Friday, February 26, 2010

Step Away

She got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. (Exodus 2.3-4)

Too Big to Hide

The virtual faith community is an extraordinary thing. Since plunging into this sea of witness, my life has been enriched beyond compare. Particularly during Advent and Lent, the ability to zoom around the planet without leaving my desk has blessed me to experience them through numerous perspectives. This Lent has been especially rich. Daily I’ve come on a thought that arrests my spirit in new and challenging ways. Last Monday, Fran’s blog There Will Be Bread lit up with her post, Making My Way to the Reeds. Referring to Moses’s mother placing her infant in a basket and hiding him in the Nile’s reeds, Fran wrote:

There are things that we can't toy with, adjust or fix. We just have to let them be, let them go, as it were. I tend to suck at this, but you never know. There's always a first time. In the meantime, I am down by the river's edge, making my way to the reeds.

I’ve not been able to shake this image all week. I keep returning to Exodus, reading the story again and again with new messages surfacing every time. It starts with a population explosion. The Jews are exponentially increasing, raising the likelihood of a slave rebellion. Pharaoh orders Egypt’s midwives to murder every Jewish boy-child at birth. But Hebrew women are hardy and self-sufficient. They deliver without assistance. After Moses is born, his mother conceals him for three months—until he’s too big to hide. His cries are too loud, his needs too great, to avoid drawing attention. His mother gradually accepts she must let him go. While there’s no promise this will spare his life, holding on to him all but guarantees he’ll be killed.

A Method to Stave Off Madness

Releasing her child no doubt rips this mother apart. Yet she’s canny enough to understand if her selfishness led to his murder, she would lose her mind to guilt and grief. She invents a method to stave off madness. She unseals the baby’s fate by giving him to God. She crafts a waterproof crib out of a basket, lays her son in it, and wedges it in the Nile’s reeds. Then she does a most amazing and wise thing. She steps away and leaves Moses’s sister to see what happens.

Any number of horrors could befall her child. He could topple out of the basket and drown. Crocodiles or other predators could devour the baby. An Egyptian could spot the child and kill him on the spot. A strong current could sweep him downriver. None of these is far-fetched; any of them is likely. Moses’s mother knows even if she’s standing by, she’ll never get to her child in time to save him. Once she lets go, she has no choice but to trust God. But given the kind of kids she raised—Aaron, Israel’s first great priest, and Miriam, the jubilant, faithful servant of God—something tells me this lady has every confidence her son’s life will be spared. After she lets go, she doesn’t hang around to get in the way of God’s plan. (She has no idea how grand and essential His plan for Moses is!) She retreats and waits for her daughter to tell her how God honors her trust.

For His Sake

Fran’s post and its Moses story dovetail with Jesus’s half-dozen or so “leave-it-all” statements looming in the back of my mind since Lent began. To be candid, I find them disturbing for their nasty slant. When Jesus says we can only follow Him by leaving parents, siblings, children, and holdings behind, the “them-or-Me” undertone feels contradictory to His character. Matthew 19.29 takes some of the edge off His vehemence with an incentive: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Yet even in this more positive setting, it seems like Jesus asks too much—until, like Moses’s mother, we make our way to the reeds.

Find an allegedly 100% functional family or relationship, and I’ll show you people stumbling over lumpy carpet. Conflicts and crimes are inescapable when we live together. Sooner or later problems that shouldn’t arise in the first place prove too big to hide. We’ve got three options: live with them until they consume us; pretend everything’s fine; or stave off madness by heading for the river. Placing our families in the reeds is basically the same as leaving them to follow Christ. Both require we let go and step away, trusting God for their safety and removing possibilities we’ll interfere with His plan for them.

Jesus never indicates we leave families and possessions behind for our good. We let go and step away for His sake. But we should know anything we do for Him benefits everyone. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” He says in Matthew 25.40, telling us when we do this, He’s pleased to welcome us to His kingdom. We let families and friends, past, present, and future problems go for Him. Once they’re His, He does with them (and us) as He wills. May this Lent be a milestone for each of us, a season of letting go and stepping away.

Epilogue

The story of Moses’s mother ends with a marvelous twist. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the child before any harm comes to him. She asks his sister if she knows whose child he is. The sister—showing early signs she inherited her mother’s wisdom—demurs, saying she knows a Hebrew woman who can nurse the baby. Moses is returned to his mother, who now plays a critical role in God’s plan for him, rather than bungling it by hanging on. Letting go and stepping away doesn’t mean all is lost. On the contrary, it places us where God can use us best.

Truly obeying Christ’s command to leave family behind for His sake entails a trip to the reeds. We let them go and step away, trusting God for their safety.

