Last Sunday, my first cousin twice removed became restless in church. Let’s face it, who hasn’t, especially at age six? Ah, you’ve settled in, listened for ten minutes, then alarms ring that surely things should be winding down and yet on and on goes the sermon.
“How much longer?” he asked his parents. He used his big boy voice and it seemed reasonable, well placed and important. They ignored him at first. “How much longer? I’m asking a simple question?” he repeated, a wee bit louder this time. Did I mention they were sitting in front, just a few rows away from the minister? I’m guessing that the minister might have stopped and answered his simple question too. Finally, realizing that his plea was continuing, his father responded quietly, “Ten more minutes.” “What?” the decibel level rising slightly once more, “What did you say?” “Ten more minutes.” And with that it was full meltdown time, the answer not being one that was preferred, ten minutes being an eternity, his feet started scuffling and then kicking, accidentally coming into contact with more than the pew. I’m guessing it was at this point that he lost privileges to play video games and was taken from the sanctuary. DId I mention it was the day before he starts first grade. Probably the most stressful, angst filled day of a young boy’s life?
I wasn’t there. But knowing this young man, who is the light of my life, I think I may have joined in the fray had I been there. Stood up, kicked my feet, waved my arms and beat my chest and shouted, “How much longer?” And I bet his mother could have joined me also with a little kicking of her own. Who knows, maybe at least half the folks in the congregation have a similar question to raise with our Lord.
This little boy is intelligent enough to know that on Monday he is going to have to sit from 8am to 2:15pm and he just doesn’t want to sit ten more minutes on Sunday. It’s life or death to him and he’s asking a simple question that requires not just any answer but the answer he prefers, demanding not just with his voice but with his feet.
I have turned to God and asked how much longer? HOW MUCH LONGER? Wondering as I sit on my cushion meditating or unloading the dishwasher and finding myself short of breath if God’s plan for how long can possibly adapt to mine.
And if we were honest, if we weren’t so well behaved, so restrained, trying frantically to train little boys to behave also, we might kick and yell out loud in the sanctuary with him. “I asked a simple question and I want the right answer now.” Truthfully, I think God would prefer the honesty of my little cousin to the well behaved organized complacency of the rest of the congregation. Don’t you?
It’s an interesting dilemma for the church and it’s parishioners, isn’t it? “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” Daniel 9:3 And isn’t that what Jesus did in the Garden the night before the crucifixion when he moaned, “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” I bet if we had been there we might have even heard him raise his voice and stamp his feet when he walked back to find the disciples all asleep; exasperation, defiance and disbelief at their betrayal.
Much the way my little cousin feels betrayed when he is asked to sit too long, be it ten minutes on Sunday or six hours on Monday. Very much the way I felt when the nurse practitioner felt my breast, congratulating me on only three more chemos and the doctor came in a few moments later and added four extra. Much the way my cousin’s mother feels when an insurance company denies her claim for a life saving procedure. Or a parent who gets a call that their beautiful talented healthy daughter got meningitis on Wednesday and died on Saturday. Or a parent gets a call that there has been an overdose and a child could not be resuscitated. Or a man gets layed off from his white collar job after 19 years. Or a friend goes on a simple bike ride, slips and splinters her leg in so many places they nearly had to amputate and a year later she is still suffering. And we haven’t even started to ponder Israel, Palestine, the Ukraine or Iraq. On and on we could go, couldn’t we, listing sufferings on earth?
We all hope for transformation in this world. And I have infinte trust in a God who seeks reform through suffering and disease. The Bible tells the story over and over of suffering yielding transformation. Even if it isn’t God’s plan and He suffers with us as we raise our pleas. Our struggle against suffering is necessary for transformation.
When God created the tree of wisdom and allowed humankind to eat of the tree, he created choices, between love and hate, life and death. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Genesis 28. Change my name dear Lord and change my little cousin’s too. Bring us to our knees and make us yell out in church our deepest desires for healing and release. Let us rise to the top, putting crisis behind and becoming something better every day. Surrending and bending our wills to God’s wisdom and forsaking our own we are “crucified with Christ” and yet alive in Him at the same time. (last paragraph inspired from Streams of the Desert, August 20) If you don’t believe me, just ask little E. He knows.