Last week we found bag worms on our evergreen bush in front of our house. They are probably the grossest thing I have ever seen. They are really larvae that create little pods for themselves out of spit and the foliage from the bush they are eating. Individually they cannot do much, but collectively they can kill your plant in a couple of weeks.
I've wrestled with this image and how it fits into a broader context of my life. At first I thought it represented my battle with boredom this summer and the struggle to make meaning out of limited choices. But what I realized this morning while I was running is that there is a much more dire threat looming on the horizon than boredom and limited choices.
Since I've left my time at the Wesley Foundation, I've been careful to preserve in my heart the truth of this change. I totally believe it is the hand of God. I totally believe it is a gift of freedom to be enjoyed and lived into. I totally believe it is an opportunity to boldly and courageously follow dreams that I thought were impossible. However, transitions are rarely smooth, and God knows how difficult it has been. Especially the impetus that created the change. It would be so easy to dwell and ruminate on the parts of this transition that were unfair, to become bitter about the details. The temptation is especially strong when someone who doesn't know that my time at Wesley has been completed asks about it. So I try to focus on the joy of the new journey, the gift of this time with my family, the peace of knowing I no longer carry burdens that were hard to bear. It seems easier to turn away from those paths of bitterness when they present themselves because my internal reaction to the past is so different from that of looking into my future. The choice is clear, and I can choose to redirect my focus toward the future.
But I realized this morning there is another area of my life where this choice is not so easily discerned, where discouragement and hopelessness can easily take root, escaping my notice until I realize I have come to a place of despair that is hard to get out of. There are some things I have been asking God to intervene in for a long time, years even. It seems like my prayers have been useless and I would give up praying them, except that these prayers are a part of a deep and abiding love for a dear treasure in my life. I can't not pray, but it seems like my prayers have availed nothing. I so want God to show Himself. I so want to know how God is moving. I am so ready for this walk of faith to become a place of sight. I so want to know God cares about this need, and that He has a plan for resolving what is beyond my ability to help. I so want to know I can trust Him to be present in the need and to meet it in only a way He can. The lengthy discouragement and repeated disappointment seem to be robbing me of that trust.
And then I remember the bag worms. Often they are hard to notice because the larvae wraps itself in the very parts of the evergreen that it is destroying. So the bush or tree looks normal until the little buggers have completely taken over. Because they don't look alien to the host plant, one doesn't think to remove them. They look like they are supposed to be there. But in taking parts of the plant to make their pods, the stuff of the plant becomes the very thing that becomes part of its demise, if action isn't taken. The remedy is to remove the pods and treat the plant with something that will kill the bag worms. Oddly enough, one suggested treatment is quite simple. Soapy water. That's it. Ordinary soapy water.
As I was pondering this whole metaphor this morning, I began to think of how my longing for answers from God can easily turn into bitter resentment. And how deceptive this bitterness can be because it is wrapped in the very stuff of my love and longing. And yet, when I allow this unrequited longing to come between me and God, it becomes the very thing that kills the faith that keeps me alive. I am reminded of how crafty the enemy is, so deftly disguising evil in good, masquerading as an angel of light. I also love how beautifully the metaphor of remedy speaks as well. Just like the infected plant needs to be doused in soapy water, the best cure for doubt is a soaking, washing, Word.
Ephesians 5:26 says this: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. I love that God's Word has the power to preserve us as the radiant bride of Christ, without stain, wrinkle, or blemish. I so need that. My heart so needs that. I can't do it on my own strength. I need His. I need Him.
So I leave this moment no less confused about the predicament of my prayers. But I think I know which path now is the one to take. After all, the whole essence of this new journey I'm on is to take the road less traveled. For this time in this moment it means I must rest my longing on the strength of God's Word, trusting the efficacy of His Word to do for me what I cannot do for myself: to keep my desire to see Him holy and radiant, without stain or wrinkle or blemish, holy and blameless. Only God can do that. I guess I better get to soaking and washing.
This is me trusting,