more lost than before.
Continuing on, you travel to another exit that has a run down old store, poor lighting and a dozen animals loitering around. You feel like there’s no way this place can help you but you stop anyway. The old gentleman is kind and scrawls down directions for you. You decide he can’t possibly be right because he seemed like he might not really have known what he was talking about (based on his surroundings and appearance). You toss the directions in the back seat and drive down a different winding road instead. This time you notice your gas gauge is low and realize you have the more immediate problem of fuel. Not finding a station, and getting very concerned, you let out a tiny desperation prayer to find a gas station because you are officially scared.
Finally! There’s a huge, well lit truck stop with everything a traveler could possibly need. You go in, take a break, get something to eat and ask someone where you are. They happily tell you your location and you are shocked because you never anticipated being there. You thought all along you were going somewhere else. But, you feel relieved to finally have fuel, rest and food. You have everything you truly need for your journey. You ask directions and the person gladly hands you a map and draws clear directions for you to follow.
This is what life can be like. The unmarked road is life. The first gas station is the attractive, seemingly good resource you look to in difficulty but get misdirected because they also don’t know the way. The second is the godly person you are too wary of to trust because you don’t identify with him. The gas gauge is your soul in a troubled situation. Your small prayer is your last resort. The mega gas station is the church where you found good people and refuge to help you and the map is the Bible. Jesus is the attendant at the mega gas station that welcomed you immediately and gave you clear directions.