While living in North Carolina I was associated with the United Methodist church because there were no Congregational or UCC churches close to us. In the beautiful mountains of North Carolina lies Lake Junaluska. It is a UMC conference center much like Silver Lake is for us. What you can’t miss at Lake Junaluska is the giant cross that sits on top of a hill. It is illuminated at night, and in summertime, becomes a guiding light drawing Christians from all parts of the country. However being in the mountains the climate can produce thick clouds and fog that make it nearly impossible to see the cross in daylight.
Isn’t our spiritual journey a bit like that. We begin with great exuberance wanting to follow God’s will for us. Our conviction is strong and we are determined to stay the course.
But then something happens that clouds our path and we find ourselves in the fogginess of life’s obstacles and it is difficult to find and stay on the path we once saw so clearly.
The book of Exodus is the story of the people of Israel and their eventual liberation from Egypt and Pharaoh. The historicity of the book is difficult to ascertain and many scholars offer that the book is a metaphor. Either way it is a story of life’s obstacles and life’s freedom. Much like life our spiritual journeys are met with obstacles and freedom.
We enter the story of Exodus with the story of Moses and the obstacles that surround his birth and rescue. The story of Moses entry into the world is probably the one we can recite from memory—it is so well known. The pictures we colored as youngsters in Sunday school of Moses in a basket amongst the bulrushes along the banks of the Nile with Pharaoh’s daughter rescuing him as his sister Miriam looks on from her hiding place is etched into most of our memories. Thus we are reminded that in everyone’s life there will be bulrushes and baskets, muddy waters and mists that cloud our vision and seem to steer us off course. One of the most difficult lessons in life is trusting in God in the midst of such obstacles and staying on course even when we seem to be moved In directions we don’t want to travel.
There are diseases of civilization-cancer, heart disease, diabetes, ALS, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, and of course the one we are in the middle of-Covid-19. Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down and placed many obstacles in our way. However, there are also diseases of the spirit-anxiety, fear, doubt, insecurity, despair, and uncertainty of purpose. Diminished faith in God’s will is one of the most powerful diseases of the spirit when you find yourself in the midst of fogs, and floating in baskets and bulrushes.
Into every life mists will fall that cloud the vision. There are steps we can use to keep our feet on the path and our hearts true:
1) Don’t panic. We can’t always know what plans God has for our lives. Remember the bold acts of the midwives as the defied Pharaoh and saved the lives of the male babies. They had no idea of God’s long range plans but they did know that God expected certain behavior from them—their true calling was to choose life over death.
We know God is full of surprises and our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. We believe that God knows what is best for us therefore we must trust God, and the path that is before us comes from God. Martin Luther said faith is “the ‘yes’ of the heart.”
As Moses’ mother placed him in that basket, no matter how carefully she had made it, she must have been filled with fear that something could go wrong. All she could do was trust in God. God’s love. God’s care. God’s promise.
2) There is always someone who can see more clearly the path God has chosen for us. They are just hiding in the bulrushes. In fact family and friends are sometimes able to see more clearly then we just what God is doing with and in us. I had friends and family telling me I was meant to be a pastor long before I had the courage to trust God that that was the path God had set me on. Who might be hidden in your bulrushes? Ask them to weed-wack them to help you can see more clearly.
3) God also uses people we least expect, even those outside the family of faith, to help us and keep us safe. Our best protectors are not always believers. A privileged, pampered, Egyptian princess is not the first person you would think God would use to save a crying abandoned baby. Why would she care about the people of Israel and their strange belief in a single God.
She is aware of the death sentence imposed on the Hebrew baby boys. It touches her heart deeply and she takes him as her own son without caring about the consequences of her defiant actions. This single God keeps she and the baby protected.
A mother asks a neighbor if she could drive her son to the hospital. The mother’s car was not working. Although the neighbor had other things she wanted to get done she couldn’t find a way to say no. So she put the boy in the car and off they went to the hospital. Not long after beginning their 50 mile journey, the boy asked, “Are you God?” This surprised the woman and she said, “No. I don’t believe in God.” The boy went on, “I heard Mom asking God for some way to get me to a doctor. If you’re not God, do you work for God?” The woman replied, “I guess so, even though I didn’t know it. And now that you ask, “I’ll be doing a lot more of it.”
4) This is my favorite. Think of obstacles as Popsicles. “Columnist Lona O’Connor tells how when she was a child she heard the Johnny Nash song ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ in these words: ‘I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all Popsicles in my way.’
“She grew up thinking of challenges in life as rows of Popsicles melting in the sun—red, yellow, green.” It wasn’t until she was much older that she realized the real lyrics were: “I can see all obstacles in my way.”
How much more uplifting it is to think of obstacles as Popsicles rather than mountains to climb, or bricks to hurdle. I like singing it like O’Connor does and watch all those Popsicles melt away so we can move forward. ( Lona O”Connor, See Obstacles as Popsicles—and Watch Them Melt Away,” The Charlotte Observer, 21 May 2002, 4D)
5) Start the day by saying these words: “NO Fear.” There are 365 times in the Bible that says in one form or another, “Be not afraid,” “Fear not,” and so on. That is one for every day of the year. Missionary theologian E. Stanley Jones describes a “No Fear” faith as one so strong that the problem is not “how to hold up my faith, because “my faith holds me up.”
In the greatest of hope may your obstacles be like Popsicles that melt away and your faith be so strong that it holds you up where there is no fear.