"'I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies... Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.'" (Amos 5:21, 23-24)Well, dang. That's not quite the reading you're going for as you're preparing to go to your religious assembly, wherein you will hopefully take part in some noisy praise. Where are all those "good onya for going to that there church, missy" verses? I swear, sometimes I think I got the wrong Bible. I can't find those pat-on-the-back verses anywhere.
I posted it on Facebook, I was so ticked. How's a girl supposed to start her Sabbath on that note? Stay home? Back to bed? Neither of those would set to rolling "an endless river of righteous living," though I can throw one heck of a pity party.
So I, err, pretty much ignored it. I got in the car with Julie like usual, and we drove to Dunkin Donuts like usual. I got my coffee like usual, and we pulled onto Broadway--only to see a woman standing in the median, tears streaming down her face. Julie was in control of the car as we stopped at the light, but both of us were arrested by her. Julie rolled down the window, and the woman asked if we were going toward the mall. "No, sorry," Julie said, real regret in her voice, and pointing to the next side street, "We're just going up to Highland." The woman broke down, and got only a half sentence into her story before Julie cut in. "Get on in, we'll take you."
For the sake of privacy, we'll call her Ariana. She got in the van and we rode the 15 minutes over to the mall to bring her to her clinic appointment. And along the way she shared some of her story with us. It's the kind of story that hurts just to listen to, both from it's emotional pain and the knowledge of how common it is. She still loves him, and that's the problem. It makes his eruptions of rage, his financial recklessness, his infidelity impossible to take on their own. It's easy to wish a Hollywood plot line on her--to picture a late-night car ride with the kids sleeping in the backseat, a cool welcome from estranged parents, a job at a diner to get her back on her feet. But life isn't that cut and dried. She can't leave him--not only from logistics (where does that car come from, or the gas money? and what about those kids that are legally his?), but because she loves him enough to choose to stay. She knows things would be better--for her, for her small children, for the third that's growing inside her--but she can't break from this thing that is still, in bits and broken-off pieces, occasionally good.
This post isn't about Ariana. Not really. We gave her a ride, and we dropped her off at her clinic. Julie says she's called the church and gotten help before, and will likely do so again. I've prayed for her often in the last week, knowing nothing else to do.
But what caught me in all of this--in the midst of my imaginings of diner jobs and new starts--was how very much this is all of our lives in the absence (or the less-than-complete lordship) of God. We convince ourselves that things, while not all good, are good enough to require our sticking to the status quo. We can justify and excuse everything from abusive relationships to financial hardship to general apathy, all because this is the life we've come to expect. To think there is more is childish naivete. We are people of the wider world, and we've heard the backstories on all the superheroes, and have come to know that there are no saviors. We save ourselves, or we continue to drown.
And all the while--even in the midst of our reasonings and hopelessness--there is a God who drew us together, who designed us and breathed life into us, who authored the miracle of creation, in the abyss of space and in our mothers' wombs, and He wanted so much more for us than what we've settled for. He wanted us to live with passion and abandon, to pursue worthwhile adventures and invest in healthy, restorative relationships. He listens as we list out everything that's wrong and every reason why it can't be fixed and His heart breaks at our blindness. He shows off in every way He reasonably can--through creation, through the love and compassion humanity is still capable of, through a book of poetry and story that doesn't settle for patting us on the back but cries out for us to live outside of normal and comfortable. He could step down from the clouds and show Himself as "real," but for what? Is it still love when a hand is forced? He calls us to a life of purpose and truth, but He asks that we choose it for Him, not just for what He can do for us. Like any lover, He longs to show love and grace and understanding, to improve and better and benefit His love, but in order to do those things He must be chosen for the sake of love alone. He alone can pull us out of the most complicated, entangling circumstances, but with our eyes on the tangles alone, we stand no chance of rescue. We are hopeless, we are caught in a pattern, we are certain that the bits of love we occasionally see make the rest worthwhile, and we wait it out, convinced that we have it the best that we can hope for.
I ache for Ariana, for the place that she has found herself in, for the trap she is caught in. I wish there were a way for me to step in and save her, but that is not--at least at the moment--the role God has for me. He may use me or someone else, but He alone will be her savior, as He alone was (and continues to be) mine. I pray for her as I pray for myself: that we would see not only what captures and ensnares us, but also--more than that--Who can set us free.
"I prayed to the LORD, and He answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to the Him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces...
No one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned."
- Psalm 34: 4-5 & 22
"'There is no other god who can rescue like this.'"
- Daniel 3:29