the story room

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Restraint of God

"The power that created the universe and spun the dragonfly's wing and is beyond all other powers holds back, in love, from overpowering us. I have never felt God's presence more strongly than when my wife and I visited that distant hospital where our daughter was. Walking down the corridor to the room that had her name taped to the door, I felt that presence surrounding me like air - God in his very stillness, holding his breath, loving her, loving us all, the only way he can without destroying us. One night we went to compline in an Episcopal cathedral, and in the coolness and near emptiness of that great vaulted place, in the remoteness of the choir's voices chanting plainsong, in the grayness of the stone, I felt it again - the passionate restraint and hush of God."
-Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, p28-29.

"But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. . . . I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear."
-John 16.7, 12

I've been thinking a lot lately about the restraint of God.

I try to be aware of how aspects of God's love are reflected in the people around me, and I've been especially aware lately of all the people who show love to others through restraint: those who say less than they'd like to say, those who offer a handshake or high-five instead of a hug, those who seek to protect and guard others, those whose silences express a pure and holy love that often needs no verbal expression.

(And I want to be quick to say that restraint is not the only or best way to show love, because we all know we need open expression often, too. But Solomon said there's a time both to embrace and to refrain, and I, at least, too often forget about the value and beauty of restraint.)

For a while now, I've been able to recognize restraint as an expression of God's love, but I'm only recently being able to understand why. After all, we usually hear about God's love only as it is expressed to us, often with the popular imagery of being embraced by our Savior, being his best friend, always hearing his voice as he speaks to us. And I think those things are all true, but they're not the whole truth. To leave it at that would be to have an incomplete picture of our God and our relationship with him.

After all, we have never really been in the arms of our Savior...not yet. Often God speaks to us, but the silences are more familar to us. And he does call us friends, but even the closest of friends are silent sometimes.

But how does that restraint show love?

For one thing, I think restraint is an expression of trust. God trusts us enough to know that we will continue to love him, whether or not he expresses that love in everyday ways that are always obvious - ways that make us feel good. And we learn to trust that our Father loves us, whether or not he says so (at least in the form of good feelings, constant words of encouragement, and other ways we come to depend on). Often, too, I think the lack of the good feelings we long for push us to remember the cross...the expression of love we live on. In our Father's restraint, we learn to trust his goodness, nearness, and love.

And so restraint also has to do with a kind of knowing that is intimate. Those who know me best know me well enough to know not only what they should say to me, but also what I'll understand even without their saying. And in the same way, I think God knows us well enough to know what he doesn't have to say to us. He knows what we'll pick up on, and sometimes he doesn't give us much more than that. But that is more than enough.

I think God loves us in a way that is stronger than we can ever feel, because, in all its pure, powerful beauty, to feel its full expression is more than we can bear. And so, perhaps the restraint of those who love us (and also the restraint of God) speaks of a love stronger than we have the capacity now to hold.

May our Father give us the grace to recognize his love in restraint, and may we have the strength to show that same kind of love to one another.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


I've found myself thinking about the discipline of remembering lately. As I look to a future with a lot of changes happening soon, I've been working hard to remember that my Father has dealt with me in goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and love. I can't see into the future, but like the ancient Israelites, I am called to look back and remember where I've come from, trusting that the God who has led me this far will not abandon me now, but will stay just as close - leading me in love, teaching me his ways, and using me to bring the love, peace, and grace of his kingdom to the world.

I recently read a sermon preached by Frederick Buechner called "A Room Called Remember" (in a book by that same title). The whole sermon struck me, especially this:

"To remember my life is to remember countless times when I might have given up, gone under, when humanly speaking I might have gotten lost beyond the power of any to find me. But I didn't. And each of you, with all the memories you have and the tales you could tell, you also have not given up. You are also survivors and are here. And what does that tell us? It tells us that weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far, at least to this day. Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us if not to the right path through the forest, at least to a path that leads forward, that is bearable. Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive. . . .

" . . . 'Remember the wonderful works that he has done,' goes David's song - remember what he has done in the lives of each of us, and beyond that remember what he has done in the life of the world; remember above all what he has done in Christ - remember those moments in our own lives when with only the dullest understanding but with the sharpest longing we have glimpsed that Christ's kind of life is the only life that matters and that all other kinds of life are riddled with death; remember those moments in our lives when Christ came to us in countless disguises through people who one way or another strengthened us, comforted us, healed us, judged us, by the power of Christ alive within them. All that is the past. All that is what there is to remember. And because that is the past, because we remember, we have this high and holy hope: that what he has done, he will continue to do, that what he has begun in us and our world, he will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition."

Thank you, our Father, for your goodness, bringing us this far. As we remember the ways you've been near us and blessed us until today, please give us the courage and faith to trust you with our futures. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Simple and True

Sometimes it's important to remember simple things, I think. I know it's important for me to do that, especially since I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. Sometimes it's good to hear something simple and true, and then to simply live in response to that truth.

On Sunday, our pastor preached on Psalm 121. It was a way to remember God's faithfulness to us in the past, and to also strengthen our faith in His continued care. Here's the psalm:

I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip - the one who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, the one who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you - the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Our Father has taken care of us up until this point, and watches over us still. I'm grateful that I can have faith in His constant protection, love, and care.

Not new or terribly profound, I know . . . but important still.