I emerge like a bear from hibernation. Hungry not for food but for the sight and sound of friends. Finally ready for laughter after a time of sorrow, contemplation, introspection, and much prayer. Which words out of what book penetrated my self-imposed sabbatical begun in one season and ended in another? Was it some combination of Scripture, Wendell Berry poetry or a sentence in a devotional? What I know is I retreated from people as much and as far as I could. I created my own hibernation den with a stack of books, a journal for writing, and my Bible. I began a dialogue with God although at first it was more of a monologue as I wasn’t listening for God’s response. Battered by too much of life’s realities, truly soul weary, wanting to retreat, to give up, to find a way to stop caring too much, to numb feelings of growing despair. I created my own escape — not to an island of paradise or shadowed pine forest with tumbling brook. No, I mentally closed the door to others. I claimed a chair, placed a small tower of books near it for company along with God’s words in the Bible. When forced to go out into the world outside the front door, I erected invisible barriers and limited interaction. I smiled a make believe smile and spoke words as necessary. This was a new place, a new experience for me. I’d often thought of just hibernating, of retreating into a secret den but I never took that step of disappearing while still visible until now. I knew the causes that sent me into hibernation and I knew I could change none of them. God could and I prayed for Him to act. I begged, I whispered, I wailed, I pounded with fists on the walls only I could see. “FIX IT” I cried over and over. “FIX IT GOD!”
And change came — not to the reasons that drove me to retreat, to hibernate. No, change came to my heart. No matter how far I tunneled into my private self, my faith in God was not shaken. Still I was at that hard edge of knowing that suffering continued unrelieved by a good and perfect God. I was suffering because people I loved were hurting. How could I relinquish my hold on their problems to a God who remained silent in the midst of my anguish? I did not want to trust God, to wait on God’s timing. I wanted God to change the causes of my tears, my overwhelming sadness and to do it yesterday. I resisted trusting God not just in easily said words but in my heart, in my life, in the way I lived out that trust. My quiet hibernation space was my comfort, my refuge, my safe place. So there I stayed for hours each day. I prayed and I waited. I struggled and I sought elusive answers. I thought about Job and Jonah. So how did I start to emerge from this long retreat? I’m not sure. I read a fictionalized version of John the Baptist’s story. I’d never wondered how John felt when arrested and put in prison, when he was taken to be beheaded. Life surely took an unexpected turn for John. Something about that caught me, held me. I’m no John the Baptist but I realized I was deeply angry that my life was not matching my plans. Accepting that made me wince and feel deserved shame. My list of blessings is far longer than my list of very real disappointments. I’d let sorrow and suffering blot out the joy and wonder. My feelings began to shift. Then one day joy began to arrive, first in minutes, then more frequently and for a longer time. I accepted God’s comfort; it was there waiting, but God never forces gifts. I had refused to unwrap and open the gift I knew was there all along. Truly foolish! I laughed privately as I visualized myself emerging like a bear from a dark, dismal cave, looking for the promise of sunlight and warmth. I shuffle toward a familiar yet new place — back to where and what I’d left, back to waiting friends. And I come with a smile that starts in my heart and in thanks for God’s grace. Oppressive, sad situations remain unchanged. Loved ones still struggle. Pain marks most lives at some time. But I am able to breathe deeply and to let God’s grace stir the joy in me. I haven’t solved the deep issue of suffering in the world. I’ve just renewed my belief in God’s goodness and mercy. I have a new understanding of an oft quoted Bible verse. Matthew 11:29-30 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus, please let me remember to trust You and to lean on this verse, to stop carrying burdens that are not mine to carry, to trust You with all the problems of those I love, to trust You with their lives and mine. Amen.