Join me for a woodland walk with the Lord in a time of guided prayer on Matthew 11:28-30.
“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and take courage; wait for the Lord!”—Psalm 27:13-14
“Patience is a grace as difficult as it is necessary, and as hard to come by as it is precious when it is gained.”—Charles Spurgeon
Patience. Perhaps when you were a child, someone older and wiser told you that patience is a virtue. Some of us seem to be born with an abundant store of patience. These are the people who lend us useful perspective and a healthy dose of common sense when we are near our wit’s end. Many of us struggle to have patience. We don’t like to wait in lines. We can’t abide the “traffic” that tourist season brings. We are always eager to move on to the next project. We don’t like to burn daylight.
Even the most patient among us has found the pandemic to be a tiresome challenge. First came fear and uncertainty. Then, there were slow months of waiting for a vaccine. Next, we had to allow time for more and more of the population to be vaccinated. Just when it felt that we were within sight of the finish line, a fourth wave of COVID-19 has us back in our masks and minding our social distance. We are ready for all this to be over and for life to return to “normal,” including our church life.
Like it or not, waiting is inescapable in times like this. The psalms and prophets speak of waiting on the Lord, a posture of faithful, quiet anticipation. Heroes of the faith, like David, Ruth, and Isaiah, were able to see that God was at work, even in the midst of hardship. These role models in the faith might have some sage words to help us in this waiting time.
Trust. When we remember that God has been at work in the past, it’s easier to trust that the Lord is present and active, here and now. Take some time to remember the ways that God has helped and blessed you. Then, consider your life now. Is there goodness of the Lord to be found amid the frustration of this waiting time?
Seek. Come into God’s presence through worship, contemplation, and study. Time constrained by COVID-19 can be time used to deepen your relationship with Jesus. Set aside ten minutes daily for silent, holy listening. Read your favorite devotional and ponder scripture from a fresh perspective. Make a weekly commitment to Sunday worship, at church or at home through gifts of technology.
Pray. The Lord is a wonderful listener. Let God know how you are feeling and ask for the gifts of peace and patience. Ask God to help others. From local folks facing big problems to countries with limited healthcare and vaccine access, this world needs prayer. When we make the loving commitment to intercede for others, we are reoriented. Our frustration and impatience are eased as we acknowledge the trials faced by others.
We may feel like we are at the end of our pandemic rope, but have patience, my friends. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and take courage; wait for the Lord.
“The principle part of faith is patience.”—George MacDonald
“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”—Isaiah 40:3
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” — Psalm 24:1
I know them by the carnage they leave behind. Pole beans spiral naked up the trellis. Day lily buds disappear overnight, stamens left behind like impertinent tongues. Hostas, reduced to sticks, march in mute protest up the shady hillside. Scat piles entice the dog to roll. A cloven print is left in the dark earth of the raised bed. The bark is scraped thin on the apple tree. Late at night, or in the soft, pre-dawn glow, they have made their visit while gardeners dream of fruitful harvests and dogs bark the muffled woof of slumber, legs twitching with the dream-chase.
The silence tells me they are near. Jays stop their bickering. The robin yeeps an alert and flutters out of the bath. The toad hunkers down in his hole with eyes closed, disappearing into the earth. Even the trees seem to stop their rustling summer song. The air grows thin and clear. The hair rises on the nape of my neck. I stop. Someone is watching.
There are two. I wonder if they are brothers. The older is recumbent, at ease, the master of the wood. His tan hide blends into the background. His elegantly muscled neck rises, sporting a fine head decked with a showy rack. Ten points suggest maturity, years spent one step ahead of the crossbow, the rifle, the hurtling onslaught of death by automobile. I’m not even enough of a threat to make him unfold his long, elegant legs and rise. Measured breaths swell his sleek sides. A swiveling ear flicks. Enormous eyes blink—once, twice.
