In the soft moonlight of midnight, shadows dancing against the baby-blue wall of the nursery from a cottonwood tree moving gently in the nighttime breeze, it is party time. The baby is awake and searching for his toes, his pacifier, his blanket, his mommy or his daddy. He is ready for his day to begin; he wants to explore. Yes . . . in the soft moonlight of midnight. Smiling, cooing, laughing.
In the first 10 years of our marriage, Lisa and I had five babies: four boys and then, a daughter. It was common among them to go through a period when they would have their nights and days mixed up. The normal waking in the middle-of the-night with hunger pains or indigestion or a wet diaper was not a huge problem. You pick them up, hold them, mumble a few comforting words, or, if you’re Lisa, sing a lullaby, play with their toes and hopefully they close their eyes before you do. That was all normal. It was the periods when they ignored the realities of time and began their day in middle of my night that were hard.
With all their potent body language — whether red-faced bawling or cherub-faced giggling — they would say with all the force of an eight-pounder: “You are not putting me down.” “You are not leaving me in this dark room.”
And we didn’t. Not on those occasions where we knew the baby was just a bit mixed up; confused about the distance between day and night, oblivious to dark and light. These were not “I want” moments. These were “I need” times.
Sometimes we just need to yield ourselves to the “care for me” and “care about me” cries of those around us who are confused, even if our more common-sense mode tells us that perhaps we should just give them a pat on the back, flip the light back off and close the door. Cry your way through it; you’ll be better for it. I’m tired.
Sometimes we are the crying child and sometimes we are the comforting one who flips on the light and stays at the side of the weeping and the wailing and the gnashing. And sometimes we’re the child who lies awake and refuses to call out, or the busy and self-absorbed who walks straight down the hall and past the room in which the bewildered toss in fits and turns.
And then, there’s God. He never lets go. His perfect love casts out fear. Sometimes we don’t see it because of the shadows that cast strange thoughts within our minds, but He is always there.
The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. — Deuteronomy 31:8
Can you imagine what it would be like to go into our battles and know — despite the pounding of our hearts and the furious flow of adrenalin — that someone is at each shoulder, on our left and and on our right, at every step? What if we knew that there was someone right in front of us, fully armed and determined to take the charge? What if we had the assurance that behind us is someone who will catch us if we fall, and move before us so the battle we think is lost becomes a victory instead?
Imagine . . . and know.
I remember watching the movie Gettysburg a few years back. I’m not a huge Civil War buff and I have no desire to march in a re-enactment, but there is a stunning moment from that movie that has favorably haunted me from the time I saw it. It has even been re-enacted in my dreams, which is as close as I want to get to the reality of it.
I don’t remember the battle, but I can’t forget the scene. It is a pivotal moment and will turn the war. Two armies — the North and the South — awake from a night of encampment and begin to prepare for the major battle that will cost many of the brave men their lives. The armies will meet in the clearing, each marching out from the cool covering of the woods, the dark, shady comfort of the trees, into the blazing sun, bayonets at the ready, muzzle-loaders hoisted.
My mind always says. “Don’t go!” Stay in the shade. Turn around. Hunker down. Maybe the enemy will go away.
They don’t listen to me.
The men line up in formation, shoulder-to-shoulder, and await the command to move. It comes. They look into each other’s eyes one last time and then focus on the eyes of the enemy, coming out of cover and heading for the clearing. And they move straight toward the enemy, aware that at some point they will be in hand-to-hand combat and one army will declare the clearing held.
Shots ring out. Men fall on the left and on the right and the fortunate ones march on, stepping over and around the bodies of the fallen. Soon, the closeness of the armies makes the long rifles useless to fire and the enemy begins to stab and thrust with bayonets. Before the battle is over, men are downing each other one-on-one with knives pulled from their belts. And many fall and die, wondering as they hit the dusty field whether they have done enough to protect their loved ones.
In the end, one army stands, depleted and exhausted, but victorious, despite the huge losses inflicted on them. Great sorrow is experienced in a determination for victory.
I don’t like battle. I like the clear-blue skies unencumbered by the dark and emerging clouds that creep from the horizon and blunt the sun. I don’t want to be close enough to look into the eyes of the enemy; maybe that’s why he so often creeps up behind me.
