Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rediscovering the Mystery of a Shadow

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Matthew 11:25

Watching little ones become completely captivated by common things such as balloons or their own shadow is beyond charming.  But as I witness my own kids fearlessly embrace these fascinating wonders that science offers I find myself feeling as if I’m missing out on something.

Balloons have captured Jake and Lilly’s hearts since they were itty bitty.  Shadows are their newest fascination.  Chasing their own shadow or being followed instead, waving, or even hiding in the shade to make their shadows momentarily disappear are among the ways they entertain themselves while running around in the backyard.


Shadows are not mysterious to me anymore the way they used to be when I was a kid.  The light required at just the right angle to produce either a larger or smaller version of me is something I don’t even see any more- unless Jake or Lilly point it out to me saying, “Look!  Mommy’s shadow!!”  

Last week I prayed a teeny tiny little prayer.  Honestly, it seemed pretty insignificant, but it was important to me.  When God answered my prayer, I was stunned.  I am still talking about that teeny tiny little prayer that He answered in the most personal way- and it happened over a week ago.  I keep saying to God, “Thank you for answering my prayer!  I can’t believe you care enough to answer such a small request.”  I can imagine God saying, “Well, why did you ask me then?”  It’s not that I don’t have faith that God can do anything we ask, as long as it is in line with His will;  it’s just that if I’m honest, I really wasn’t expecting Him to answer my seemingly insignificant request. 

Something inside me was rekindled by this simple little answer from a God who sometimes seems so far away.  I needed to be reminded of the mystery of a God whose ways are so far above what my mind can comprehend.  Kinda like rediscovering the joy of watching my shadow sway in synchronized movement right in front of me.  Like falling back on a childlike faith in which belief in the unseen far outweighs logical reasoning.  Trying to fit a mighty, magnificent, and holy God into a box that I designed and fashioned has never worked out too well for me.  When Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children,” I think he was in the company of those who had failed to embrace the mystery of God.  I think they lost sight of their shadows.

Naomi knew about shadows, too.  The book of Ruth is a beautiful love story of redemption and loyalty, but it’s also about a woman who had been dealt a tough hand and perhaps wondered if God had abandoned her.  The story begins with a famine that forces her to leave her home with her husband and two sons and travel to the country of Moab.  While in this foreign land, she loses her beloved husband.  Ten years pass and then both of her sons pass away as well.  Her sons had both married, so she is left with two daughters-in-law. 

When word came that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food, the three women prepared to return to Naomi’s home.  Not too far into their journey, Naomi urged them to return to their own homelands and their own families.  She cried out, “The Lord’s hand has turned against me!”  I have not walked the road this woman was walking, but I know that place.  The place where reasoning convinces you that God does not care and does not even see you. 

The story continues as Ruth refuses to leave Naomi; in fact the bible says “Ruth clung to her.”  (Ruth 1:14) She tells Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  (Ruth 1:16)  Now I have to believe that Ruth had some pretty good reasons for making the decision she made.  Her mother-in-law was begging her to return home to “her family and her gods.”  What we don’t know is how soon Ruth married into the family after Naomi’s husband died.  Ten years separated her husband's passing and her two sons' deaths.  In the past few years I can name four women I know personally who have been widowed, and watching them in the aftermath of heartbreak is probably the clearest picture of their faith.  I have to believe that Ruth saw something in Naomi as she picked up the pieces of her shattered heart, and over time opened it up to two women whom she would call family.

When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, the entire town was ecstatic.  But Naomi tells them, “Don’t call me Naomi (which means pleasant).  Call me Mara (bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi?  The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1:20-21)  In the footnote of my study bible, I read that the Hebrew word that Naomi uses here, ra`a`, is the strongest term for evil in the Hebrew language.  It also means to shatter or break.

The story continues as Ruth sets out to glean the fields and finds favor with a man named Boaz.  Hearing of how Ruth followed her mother-in-law and was looking after her, Boaz said, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done.  May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”  (Ruth 2:12)

When Ruth returned one evening with all of her barley and leftovers from lunch she had shared with Boaz, Naomi began to see the shadow.  As light crept into her broken soul, she realized that God had not turned His back after all.  I love the way the Message translates her comment: “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all!  He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” (Ruth 2:20)  As Naomi began to put the pieces together of how God was working, she returned to her childlike faith.  She remembered that God doesn’t always work the way we think He should.  (In fact this never happens!)  God’s promise that He will never leave or forsake one of His own was rekindled and she reached out and held onto it, despite her pain.  Naomi began to see God’s protective hand in her life, and then one day she allowed God to use her story in His bigger story.

Ruth 3:1 says, “One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.” (emphasis mine)  One day. One day Naomi woke up and was sick to death of her own sorrow.  She was tired of weeping and tired of focusing on her own pain.  When her gaze shifted from her own loss to Ruth, who had also lost so much, she took the first step towards healing in her own heart.  And it all began with being reminded of the mysterious love of God.

Jake and Lilly still don’t quite understand that when the sun is not out, shadows cannot be seen.  We all know that the easiest time to spot a shadow moving is when the sun is shining.  But life, unfortunately, is not always sunny.  In fact, sometimes there are years that go by without a break in the clouds.  But all it takes is the slightest bit of light, a crack in the sky, to become fascinated with shadows dancing along the ground. 

Naomi, who had been bitter for so many years, began to recognize God’s love, even though it had been there all along.  She saw it for the first time in years, and what a difference it made!  The story ends with a marriage and a baby.  Ruth 4:16 says that “Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.”  But the story was not over, because this little boy would become the grandfather of King David, and eventually Jesus Christ would be born into his family line. 

God took these two widows under His wing and their story, broken hearts and all, became His story.  Psalm 36:7 says, “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (emphasis mine)  Today, whether the sun is shining in your life or the skies are as dark as can be, look for evidence of God’s mysterious love for you.  Seek refuge under the shadow of His wings.