I had a pretty good time of prayer last night. I watched the movie Hurt Locker, which is a pretty awesome movie, and then prayed while I folded laundry. Folding laundry, like doing the dishes, sometimes gets you away for a little bit. I remember when I worked at Gallucci’s; doing the dishes was oftentimes a joy instead of a chore. It brought you back to the kitchen, away from the restaurant chaos of screaming children, complaining customers and the odd cheer for a touchdown, three-pointer, or homerun from the guys watching sports on the big screens. The hot water, the bubbles, and the rhythmic hum, spray and hum of the dish washer was therapeutic. It gave you an opportunity to reflect over stuff and when I folded laundry last night, it was a lot like that.
Nora Jones was playing softly from my iTunes, the washer swishing and swirling through another load, and the dryer humming and clicking through another pile of clean clothes. And as I tri-folded my towels width-wise and then length-wise, I thought about my brother. Truth be told, my brother has been a major part of my life, especially growing up. We don’t look alike at all; he’s white and I’m brown. He’s tall, I’m short. He’s stocky, I’m skinny. He played football, I played soccer. He went into the Air Force, I went to college. He’s been in Afghanistan since around October and for whatever reason hasn’t been able to call me or was too busy calling my gramps or his wife. And honestly, I don’t really mind.
I know that it’s better that he calls my grandpa and sister-in-law because they receive more from it. Not to say that I wouldn’t receive anything from it because it’d be nice to actually talk to him. But both my grandpa and sister-in-law are kind of lonely these days without my brother in the States. My sister-in-law lives in San Antonio and my grandpa lives alone in Lincoln City. Both love to talk to my brother on a daily basis and when he’s not there to talk to either of them, I think they get a little sad and maybe even worrisome. My voice can only do so much to reassure them both with the few times that I do call them. But last night as I was thinking about my brother and how much he means to me and the rest of my family, I started to tear up a little.
I don’t think it had anything to do with the movie I had just watched, but I started thinking about all the “what-ifs” that I thought about the first time he went over there. There was a month-long period where none of us – not my grandpa or sister-in-law or myself – had heard from him. Every time my phone rang and I’d see my grandpa calling, I would get terribly nervous. I can only imagine how my grandpa and sister felt. I know that God’s got him in His hands and that he’ll come back home soon enough, but sometimes you get lost in fear. That happened last night. And I suddenly started thinking of how much things would change if my brother didn’t come home. They were terrifying thoughts.
Today I worked with the kids of Calvary Fellowship, reading to them the story of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-24. The theme that our little teacher-guide booklets highlighted was how the father of this prodigal son was patient. He patiently waited for his son’s return, even after his son was impatient for his inheritance. And to be honest, it helped me to breathe a little easier. There I was terrifying myself with thoughts of losing my brother and here was God saying, “Just trust Me. Just be patient.” And when I started breathing easy about waiting for my brother to come back, I started reflecting over the other things I tend to be impatient for; a wife, kids, a job that I love, maybe a better-running car, etc. I realized that I, like the son who ran away, could try to write my own story by pursuing the girl I want to pursue, get the job that I want to have, buy the car I want to buy, or I could let God take care of it.
I relate so much more to the son who demanded his inheritance and ran away because he wanted to live his own life. Year after year, without fail, I do something in an effort to write my own story and ignore the perfect, loving, patient Father waiting for me to turn around and let Him take over. When Jesus told His disciples that they had to deny themselves and take up their crosses, He wasn’t telling them a tip on being more self-sufficient and independent; He was telling them how we can only begin to truly live when we’ve given it all up to Him. And as I realized last night, working my way through the sock section of my laundry, this isn’t a one-and-done act: it’s every day.
This morning, before I drove off to run around with some rug-rats, I meditated over all the things that I need to surrender. It really places your heart in a different position when you let go of your independence. This is one of the toughest things being an American. We’re trained from the very get-go that we’re our own people with our own lives and our own careers because we’ve “made something of ourselves.” We take great pride in our “independence.” And yet Jesus says our hearts need to be in the exact opposite position: we need to let go.
“Well then, how do you know when to ask the girl out or when to make your move for that job you wanted?” This is a question I’ve asked God plenty of times. And time after time I’ve only heard “Wait” as a response. “Wait for what?” I’ve asked in a little frustration. The answer to that one came just about a week ago at a men’s group gathering for Cross Training – the ministry I’ve been a part of since day 1 of college. I can’t remember how we came to the subject, but I remember talking about humility and how it’s not just magically given to us. The part of the conversation that’s stuck with me ever since was when I truly realized what we are given: opportunities to display and practice humility.
I have to believe that patience works in the same manner; that we’re given opportunities to restrain our urges to rush things, to wait. That means if God wants me to wait until I’m thirty before I even start dating, then so be it. Or if He wants me to wait until I get a real job before I get a new car, so be it. After all, it’s His story I’m living; not my own. That means the blank pages on my heart must be given up to Him, the Perfect Author, to write a story that I could never write on my own.
One thing I learned about writing this last fall is that the best stories are written from a deep and vast knowledge of a particular setting, occupation, lifestyle, etc. For instance I could probably write a better story about a male golfer growing up without a dad than I could about a non-athletic girl growing up with both her parents. Having insight is huge in writing fiction. God has that insight. In fact, He has the ultimate insight because He sees into everyone’s hearts. He sees and knows how we’ll interact with each other under certain circumstances. And He sees the stories that we could live with each other. But we have to wait.
When are we supposed to wait? Today, tomorrow, the day after; every day that we are given is an opportunity to exercise the muscles of humility, faith, patience, and love. We aren’t just possessed with this sudden power to wait and surrender everything to God; we’re given opportunities to take the action of patience, the action of faith, the action of humility, and the action of love. We just have to remember what we’re giving up and what we’re picking up on a daily basis.
My brother is coming home soon and I’m sure it’ll be an emotional ride for our family. Seeing him face to face will be worth the wait that we’ve endured for the last six or seven months. But even if he doesn’t come back or (the more likely option) if he gets delayed a month or two, if God’s story has that chapter, then I can’t be that pesky editor saying, “This doesn’t really work for me, you should probably cut it.” I have to be the son returning to his Father ready to be a mere servant in His household, in His kingdom.