Someone very dear to me has been struggling with unrelenting disappointment that never seems to fade. They raised the question recently, "What is wrong? Why is this happening?" Their question perplexes me as much as it does them. I wish I had answers, but I don't. But I do have a picture.
Last weekend was Bowling Green's annual hot air balloon festival. My family and I hurried to the airport so that we could see the balloon glow on Friday night. For a few moments all the balloons ignite the fires that send them high into the air during daylight hours. Safely tethered to earth at night time, their inner glow paints the darkness with vivid color. It is so beautiful to me.
I've thought so much about balloons in the days since. Hot air balloons were made for flight. It seems unnatural for them to be grounded. Why have a balloon glow anyway? Random beauty seems pointless, especially at night. The practical side of me thinks of all that fuel wasted on "looking pretty." Yet the metaphor lover in me sees a deeper meaning.
For as long as I have been a pastor I have shared a simple message with everyone God puts in my care: God loves you; God has a purpose for your life; as you walk with God that purpose will unfold. As His children we were created to live that purpose in joy, to exercise those gifts with intentional abandon to the unique design and plan He has for us. In essence, we are meant to fly spiritually, to taste the joy of living into the person He made us to be. Most of the time this is our vocation, our calling. Life is good, even amidst challenges. Our outward vocations validate our inner being with meaning. Everything feels worthwhile.
But then there are seasons when it feels like God's purposes for us have been thwarted. No matter what we do, it seems that all around and within is frustration and turmoil. Each day we struggle to do the right thing knowing that our heart is not in it, but we do the right thing anyway. There is no joy, there is no peace. There is just the orderly march of dailiness that grinds away at our sense of self. We long for meaning. We cannot see how our lives are making any kind of difference. Our inner experience is just one long stretch of yearning for something more without any hope of deliverance. And oddly enough God seems to be the One orchestrating our misery. For some reason we seem to be tied to the ground at just the time when everything within us wants to fly. What purpose could there possibly be in that?
Here is where the metaphor speaks the most to me. Just like those hot air balloons were designed to sail through the skies, we were made to serve God in just the unique way that He designed for us. And it is a wonderful euphoria to be doing that. But it is impossible when a hot air balloon is sailing through sunlit skies to see the fire that lights it from within. Especially when it is so far away. I think this is how some people on the outside of faith see those of us who live faith from the inside. We seem to be disconnected from "real life" by a God who makes everything better. The phrase "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good" comes to mind. For the unbeliever, who might be interested in knowing more about God, how could he or she ever relate to someone who lives in a place so high and lifted up when their daily existence is flat, deflated, painful? How can we ever be approachable to those who need hope and grace the most when "real life" fails to penetrate our joyful soaring?
It seems to me that God speaks most powerfully about His ability to lift us out of darkness and into hope through the personal example of a believer who is also immersed in darkness yet has His Light shining through. It is truly beautiful. Can the glow be sustained for long periods of time? No. But enough to keep the balloon inflated so that others can come close. So that they can see that we are made out of the same material. So that they get a glimpse of God's Glory shining forth out of another life as ordinary as their own, perhaps planting within them the desire, and the hope, for the same inner Light that allows them to fly as well.
I believe our seasons of being tethered to the earth are temporary. I still believe God loves each one of us, that He has a beautiful and perfect plan for our lives, that as we walk with Him that beauty and perfection will unfold. I STILL BELIEVE. I know it is true for you dear one. I know it is true. Yet sometimes we find ourselves tied to the unrelenting gravity of earth sitting in darkness when all we want to do is fly off into the sunshine. I believe He gives us those times for reasons we cannot comprehend. But a couple of those reasons are becoming clear to me. First of all, sometimes this is the only way we know that our flying power comes from Him alone and ultimately has nothing to do with us. Without His Light within we are simply deflated and flat. Without His release in our lives, we cannot go anywhere. Second, our grounded-ness may not have anything to do with us at all and everything to do with that individual who needs to see a real live example of someone who is filled with God, yet not so high and lifted up that they are scared away from the life of faith. It could be all about bringing good news to a hungry heart that cannot receive it any other way.
Many years ago my husband was a youth leader. One weekend I got to attend the retreat his group went on. The night we stayed over was beautiful and clear; we decided to take a moonlit stroll to the lake. Once we got there the place was lit up with fire-flies. Tim decided to make an impromptu lesson out of it and challenged his students to live life like those fire-flies, with their butts lit up for God, sharing His light and love wherever they would go. The challenge still rings true today. We can get mad at the darkness and give up, or we can let His Light shine, casting beauty far into the night. A life of beauty has benefits. We never know whose deflated hope it will ignite.