The younger stands trembling and alert. His reddish-brown body ripples with muscles built by headlong dashes up the mountainside. He turns his head for a side-eyed view, taking me in and assessing the menace. His six-pointed rack tosses in protest. His white tail dances up and down, debating whether to turn and run or stand defiant. He raises his right front hoof. Briefly it hangs tenuous, then plumets to earth, again and again. A small bare patch is scraped from the dry ground to send a clear message. Stay away.
With bated breath and racing heart, I honor the threat and turn away. It’s back to the run or the dog walk or the visit to the neighbors. They say that deer are the deadliest animal in America, more than dogs, bears, sharks, and alligators combined. 120 people died of injuries sustained by deer encounters in 2015, mostly from car collisions.[i] An enraged buck can take on a hunter, rising on back legs to rain down punishing blows with hoofs that slice and bruise. That six- or ten-pointed rack is more than a showy chapeau. It can gore. It can pin you against a tree or to the ground. If it can take the bark off a tree, what do you think it might do to your skin? Don’t stop at their beauty to say, “Awww.” Don’t cluck and hold out your hand in greeting. Don’t feed the deer. Look away. Move on. Carry within you both wonder and fear.
They are safe within the village limits, where hunting is restricted for reasons of public safety. According to Wild Adirondacks, virtually all the bucks taken during the hunting season are young—three and a half years or younger.[ii] Half of those are babies, no more than eighteen months. On the far side of hunting season, winter comes. Ninety-one percent of their favorite forage will be gone, including my garden. They’ll be forced to dine on northern white cedar and hobblebush. In tough years, there is hunger and starvation. Predators wait. On the trail-cam of our friend Jack, a coyote crosses the camera’s eye with a fawn in its jaws. These aging bachelors are a miracle in more ways than one, worthy of quiet reverence—and a few bean leaves and lily buds.
[i] German Lopez, “You are way more likely to be killed by deer than by sharks, bears, and gators combined” in Vox, Sept. 24, 2016. Accessed online at https://www.vox.com/2016/9/24/13032272/killer-animals-deer-sharks-bears
[ii] –. “Mammals of the Adirondacks: White-tailed Deer.” Accessed online at https://wildadirondacks.org/adirondack-mammals-white-tailed-deer-odocoileus-virginianus.html
“Yet I am always with You;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me up in glory.”
As psalms go, it isn’t the prettiest. In fact, much of it is existential angst about the prosperity and popularity of the arrogant and wicked, which apparently was as commonplace in the Biblical world as it sometimes feels in ours. But sandwiched amid the despair and disappointment are two verse of sheer grace. The psalm writer describes God in tender terms. Like a caring guardian and guide, God walks with us, holding our hand and providing the wise words that are needed most. There’s a beautiful promise, too, of honor and glory to come.
Unless we live a very charmed life, we all have days when we could use a holy friend to hold our hand and whisper reassurance. At the risk of sounding like a whiney psalmist, I’ll admit that there are day when I wouldn’t mind being first in line for the cosmic handhold, even if my problems are universally “first world” and smack of privilege. I work too much. I minister to folks in crisis. I cry most days over the dog who died in January. I have a parent undergoing surgery. I’m so sick of COVID that my eyelid begins to twitch when I hear the possibility of new mask mandates. I live in an historic home amid an ocean of honey-dos (Please, Lord, let the bathroom be finished sometime soon). The slugs are taking over the garden — and the deer just ate my daylily buds, which were liberally sprayed with deer repellant last night. Really? That’s my moment of existential angst.
How about you? Take a second and let it rip. I won’t tell anyone.
But maybe today, amid the despair, disappointment, and Delta-variant, we can claim the psalmist’s truth: God holds our hand and walks alongside. Can you imagine it? Take a quiet moment. Place one hand in the other. Breathe deeply, use your imagination, and listen with the ear of your heart. God is with you, like a patient and loving parent; like your best friend from elementary school; like Jesus, who called his disciples his friends. Thanks be to God.