Friday, March 18, 2016

Faith in the Dark: listening for God's voice


Last year I read Addie Zierman's memoir When We Were On Fire, which is about her years growing up in 90's Christian culture and her journey through alcoholism, depression and faith lost-and-found. I enjoyed the book very much, and I love everything Zierman writes on her blog because it is so truthful and heartfelt. This week she released a new book which I'm also looking forward to reading: Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. To commemorate the book launch, she's hosting a synchroblog on the topic "Faith in the Dark." This post is my contribution.

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 Today I had coffee for the first time with a new kindred-spirit friend. (What a gift to receive at midlife, when it might be tempting to think we've probably made all the friends we're ever going to.) We plan to read Dallas Willard's book Hearing God and meet periodically to talk about it. Today we didn't spend too much time on chitchat but just dived right in by talking about whether we've ever heard God speak directly to us.

I realized that while it's not a common occurrence for me, I actually have.

In the summer of 2014 our family's world tipped on its axis when my mom started feeling seriously ill, was hospitalized, and received a terminal cancer diagnosis days later. Richard and I and the kids were there at Mom and Dad's for our regular summer visit at that exact time, so we were able to be present to support Dad and keep other family members informed of what was happening with Mom.

It was a great relief when Mom was hospitalized because although she didn't have a real prognosis yet, we knew she was getting the care and treatment she needed. We'd had many anxious and sleepless nights up to that point, but now we could all go to bed with easier minds and get more rest.

One night, I heard my name being called and woke up. It was somewhere around 3 a.m., that deepest and (if you believe the rumours) most "spiritual" time of night. I thought it must be my dad at the door, calling me -- that perhaps the hospital had phoned to say Mom had taken a turn for the worse.

But I could hear Dad snoring all the way down the hall. Richard was asleep beside me, and Jonathan was quiet in his bed on the floor of our room. No one in the house was awake, except me.

I realized it must have been God who had called my name, and I lay awake in the dark for a long time, waiting to see if He had anything else to say to me. But there were no more words -- just the powerful feeling that He had awakened me to let me know He was there with us in this stressful and frightening time.

Over the next several days, two of my brothers arrived from the U.S. to add their help and support. One particular morning, my youngest brother and I drove to the hospital together. I felt lighthearted and encouraged -- the natural result, I suppose, of knowing the burden was being shared. We had a couple of errands to do first and did them in no particular hurry; there was no set time we had to be at the hospital.

But when we arrived at Mom's room, we instantly knew we had come at just the right time. The curtain was drawn around the bed, and Mom was sitting up alertly against the pillows. Our oldest brother was there as well, and the doctor was sitting on the side of the bed.

This was the first time we had met Dr. Rogerson. She shared a hospital practice with Dr. Ellis, who had been present for the past two weeks and whom we'd come to rely on for her daily phone calls and bedside visits. Dr. Ellis was the one who had told Dad and me that Mom had liver cancer as well as a blood clot in her lung; she was the one who had had the frank talk with us about Mom's "code status." I liked her reserved yet straightforward demeanour. Now, in keeping with the schedule of their practice, she was taking a couple of weeks off. I understood that, but -- because you always cling to what you know -- I missed her and wished we didn't now have to deal with a different doctor.

I needn't have worried. In a warm, gentle voice, Dr. Rogerson began to review Mom's case with her, and with us. She told Mom she had multiple cancerous lesions on her liver. "We can't cure it," she said, "but we can give you the best possible life now." She explained how a physiotherapist and occupational therapist would get involved to help Mom regain some strength and mobility. When she mentioned "palliative care," she said she understood those words could sound ominous, but that they meant Mom would have support and help throughout the whole process, whether she was at home or in hospital. I can't remember everything else she said, but I remember the warmth of her voice and the way she conveyed both the gravity of the situation and a sense of comfort and reassurance.

The doctor asked Mom if she had any questions. Mom said no, and then her eyes welled up with tears and she said, "It's just so good to know."

I never asked Mom if God had said anything directly to her about what she was going through -- if He'd called her name and reassured her that He was there with her. But at that moment in her room, I could see the depth of her faith in her calm acceptance of what was happening and in the way she embraced the truth. And a month later He would call her name, take her hand, and lead her over the threshold into the next world.

I don't think faith in the dark -- or in the light, for that matter -- is something we do. It's not a set of pious feelings we manufacture or statements we affirm. It's listening for the voice of One who loves us.

Maybe sometimes, faith means we wake up to the sound of God saying our name -- although I can't say from my experience that that's a common thing. (Perhaps there are others who experience that all the time.)

Maybe sometimes, faith means we shake our fists at God, challenging Him to show up and give an account of Himself in this broken world.

Maybe sometimes, faith means we wrestle with Him out of our desperate desire to be blessed by Him, like Jacob in the Bible did.

And maybe sometimes, faith means we accept the circumstances of our life with serenity and calm, like Mom did -- hearing Him in the solemn-yet-reassuring words of truth spoken by a doctor.

What matters is that we keep listening.

To me, that's faith.



14 comments:

  1. Beautifully said, Jeannie. That we keep an ear tuned, pay attention to the quiet ways God makes His presence known, keep our face turned to Him even when we don't understand, yes, I agree, this is faith. Peace that passes understanding. Thanks for sharing this. Miss her so.

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  2. "What matters is that we keep listening."

    I think that's one of the hallmarks of faith, Jeannie. No matter what we're going through - good or bad, easy or hard - we listen for God as he speaks into our lives. Listening doesn't come easy for me, and I confess I don't listen in every moment, but I eventually come back to listening for him because He's never left me.

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    1. I agree, Tim; I'm not always in that listening stance either. I get worried and angry and my own voice predominates. But I think always coming back to that place what's important.

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  3. That was lovely, Jeannie. I have been enjoying "The Listening Life" by Adam McHugh. Highly recommend. I am so thankful for your writing gifts and that you share them.

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    1. Thanks so much, Melody. Is McHugh the "introvert church" guy? I haven't heard of the Listening Life book, but I'll check it out.

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  4. As per the usual, a wonderfully gentle and profound reflection!
    And I'm reminded, too, that the very first word of St Benedict's Rule is ... Listen! Indeed, one might say, listening is the very heartbeat of every monastic community and spiritual discipline.

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    1. Thank you, Bill. So nice to have you here today. :-)

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  5. Beautiful. Loved this: "I don't think faith in the dark -- or in the light, for that matter -- is something we do. It's not a set of pious feelings we manufacture or statements we affirm. It's listening for the voice of One who loves us." So perfectly put. Loved hearing that story. Thanks so much for linking up, Jeannie.

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    1. You're welcome, Addie -- and thank you for creating this opportunity. I wish you all the best with the new book. I know I'll enjoy it.

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  6. "I don't think faith in the dark -- or in the light, for that matter -- is something we do." Beautiful. Thank you, Jeannie.

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    1. Thanks so much, Liz. I really appreciate your coming by to read and comment!

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  7. Thank you for sharing and commenting on my blog. Yes, you have had your share of grief too. Soon after my cat died I woke up one night sure he was on my bed. I cried and cried. But maybe that was God's way to telling me that God was with me in my grief. That he loved my pet even more than I did. I never forgot that. I am almost done with that book by the way (willard), and it is excellent. He is a wise man.

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    1. Hi Amy Jean: Thanks so much for coming by to comment. I love that idea of God showing you He's there by making you feel like your cat is still with you. That's a bittersweet gift, isn't it?

      So you've read Hearing God? I've only finished one chapter. It's not a quick read -- so much to think about on every page.

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