Last week, I posted a paragraph or two about the differences between a pilgrim and a tourist. It is risky to live as pilgrim - it takes courage and faith and an openness to be led both internally and externally. Ultimately, with such a posture, the path opens to us and we begin to notice: All of Life is Sacred and All of life is Gift.
In my book, unhurryUp! into Easter: A Lenten Pilgrimage, I share the Pilgrim's credo that my own Franciscan Spiritual Director passed along to me. It has been a valuable, ongoing reminder to me of what is really most important as I walk with God in this life. Over the past week, I've been sharing some thoughts about each of the five statements in the Pilgrim's credo. If you'd like to lean into this more, I humbly ask that you'd consider purchasing my devo in the Kindle store (by clicking the link to the right.) Here's the credo:
I am not in control
I am not in a hurry.
I walk in faith, with hope
I greet everyone with peace
I Bring Back only what God Gives
It is amazing to me that I can "interpret" almost any situation to make it give me what I want. I can so easily make up stories in my heart and mind about my husband, my friends, the people in the "audience" listening to me, and even God. I, like many, think God is "for me" when things go my way and "against me" (or that I've done something terribly wrong) if things don't go my way. I, like many, struggle when God doesn't behave how I expect. Please tell me I'm not alone.
About a decade ago, on the heels of a debacle of a church split gone bad, I was completely devastated. From the ashes and dung heap in which I was sitting, slowly some hope arose. I felt this invitation by God to write. So I did. I began freelance writing and editing. I worked on some great projects and one day, my friend, Robin Jones Gunn, who also happens to be a best selling author of ninety - yes you read that rightly, nine zero, books, said, "An acquisitions editor friend of a major publishing company is coming to town and I want you to write up a book proposal and give it to me so I can hand it off to him." I was so new to all this and so poor that I didn't even know what a book proposal was or how to do it - so I headed to a brick and mortar bookstore (remember those?) and pulled a book off the shelf to learn how to do this.
I also immediately emailed friends to pray for this opportunity.
My friend Jan Meyers - Proett, another author and speaker and kindred poetic soul, with whom I've had the privilege of leading worship and praying with in some of her Allure of Hope conferences, got my email and wrote back saying, "I know that editor. I'm going to email him and tell him to take you to lunch."
Ha! When I got home from the bookstore, there was an email from said editor awaiting me. "Paula, I hear I'm supposed to have lunch with you while I'm in Portland. How about...?" And we set it up!
At said breakfast, the acquisitions editor AND the VP of the publishing house sat down with me. I gave my pitch, and though the VP was skeptical, the AE guy said he wanted to take a look. I handed over my materials and within the week they set me up to work with one of the most well-known editors in the business...she had worked with the likes of Brennan Manning, Max Lucado and Mike Yaconelli, among others. And this, all, by the way, was on their dime. The editor, Don, told me: "We like to do a lot of work on the front end so by the time it goes to the publishing board, it has a 95% chance of moving forward."
As I shared this story with my writer friends and at writing conferences they all said, "Oh my goodness - wow! That's amazing. This NEVER happens. God is so in this. You're too green to know that this NEVER happens. Wow, God is in this!"
And here I was getting all giddy, "I caught my lucky break!"
After some really helpful (and difficult) work with the famous editor, and on her approval and okay, she said, "It's ready, send it off." And I did. It was like releasing a feather into a blustery breeze - I had no idea where this would land and I had some apprehensive frolic within me. But, as all my friends kept telling me, "God is in this!"
Two weeks later I got the letter: "Paula, we appreciate all your hard work on this. At this point, we think that this would make a nice article for Christianity Today, but honestly, we don't know how to sell 'empty.' "(The working title of my book was "Empty Hands" based upon a C.S. Lewis quoting Augustine quote: God gives where he finds empty hands.)
I was befuddled. I mean, wasn't God in this? Didn't he invite me to write and open these amazing doors and provide these amazing circumstances to launch my writing career? Being in the 5% was NOT the statistic I was hoping for. I mean really - when 95% of the others who are in my shoes get through...ugh. I couldn't believe God would be "in this" to have me in the 5% pile.
Eventually, I drew up my courage to grumble to God: "I thought you were in this!?"
I heard a gentle whisper, "I am."
Wincing my face and wagging my head, "For a rejection?"
What do I do with this?
What do I do when God doesn't behave how I - or the many others around me - expect?
What do you do?
In hindsight, I know that the book I will write (and am currently living) will be much better...because I have been transformed through responding "yes" to the invitations God has given to me. I've stepped through the doors, I've faced (and continue to face into) my fears, I have wonderful companions that cheer me on and challenge me. God was "in this" for a rejection. It sounds harsh. Yet, I am slowly learning that the stories I make up in my mind about how God (or others) "should behave" only cause distance and dissonance in my life. God is God. I am not. It is mine to believe that all is gift from a Generous Hand...and to bring back ONLY what God gives...even when it is a rejection.
Think over the moments of your last week (or even your life) - what were the moments, the touches, the whispers of "more" or "different" that you experienced? As you think about entering into this new week, ask God, "What are the things you are giving that you want me to carry into this next week?"
- Is it a different action (like pausing more often to breathe deeply - or - noticing what you say about yourself to yourself when you are in a hurry/frustrated)?
- Or is it a breath prayer: "Lord, I trust you." "You are with me" "Yes"
- Or an attitude: "I will be willing." "i will be gentle" "I will be open."