Avoiding Entanglements

Dear Friends:

David wrote:

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
(Ps. 25:14-15)

I was invited to a speaking appointment in Oregon the summer that our son Andrew was four. I got the bright idea that we should introduce our child of the suburbs to camping. Although both Patricia and I camped with our families and church groups in our youth, we were now yuppies, ill-equipped for this adventure.

We purchased a tent and all the supplies in a shopping spree at a sporting goods store. I selected state-of-the-art down “mummy” bags for Andrew and I to sleep snug and warm. Patricia declined, preferring her older model with more space for her feet.

We left on a warm June day and started up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When we reached our first camp site late in the afternoon, we discovered the snow level was low due to a late spring storm. The sun dropped behind the towering escarpment and with the darkness came a deep, to-the-bone, chill.

Our campfire offered little solace against the cold and we retreated into our sleeping bags for warmth and the trouble really began. I shift from side to side during my sleep but that was not an option in our mummy bags. They trapped my feet and held me uncomfortably still in growing, sleep-denying tension. We came to quickly understand that warmth was not the only consideration. What probably works well on a precarious ledge on El Capitan turned the family tent into a torture chamber.

Andrew throws himself as he sleeps. Clearly, his little mummy bag was no better for him. In the morning light, we found he had somehow thrashed out of it and burrowed into the pile of our coats in the corner of the tent.

We stopped in Reno the next day and hunted down a store where I bought a conventional sleeping bag and we gave Andrew mine with plenty of room for his little body. We slept in reasonable comfort that night.

It can be terribly disconcerting to have one’s feet caught in seaweed while swirling around in ocean surf or to be tangled in grass or reeds in a stream or lake.

Movement is freedom. Our feet are intended to take us where and when we will. The loss of that freedom is uncomfortable, tragic, even punishing. They shackle dangerous prisoners at the ankles for a reason.

There are a lot of entangling circumstances for us in this world–dysfunctional relationships, difficult working conditions, debt, poverty, illness, addictions, and traumatic injuries to name a few.

The problem is that if our primary consideration is making sure that our feet don’t get tangled up or slip or step in a hole, we are looking down and no further ahead then ourselves. This is as much a spiritual truth as a physical consideration.

David was familiar with entanglements. His family pegged him as no more than a runt and a shepherd.  He refused the ill-fitting protections of Saul’s armor to do battle on his terms. He survived the palace intrigues of the jealous and paranoid Saul. He knew the furtive restrictions of fugitive status. He was charged with ending a civil war and convincing 12 proud tribes to become one nation under his leadership.

David came to realize in all of this that a focus on mere survival and simply avoiding missteps is not the full and vibrant life intended by God for his children. He “did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

The desperation of impossible circumstances is the place where faith flourishes. When one finds that he or she is still standing and breathing to face another day after the relentless, churning agonies of a long, dark night, one can either “curse God and die,” as was famously suggested by Job’s wife (Job 2:9), or ask, “How is this possible that I live?” That question, honestly followed through in thought and prayer, will lead one to love. I realize that this is both sacred and fragile ground that I am treading on here, but grief itself is evidence of love. We do not mourn the loss of what we did not love.

No, when night-wrestlers somehow stumble out of the darkness into the necessities of daily living for enough mornings it occurs to them that their suffering has inexplicably produced endurance. “Perhaps,” the night-wrestler thinks, “I have what it takes in my character to make it through the abyss of another night.”

When progress continues to be made, despite the pain, shame, confusion, and doubt, the night-wrestler comes to glimpse the horizon of a future, something for which to hope. A broken heart is enlarged in surface capacity to receive love and hold grace the way a biscuit or English muffin is split to receive more butter and jam. Hope does not disappoint the enduring night-wrestler because the answer to the question, “How is this possible?” is “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).

David had not overcome lions, bears, Goliath, rejection, betrayal, violent assaults and the hot aridity of the Negeb by dint of his strength and wisdom. He wrote a worship song for Israel recorded as Psalm 124 that speaks to the grace that had brought him through.

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
–let Israel now say–
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone the raging waters.
*
Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken
and we have escaped.
*
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

The lesson that David learned and wrote about in Psalm 25 was to look up to the Lord who helps us and not let our eyes drift down in anxiety of what we might step into next.

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
(Ps. 25:14-15)

We can’t disentangle ourselves. In fact, our efforts to do so enmesh us further. We have a friend in God, David wrote. If we pay attention to him and keep our eyes focused on him, he’s good to his word to show us the way.

It isn’t that we won’t make missteps. The promise is to pluck our feet out of the net, not eradicate it. We are fallible humans and there is plenty out there to trip us up. He knows this and expects us to trip even when we don’t and he comes to our aid.

Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
when he delights in our way;
though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand.
(Ps 37:23-24)

It is the oldest question: Will we let God take care of us or will we go it alone? We instinctively fear running into the bumps, potholes, snares and traps along the way. Our pride demands perfection and some of us refuse to walk at all rather than risk tripping up. That’s no better than running off our own way.

“Look at me,” God calls. “Look at me and take my hand. My love for you is not conditioned on you successfully navigating the hazards a survival course. Neither does it depend on you staying perfectly still and clean. If you can tear your eyes away from yourself and pay attention to me, I will go with you and you will make it.”

“See, I adjust my stride to your pace and hold on to you even when you can’t hold on to me. This is because I love you and no other reason and I’ve paid the ultimate price to prove it. I look at you and see you as precious and someone who I want to be with. Come along, then. We’ll walk together the whole way home. Just stay close and keep your eyes on me” (See, Isa 43:1-4).

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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