Drag myself out of bed. Sit at my desk. Swallow tea and a piece of toast for breakfast, already at work. Check e-mail. Answer the phone. Planning a major event; hours making contacts and negotiations. Edit a manuscript and message writing students. Shoot — I still need to write that article. Maybe I’ll get to it today, sometime before 2:00 in the morning this time.
With this article deadline on the horizon, I was living one of the busiest, most potentially overwhelming seasons of my entire life. Taking on challenges I never would have considered a year ago. Working 12-hour days. Juggling huge amounts of responsibility. In all of this, what did I want to write about? I knew.
Transcendence — rising above. Transcending this material world to the eternal truths that matter most. God is alive. Jesus rose from the dead. I am in this world, but I am not of it.
Life whirled on in a blur of meetings and conferences, speaking engagements, sales calls, press releases, driving hither and yon, editing, marking papers, blogging, answering e-mail. Constant demands and constant pressures. And all the time this teasing idea in the back of my mind, this article I wanted to write about transcending, about living on a higher plain than all this busywork, about doing the work as worship.
Not that I always, or even frequently, succeeded in that.
But here and there transcendence happened. Mostly it happened in the usual places. When I opened my Bible. At church singing worship with a small gathering of believers, all of us saved by God’s unspeakable gift of grace. In phrases of truth spoken between friends. In a glorious sunset painting the world maroon.
I felt in some ways like Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee, only my path was longer, stretching out to the far horizon. Every now and again I would begin to sink and believe that my life was all about water. But then Jesus would reach down a strong hand and pull me back to the surface where I could know that life was about sun, about wide and free air, about Him.
But the phone rings, and work needs to be done, and I’m sloshing down in the water again….
And then I got a call from my best friend and business partner, who I’d been living with for several weeks but had just left for Easter weekend. “What’s up?” I asked. “Haven’t you heard?” she asked. And then she choked up and cried while I waited, dreading, to hear what had happened.
Finally she could tell me. Her littlest sister, 10 years old, was in the hospital with horrible burns from an accident. They’d taken her up to another city in an ambulance. She was on as much morphine as they could give her. “Is she OK?” I asked. “Well, not really,” my friend told me.
It was Good Friday.
Earlier that day, I’d been with a gathering of extended family, and my aunt told us about her sister-in-law, who had recently been so ill her husband feared losing her. They were workers for the Lord, people who had given their lives to serving Him. She had breast cancer, and then surgery gone wrong, and a virus that nearly killed her.
At the time, I’d been struck by the incongruity of that story. Here we were, a family celebrating our many years together. Celebrating a holiday we’d always celebrated. Happy, successful, anchored people. Life as usual, a mix of the mundane and the exciting. Yet into our lives come moments like this. Calls from the hospital. People we love crying on the other end of the line. Injury and illness and the threat of Death, this thing that dogs our footsteps every day, every one of us.
This also is transcendence, if we will accept it. It is a rising above of the most powerful kind. Suffering is the hand of Jesus reaching down to pull us up higher. Truth never speaks so powerfully as it does in these moments when we face reality. When illusions crash down. When we know ourselves to be vulnerable. When life hurts.
At first we may not even recognize His grip. We are angry, hurt, confused. We lash out like animals in blind pain. We could fill books with our questions, our reasoning, and finally our lack of understanding — books, psalms, our own versions of the epic poem called Job. But eventually we quiet. Grace gets hold of us again.
Then we know, oh we know, that life isn’t all about these things. Not about the water crashing all around us. Not about successes and failures and busywork. Not even about the suffering, the ashes.
Life, finally, is not about this world at all.
Job was a man of God who lost everything for no reason he could understand; who suffered deeply but chose to worship God no matter what inexplicable grief came his way. His declaration of faith in Job 19:23-27 is one of the most incredible passages in Scripture: Thousands of years before Christ, before even the Mosaic covenant, before anyone had formed a Scriptural understanding of Christian immortality and redemption, this patriarch on his ash heap proclaimed,
Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
A Sunday ago we sang with loud and holy enthusiasm:
I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene
And wonder how He could love me
A sinner condemned, unclean!
How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!
That’s it, finally. That what life is all about. That’s why I can keep rising above the waves, can keep doing work without drowning in it, can finally do all I do for the glory of God. That’s why I can cry and scream and grieve and be angry and finally come away trusting more in God. Because our Savior’s love is marvelous, is wonderful. Because salvation is the song given us to sing. Because God is real. Jesus is alive. He rose from the grave — He proved that His love and His grace and His power is greater than our most painful experiences, questions, and heartaches.
Shortly before His death, Jesus told His followers that just as He was not of the world, neither were they. He was revealing His identity as the beloved Son of God, descended from heaven, and drawing them in to share in it. Drawing us into it.
Transcendence. So often I grow comfortable here, distracted in my busyness, secure in my surroundings. I forget that life is a vapor in the wind — that I am walking, not on solid ground, but on water.
Often, too, I am overwhelmed by the hardships that life can present. But comfortable or not, I need constantly to transcend circumstances. Why? Because I am in the world, but I am not of it. I come from a better world. I go to a better world. For a while, I’m living the reality of that better world — by faith — here.
So every day I open my Bible and read words of truth. They remind me of the transcendent realities, not so urgent but far more important than my to-do list, not so raw but far deeper than my hurts and pains. On Sundays I stand with other believers and sing my heart out to the God of truth, grace, and love, the wonderful, marvelous God who has redeemed me.
And when pain and suffering poke their way through the carefully woven fabric of my life, I stop, and I let their incongruity speak. I take the hand of Jesus and let Him walk me across the water in the reality that matters most: the reality of God’s presence, my redemption, and the coming day when I will see with my eyes that my redeemer lives.
Copyright 2009 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved.