It's time for my nightly devotions. I fluff my pillows, wedge them against the headboard behind me, and arrange my spiritual arsenal. A dual translation Bible lies open on the comforter, an assortment of inspirational tomes arranged to my left and right.
I select a favorite daily-walk book and begin. Maybe the day's theme is "Extending Grace to Others" or "Expressing Divine Patience." Maybe it's more along the lines of "Becoming the Servant of All" or "Showing Humility in the Face of Provocation." Whatever the topic (and I made those up; no need to cast aspersions on any fine devotional writers), I quickly find myself amazed at how the words ring so true in my mind.
Extending grace sounds so simple. The path to Divine Patience seems so clear, so easy to follow. I understand it, desire it, even commit to it.
Service? That appears within my grasp. I effortlessly assimilate the simple steps to Becoming the Servant of All. And I feel utterly prepared to respond with humility in the face of any provocation.
Could it be that I'm really starting to get this stuff? That I'm becoming insightful? Spiritually mature? Profound, even? I think so …
I take time to pray, mentally ticking off all the people on my list. Then I set my books aside and drift peacefully into the unruffled sleep of the just.
When I awaken, I feel focused and calm, ready to face the day ahead, ready to "Walk the Walk," to follow the path to Divine Patience. I can do this. Life is good. Alone in my peaceful kitchen, I start the coffee, turn on The Weather Channel, and check the headlines.
Then the phone rings.
Someone needs to cancel the appointment I've already cleared my schedule to keep. The person is snippy about my mild protests. My clear vision of the road to Divine Patience blurs, just a bit, as we pick another day. I hang up frustrated, but still firmly in command of my Walk. I can do this.
The kids come into the kitchen, grumpy and dissatisfied with their breakfast options. Extending grace to others suddenly seems less attainable than it did last night, while I was sitting "alone with my God" (and my comfortable pillows).
Peeved at how my beloved offspring are throwing off my spiritual groove, I bite back seven or eight less-than-"grace-full" comments, but my body language clearly communicates my changing mood.
Still, if I keep quiet, that's better than spouting off at them, right? I haven't lost it yet. I'm still on the path. I can do this, I know I can.
I open the refrigerator to get milk for my cereal. The thermometer reads 44 degrees. I just turned the controller to "Colder" yesterday. This is not a good sign. I don't want to buy a new refrigerator this month. Frustration mounts, distracting me from my purpose. I take a deep breath: "Grace, Patience, Service, Humility." I can do this.
I consciously set aside my appliance anxiety while I open the mail. I read the letter informing me that the insurance policy I thought was finalized three weeks ago has, in fact, been denied.
My resolve to change the lives of those around me by Becoming a Servant of All evaporates in the heat of utter vexation.
I dial the number on the letter. "I'm sorry, you'll have to speak with someone at our Western Division," a kind representative informs me. "I'll transfer you."
The representative from the Western Division kindly informs me that the question I have is handled by those in the Southern Division. The people I just spoke with. "Don't worry, I'll transfer you," she says.
"No, you're not eligible for the coverage," the Southern Division informs me, once I assure them that the Western Division says they must answer my question. "You should have applied for that coverage three years ago."
"But I didn't need the coverage three years ago," I answer. "You provided my family with another policy. Why would I pay for both policies at once?"
"I understand," the kind representative explains, "but if you wanted to retain eligibility for the first type of coverage, you should have purchased it in addition to the second type of coverage."
Two hours and eight phone calls later, having shouted, "Beneficiary!" and my policy number into the automated "ear" of the automated voice at the end of the umpteenth automated menu, I find myself far, far from the path to Divine Patience.
In the end, when the insurance issues have been resolved as best they can, I stop and admit the truth: I can't do this. The lofty (self-indulgent) brand of spiritual insight that I so easily congratulate myself for can't see me safely through one morning of petty complications.
In fact, this day has unfolded like a giant speed bump on my path to spiritual maturity. At bedtime, I find myself again (less enthusiastically), fluffing my pillows and arranging my devotional materials.
The words of the writers are the same. But tonight's reflections are different.
"My thoughts are not the least bit lofty, God," I admit. "But yours are. And I'm decidedly un-insightful. But I'm glad that my Comforter sees the truth in all things. Thank you for the real-life devotional today. I needed it."
I'm grateful that God doesn't let us hang out for long in some lofty, abstract experience of faith. Instead, he plunks us smack in the middle of the fray, elbow to elbow with all the flawed, confused, impatient, obnoxious, beautiful people that he loves, the people just like us. And his attention, infinite as it is, notes every concern, from those of kings to those of sparrows.
So the "Prayer for the Day" at the end of my real-life devotional might go something like this:
Thank you, God, for sticking with me. Never let me forget that in my neighborhood and across the globe, people are literally fighting for their lives on every possible front: physically, mentally, spiritually, politically.
Give me the Grace to face serious problems, as well as petty complications. The Patience to wait and watch with friends during their dark times. The strength to truly Serve those around me, especially when I don't feel like it. And the Humility to see myself, clearly, as I am.
And in your infallible way, giving each concern its proper due, please provide insight on how to fix my refrigerator.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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