What if our lonely marches toward the seemingly never-ending walls of defiance that threaten to annihilate us in the middle of the clearing are not really lonely marches at all?
Imagine . . . and know.
The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. — Deuteronomy 31:8.
The Lord Himself? Before us and with us? He never leaves? And yet, he knows we become afraid and are sometimes discouraged. That sometimes our days and our nights are so mixed up that we are in a constant swamp of greyness. That sometimes we want to cast aside our armor and just dig a hole and hide. He never leaves.
Sometimes God comes to us and meets our outstretched hands in moments of exploration as we seek to discover our place in the world. And he speaks in a quiet still voice. At other times, He stands before us and all around us in full battle gear as we gasp for our survival. And he goes through the rage with us as the enemy strikes and we risk stumbling to our faces flat in the field. He never leaves.
God is never confused about night and day. Evil and good. Truth and deceit. No clever costuming by the enemy can fool God. He knows the serpent’s voice and is immune to its cleverness.
We could learn a lot from God. Duhh.
Like standing with each other so we could take the clearing instead of retreating to the woods. I’m sure some of those soldiers were more combat-ready and better-trained than the others, but they all marched in. Some were probably already pretty wounded from earlier battles. Some may not have slept the night before, robbed of rest by apprehension. Some may not have even liked the man on his left or right. Some may have been saints; others bound by sin. Yet, there they were, there for each other. Judgement could wait. Condemnation was on hold. They were too busy pointing bayonets in unison at the enemy to point fingers at each other. They were more determined to be a mighty army themselves than to shoot the wounded among them.
The church could learn a lot from them. And from God.
The army marches forward to victory because the weaknesses of each are overwhelmed by the combined strength of all. Even though the battlefield will sometimes melt down into chaos and confusion, the clarity of the mission remains.
Whether we are in the nursery wanting nurturing or in the clearing wanting a co-clobberer to enable our courage, we need to move forward.
We need a clarity of mission. We need to know where we want to be so we can make provision to get there, whether we limp across or leap across or get carried across.
We need to realize we don’t live in a barn. I remember when I was a kid, my mother would sometimes peek into my room and tell me to get it cleaned up. “You don’t live in a barn,” she would say. I’ve thought about that in other ways. We talk so much about God opening doors, or we pull out the old saying that “when one door closes, He always opens a window.” And these things are true. But, shouldn’t we be closing a few doors in the meantime? Saying no to old habits and bad thinking? Eliminating destructive relationships that the enemy uses in our lives.
We need to be stronger for others. Those of us who struggle need to make darn sure that we are not enabling other strugglers. It is neither kind nor compassionate to play games along the edge of a cliff, to expose ourselves to temptations, to trim the hedges low enough to jump over, to put open spots in the boundaries, to keep relationships intact when we know we are headed for a fall. And I see that, all the time. People rarely fall alone. If you are a co-enabler, you’re in co-denial.
We need to be ready to cross the bridge. One of my mother’s — and perhaps every harried mother’s — favorite sayings was “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” I often told my own kids “We’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it.” “When we get to it,” is the dangerous part of the phrase. The men at Gettysburg knew the clearing was ahead. They paused, planned, tried to rest, shared a meal, strengthened themselves as best they could, cleaned their armor, organized and pledged to cross the clearing . . . all before they came to it. And they knew well in advance when they would “get to it.”
When I was a little boy, the directions for crossing a street were to look both ways twice and then cross. It was less scary if a crossing guard was there, but it was nice to know that if the guard was not present, I knew what to do. As I got a little older, I found myself crossing in the middle of the block so I wouldn’t have to wait on that crossing guard. And, on occasion, even if I did look both ways, and even if it wasn’t exactly clear, I would dart out into the street and dodge a car or two and leap to the opposite curb. I had decided that the instructions were too much trouble and the crossing guard way too slow. It is “my” life, after all. I can do with it what I want.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” — Matthew 16:24-26
My life? Mine? Not so much.
We can learn a lot from Jesus.
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. — James 5:19-20
This was written to Christians with the full awareness that they were surrounded by people who might wander away from the truth and into the darkened room of deceit, an often-fatal error. We should be saying: “Not on my watch.”
No matter how dark the room, He will not leave us in it. We may refuse to walk into the clearing with Him, but it will be our decision, not His. He is the light that shines in the darkness. He bridges the distance between night and day.