Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to go on the Walk to Emmaus, and I expected that when I went on this retreat that God would do work in me. I was surprised, however, that it hurt.
My dad was a United Methodist pastor, and a very good one at that, as well as a doting father. God had done innumerable wonderful things for countless numbers of people through him, and I have always been proud to be his daughter. I wasn’t in the habit of giving much thought to what the fruitfulness of his ministry had actually cost me. In my mind, I had gained a tremendous upbringing, full of prayers and full of Christ! On this retreat, I was surprised when this is what God brought up – an awareness of the cost. As an itinerating family, it had cost me a stable upbringing in a community that knew me from birth and loved me. We went from church to church, and the church where we were the longest had been a church in which I never really fit in. In every church and through every move, God did amazing work in the lives of other people, but each move cut into my development in negative ways.
Now my husband is a United Methodist pastor, and I continue in the life of moving. In his 8 years of ministry, we have moved 3 times. Occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night with a terrible sense of disorientation, sensing the tremendous disconnect I have from any one community anywhere on the planet. And wherever we move, it seems I am surrounded by people who have lived in the community forever, whose parents live there, whose grandparents live there, whose childhood friends live there with their children who now play together. Even people who have moved away from those communities still get to return on occasion. There is a cost.
It was at Emmaus that God brought these things to the forefront of my mind, and I cried and prayed, wound exposed. It was then that God began to apply the balm. God’s plan for the fullness of time – the goal of the universe – is to draw all things together into a unity with God that is so close that Jesus speaks of it in terms of his unity to the Father (Ephesians 1:10; John 17:21). When we draw close to God, we inevitably draw close to others into the only community that is truly forever. “In me you will lack nothing,” God whispered to my spirit. “My gift to you is ineffable.” God wants us all there!
In the Congo there grew beautiful acacia trees with lovely flowers and leaves. There were birds that attacked the food supply of the community at one point, and the people needed arrows to shoot the birds down. And so it was decided that they would use the wood of the acacia trees to make arrows. To do this, the tree’s flowers and leaves had to be cut off. The God-given beauty of the branches, the parts of the tree essential for its health and well-being, were discarded. Then, with its flowers and leaves gone, the branch went through the whittling process, all for the sake of producing a straight, well-balanced arrow. To become an arrow cost the plant something good, something that other trees got to keep. But the arrows produced by the acacia were deadly weapons against the threats to the community in the hands of skilled archers. Was I willing to let my flowers and leaves fall so that my family could be a dreaded weapon in the hands of God, whose aim never falls short?
The cost is real. But so is the gain, for me and for others. In him I lack nothing, and his gift to me is ineffable. For the sake of drawing many into this gift, I am privileged to be an arrow in his hands. And, amazingly, it becomes my joy.