I have been leading bible study at a day shelter for poor and homeless individuals on Tuesday afternoons since the summer of 2008. When I first started leading bible study at the Lamb Center, I would prepare my lessons with great attention and careful detail. I would arrive with an outline of pertinent scriptures to explore and a list of corresponding questions for each scripture. As I began to have a deeper understanding and love for the community in which I was serving, it became more and more clear that my illusion of control was just that…an illusion. While I still spend time in preparation, I have come to understand that in many ways, I am just a passenger along for the ride. And often, it is a very exciting ride! I am definitely NOT the one in charge.
This morning, I was reminded of the many places in scripture that it talks about various characters who “walked with God.”. I particularly connected with one of the author’s descriptions of what it means to walk with God. She said to walk with God is to “live continually God-aware.” As I meditated on that concept, I thought about the places and spaces in my life where I already “live continually God-aware” and those places where I might benefit from a greater adherence to that practice. On Tuesday afternoons at the Lamb Center, I have learned to “live continually God-aware.” The staff there live that way every day and they are wonderful teachers.
When I began serving at the Lamb Center, I was quickly faced with the awareness….perhaps a better word would be certainty….that I could not do this thing using only my feeble bag of tricks. My collective wisdom, training, experience and gifts were woefully insufficient. What wisdom or solace could a middle aged mom with plenty of money in the bank have to offer to someone who was living in the woods and was overwhelmed by despair? In all honesty, how dare I presume that my words would mean anything in that context? Yet, because of a series of circumstances, I knew I was supposed to be there and so I went. At first, I went with a flurry of preparation and planning. Eventually, I went with a handful of scripture and eyes wide open to see what God was going to do with it. Like the young boy who offered up his meager lunch of a loaf of bread and a couple of fish, sometimes I feel like more of an observer to the miracles than a participant.
Sometimes during bible study, things seem to be careening out of control. Perhaps we have more than the usual number of guests who are struggling with mental health issues or are experiencing overwhelming fear or anger. During those times, I I have learned to get very quiet and listen very carefully; as if my guide on the path has held up His hand as an indication that I should pause. Sometimes, in that moment, one of the quieter guests will chime in with words of such wisdom and clarity and kindness that I offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God that He put a hand over my mouth at that moment. Sometimes, I feel a gentle tug on my heart to ask a different question that might lead us down an alternative path- a question that I hadn’t thought of before that moment. One day, when I saw us heading down a path that I was certain led directly off a cliff, one of our precious guests was reminded of a song and so I asked her to teach it to us and we sang it together. Because I am no longer attached to my agenda or under the delusion that I am in control, I have been able to witness and experience God work miracles. But I MUST listen and be willing to be flexible. And I am personally blessed and changed every week by my fellow sojourners and the ways that God uses them to teach me.
Here’s the thing: I KNOW I can’t fix anybody at the Lamb Center, so I don’t even try. I can’t orchestrate their healing or get them housing or keep them sober or undo the pain they have suffered in their life. So I lean in and follow the one who CAN do those things. His timing is often not what I would choose and the path He takes often looks like the long way around. But after 6 years of traveling this road, I am convinced He knows what He is doing and so I spend my days there “living continually God-aware” expecting to see miracles, in spite of myself.
When I walk through the doors of the Lamb Center now, I am blindingly aware of God at work. With this awareness of God’s presence and provision, I often stumble upon unexpected treasures and wind up following paths I hadn’t planned. “Living continually God-aware” in this context means seeing the people and situations I encounter as sacred and knowing that God is present in the midst of them. Each conversation is holy, each person (including me) a sacred work in progress. Even the ugly and difficult, when seen through God eyes, is somehow a reminder to breath deep and lean into my much stronger and wiser walking Companion like a sturdy walking stick. Because the situations there are often difficult and the resources are limited, we have no choice but to trust that our Guide is capable and knows the way.
But here is my point: (FINALLY, you say!) I don’t want to only walk with God on Tuesday afternoons. If I am honest, much of my life is out of my direct control, isn’t it? While I can control my attitude and how I spend my time, I cannot control the people, places or things around me. I have no idea what the future holds, so wouldn't it be to my benefit to walk with God all week long? To live every day "continutally God-aware?" What lessons learned on Tuesday afternoons might I take into the rest of the week?
Perhaps these are a few of the things I am learning:
- Acknowledge that someone else knows the path better than I do.
- Prepare for the journey, but remember someone else is in charge.
- Follow the Guide and listen for directions.
- Pause along the way and notice the beauty of the walk.
- Be aware of and grateful for the sacred and holy that cross my path, seeing that potential for sacredness and holiness in everything and everyone.
- Be willing to take detours and even to follow the “road less traveled.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.