(Tomorrow: Heavier Uphill)

Postscript: Stepping Away = Total Surrender

Nothing I know is harder to let go and step away from than family, whom we can’t help but love and cling to despite how healthy or harmful our ties may be. I believe that’s why Christ asks this of us. Short of that, we’re not completely His. And until we do it, we’ll never experience the profound peace and joy of total surrender. Today’s Lent music selection: “I Surrender All” by The Isaacs.

Lent music suggestions are steadily coming in and we’ll be hearing them, starting tomorrow. If you’ve not yet recommended a song or video, please do!


I SURRENDER ALL


All to Jesus I surrender

All to Him I freely give

I will ever love and trust Him

In His presence daily live


I surrender all

I surrender all

All to Thee, my blessed Savior

I surrender all


All to Jesus I surrender

Humbly at His feet I bow

Worldly pleasures all forsaken

Take me, Jesus, take me now


I surrender all...


All to Jesus I surrender

Lord I give myself to Thee

Fill me with Thy love and power

Let Thy blessings fall on me


I surrender all...


8 comments:

claire said...

Two small comments here:

- yes, Fran's post has a way of staying with the reader. It works on the reader, really. A truly special post.

- letting go of those one loves.
As a mother, I have had to do it repeatedly. The first times were the toughest. But a close friend told me, It will get easier as time goes. She was right.

I am sure you already know what happens in a family when a parent lets go of her or his child(ren): the child comes back, again and again.
But this is a theme for another blog...
Thank you, Tim, for this.

Tim said...

Claire, as I'm sure you know, family dynamics in general are a prime topic of conversation for GLBT people. Then you add in the "faith factor" and the ante goes way up--because many of us wind up dealing with family's who not only reject us for our orientation but then dispute our right to believe.

Letting go and stepping away from that perspective has similar implications, though. When we release our family members to God's care, very often they come back and back and back.

In both cases, the parent who releases his/her child, or the child who lets go his/her parents and siblings, the "return factor" should be seen as an indicator of who we are as individuals in Christ. The love and care we give keeps 'em coming back!

Blessings and joy,
Tim

Cathy, the apprentice alchemist said...

Clare and Tim, thank you for your experienced words "they keep coming back again and again". I am in the middle of stepping away from my teenage children, praying that they will not turn their backs on me, asking God to keep them close to Him and guide their paths back to me, in whatever way they choose.
I needed these words today, Thanks again

Tim said...

Cathy, as a child of loving, faith-filled parents, I can personally attest to the validity of Proverbs 22.6: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

It took me some time to span the "child" to "when he is old" territory--and I'm sure my folks had some real white-knuckle moments with me. But I can assure you what they put into me was ever present while I dillied and dallied. I encourage you to believe that during these tough transitional years of letting go so your children can come into their own. The foundation you laid will remain. And I have every confidence in the end you'll be proud of how well they build on what you've provided.

They will keep coming back again and again to you and the truth you've instilled in them.

Blessings of joy and confidence,
Tim

Missy Francis said...

Tim, part of your comment hits a chord: "many of us wind up dealing with family's who not only reject us for our orientation but then dispute our right to believe."

Thinking of the recent comments from the USCCB on New Way Ministries--it seems the objections are not *how* they minister to the GLBT community, but that they minister to them at all.

You reminded me of a Thomas Merton quote: “As long as we are on earth the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another. Because of this, love is the resetting of a body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them.”

God bless.

Tim said...

Missy, the USCCB statement opposing New Ways Ministry completely escaped my radar--and issued by the pen of Chicago's Cardinal George no less. (Another reason why we miss Cardinal Bernadin around here.)

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Many "major" communions have issued like statements opposing GLBT-positive outreach efforts. All this confirms why GLBT Christians and their allies must continue to reach out--not only to the gay community but to those in our faith community who resist the leadership of God's Spirit. The same principle applies to our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues as well. Our witness has never been more essential.

But alas, I believe Merton is right. Saints have trouble living with saints. Differences within the Body will persist. Yet we glory in this because they continue to open doors for us to be the lights we were called to be.

Lemonade out of lemons, you know.

Thanks for the update and insight. And most of all thanks for your witness of God's love and acceptance. You're a constant source of encouragement to me and us all.

Peace,
Tim

claire said...

Ah, Tim, I had completely missed the LGBT angle of your post. Hm. Sorry. I have to read it all over again with this in mind.

Tim said...

No apologies necessary, Claire. The great thing about Scripture is that it speaks to and about us all. Yours and Cathy's comments delighted me because you were able to read it from your perspectives as parents and find something of value there. This is inclusiveness as it was meant to be!

Much love,
Tim