It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine.”
A few weeks ago, I sat with a dear friend who is walking through a deep and dark night of the soul. I listened and we cried and prayed together for a long time.
We prayed God would meet her in her need; we prayed God would meet the needs of her family and friends around her; and we prayed God would be the lifter of her head and show her the way for every step she is to take in the days and weeks ahead. And when we were done, and she was gone, I felt a definite and certain sense of peace, but I also felt a twinge of conviction and regret.
I was convicted because I realized that while I had prayed for many, many things for my friend, all good things, I had never once asked God in faith to heal the sickness in her body and soul irrevocably, once and for all. I had asked God to help her through her sickness; I asked God to help her in her sickness, but I never asked for full and complete healing right there, in that moment, as we prayed together.
And I was convicted because I believe in a God who heals. Dramatically. Instantaneously. Miraculously. But I think, deep down, I don’t believe He heals like that when it’s just me who is praying.
I saw my mom later that day and shared my heart with her about my time with my friend. I shared my conviction and regret about not asking the Lord for full and complete healing for my friend and about my hesitancy to ask God for such a big thing like that because deep down I believed He didn’t answer requests like that from people like me. He answers them for other people, more radical people, stronger people, more godly people, but not little old normal people like me.
And she just looked at me out of a heart full of wisdom, out of a heart who has prayed and fasted and believed and stood strong more than any other person I know, out of a heart whose prayers for people through the years has availeth much, said, “But Susannah, God has answered your prayers for healing for people.”
And one by one, she listed the situations over the years she knows I have struggled and wrestled and prayed through, the situations and people’s lives she knows I have begged and pleaded and asked God for healing for again…and again…and again…and she said, “I know that maybe God hasn’t healed the way you wanted Him to, and maybe you haven’t seen the miraculous, instantaneous results like you asked Him for, but God has chosen to heal, step-by-step, season-by-season, one day at a time.”
And as she talked, she reminded me that most of the time, that is how we see God choose to heal the hearts around us. Most of the time, He usually doesn’t heal in a flash or in an instant, although He certainly can. And when God does choose to heal that way, it is awesome and incredible and exciting and faith-building.
Bu most of the time, it’s step-by-step, moment-by-moment, situation-by-situation, season-by-season, one day at a time. And He does it that way to keep our hearts completely dependent on Him. She reminded me of how, in her own life, the circumstances that have been the hardest have been the most successful at keeping her completely dependent upon and close to God.
She reminded me that “God knows when to heal in an instant, and He knows when to heal slowly, over time, in the journey, so that our hearts become changed as we fall more deeply in love with Him. But God always heals in response to our prayers; it just looks different sometimes than we think it will or want it to.”
And her words changed everything. They reminded me that it’s not always a result of a lack of faith that God hasn’t healed in an instant every time I have prayed, but it’s a result of His sovereign, steady, unchanging will that knows what healing needs to look like in each and every person’s heart.
And thankfully, it’s not up to me to decide that. It’s up to Him.
A few days ago, I was listening to a song called “Rest in You” by the band Sons and Daughters. The whole song is beautiful, but there is one line that absolutely stopped me in my tracks and has been running through my head every since: “You cannot change, but You change everything.”
God cannot change, but He changes everything. This has become the anthem of my head and heart. We worship and serve a God who cannot change, who has not changed since before the beginning when He created heaven and earth. He is a healer, has always been a healer, and always will be a healer for those who come to Him to ask for healing. He is good, has always been good, and always will be good, and work all things for our good, no matter what seasons in our life ebb and flow.
And while He does not change in His character or goodness or ability to heal, He changes everything. He just does. Because that’s who He is. He changes sorrow to joy; He changes sickness to health; He changes death to life; He changes dirty to clean; He changes hopelessness to hope; He changes anxiety to peace; He changes pointlessness to purpose; and one day, He will change all those who love and long for the Lord Jesus in an instant, to redemptive glory through His unchanging love and grace.
Sometimes He changes things in a moment, but most times, He changes things step-by-step, choice-by-choice, day-by-day, season-by-season. He changes us from the inside out, with hearts made new by His Word, and with wills infused with His courage and the companionship of His Holy Spirit.
If you, like me, have held back on asking God for full and complete healing for a certain friend or a certain circumstance, and if you, like me, have had a hard time believing that God will answer your prayers because of a lack of faith or a lack of greatness or a lack of knowing how to ask, be en-couraged. Meaning, just like me with my mom, have courage poured into you. To keep on praying. To keep on asking. To see that our God is a God who heals because it is who He is, and He is unchanging.
Like me, you just might need to shift your perspective on how He heals. And remember anew that when you pray to a God who is unchanging in His desire and ability to heal, He changes everything. One step at a time.
‘Tis the season…’tis the season for Christmas shopping, getting your kids ready for Christmas recitals and Christmas programs, addressing Christmas cards, attending Christmas parties and events…and for going out of town. For Jason and me anyway. November is the month that holds both my birthday and our anniversary, so almost every year for the past sixteen years, we slip away either to a retreat in Houston or nearby San Antonio, and every few years, we actually hop on a plane.
This year we decided to hop on a plane and spend a long weekend in New York, only made possible by the amazingness of Mia, Nana, and Cara, my mom, Jason’s mom, and Jason’s sister. We booked our trip back in the early part of September (I think it was a knee jerk reaction to recovering from Hurricane Harvey and wanting to get the heck of out town), only to realize our trip was the weekend of our daughter’s ballet performance in the Nutcracker and of her full hair and make up dress rehearsal for her musical theater performance. Yikes. Translate all-hands-on-deck-thank-you-Lord-for-family.
Once everyone’s bags were packed and Lizzie’s two performance bags were ready (what in the world was I thinking saying “Yes!” to both performances when I signed her up for those in September?!?) and we were on the plane, I began to exhale.
I know this sounds crazy, but I love to go to New York with Jason because when I am there, I can exhale. Because when we are there together, we walk and talk. And eat. We walk and talk. And sip coffee. We walk and talk. And wander through museums. We walk and talk. And see shows and wander through shops and think and talk about things greater and bigger than ourselves, things we don’t have time or space to do when we are at home.
So yesterday, we walked and talked a full mile up the east side of Central Park bundled in our coats, breathing in cold air, savoring views of the reds and golds of the trees, and stepped into The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once inside, we stood under Byzantine arches, beheld a faded but tender statue of Mary holding Jesus, and stood in front of the famous French Christmas creche. But our favorite thing we saw was the exhibit, “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.” Containing 133 of his drawings, all done in red chalk on white paper, and three of his marble statues, the exhibit gave a unique glimpse into the creative process behind the creator.
We lingered long over drawings detailing arms, legs, the contortion and twisting of muscles in shoulders, backs, and even feet. Many of the sketches were practice rounds for figures he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or statues he carved for Pope Julius II’s’ tomb. His sketches seemed to be living, fluid, full of movement, and I was almost prepared for them to leap to life off of the paper, even five hundred years after they were drawn.
I was struck by many things that spoke through his sketches, but two things seemed to speak the loudest. One was how much he practiced. Michelangelo is known for his masterpieces, but the majority of his time was spent preparing for his masterpieces – drawing after drawing, stroke after stroke, round after round of try and try again.
As someone who works to create as well, this was encouraging. While my creative ability is nowhere near the celebrated genius (obviously), I understand a little bit of the strain and stress of the creative process. My tendency is to think that artistic giants did not have to try; they just drew or carved or composed or wrote and in one fell swoop – boom! – masterpieces came out.
But more and more, I am seeing that is hardly if ever the case. Even the best of the best have to spend many, many hours devoted to practice and cross outs and try agains before the finished product is ready or even ready to be attempted.
I needed that reminder as I attempt to start the first chapter of a book…for the fiftieth time. I have draft after draft of failed beginnings, and page after page of books that will never be finished or studies that will never reach an end.
But the second thing that spoke loudly to me was a comment made by one of the commentators on the audio guide Jason and I were listening to. She said, “If you look closely at Michelangelo’s drawings and sketches, his point is made as much by what he leaves out as by what he accents and fills in.”
Meaning this – as you stare at the cross hatching and swift, sure strokes that came from his chalk to create the anatomy of a leg, or a man’s biceps and broad shoulders, his anatomy comes to life not only by the strokes he choose to make on the paper but also by the areas he choose to leave blank.
And I was arrested by that comment.
Because in a season of life as a creator of the lives and schedules and rhythms and school routines of four young children, as a sometimes writer and blogger and teacher, as a friend, and daughter, and wife, as an advocate of ministries I love and people I want to help, the pictures I am drawing on a daily basis are made effective by what I choose to leave off of the paper as much as by what I choose to put on.
That was a relief to hear. Because I can only put so much on the paper. I only have time and room for so many marks.
And sometimes, my drawings speak the loudest by what I am leaving off of our schedules, off of our plates, off of our routines, by what I am putting on.
This time of year has the potential to be so special – there are opportunities to create family memories and family traditions and spend extra time together during the school break that the normal school year does not afford.
But there is only so much space or room allotted on the paper. And while I want to draw some things this Christmas season, I cannot draw all things. And the things I leave off have the potential to make the overall drawing more beautiful, not less. The key is figuring out which spaces to leave blank. Because when it comes right down to it, that is the difference between a master artist and a mediocre one…a master artist not only knows what strokes to put on the paper but knows what strokes to leave off.
So this week, the first week of Advent, the first week of the Christmas season, think long and hard about the strokes you will make to fill the paper of the next four weeks before Christmas.
Maybe it means some parties go unattended, certain gifts aren’t bought or wrapped, meals aren’t prepared perfectly, or homes aren’t picked up regularly. But it does mean your space and my space is filled well, and to those who are watching closely and to whom it matters most, what they will see is…a masterpiece.