Jesus took Peter, John and James, up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men who appeared in glory. It was Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory. Just as they were leaving him, Peter, not knowing what he said, told Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; they were terrified. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. A man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and he shrieks. It convulses him and will scarcely leave him.” Jesus answered, “Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
When was the last time that you were astounded by the greatness of God? Shocked? Full of wonder at God’s surprises? For many of us, those miraculous moments of experiencing God’s power are often few and far between, maybe just once in a lifetime. Personally, my experiences of God are usually on a smaller scale than mountaintop revelations and demon dashing. I think that if God were to surprise me like God did to the disciples in the Transfiguration, I would probably have a heart attack. God must know that about me, and so shows up in more subtle ways. For me it takes time and reflection to realize God is revealing something to me. It’s kind of like, “Oh. Oooohh. Now I get it.” Delayed reaction realizations.
The disciples in the story I read do not entirely understand what is going on. On the mountain top, Peter wants to capture the moment and God shows up and tells him to stop yapping and listen. Scripture informs us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. If I were in his sandals, I wouldn’t know quite what to say or do either. This story reminds me that God’s revelation among us can be confusing, uncomfortable and even disturbing. To give Peter some credit, we are told that he was sleep deprived. Trying to tune into the sacred is harder when your mind is fuzzy with lack of sleep. Believe me, I know. As a new mom I am well aware of what sleep deprivation can do to you.
Next Sunday my daughter Amalee will be one year old. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by, just like everyone said that it would. I also remember parts of the past year that felt like they would never end. Those were the times when I was trying to get by on only a couple of hours of sleep a night. One of the things that I have become more aware of is how unsettling it is to me to be uncomfortable. I do not have a high pain tolerance and I do not have a high tolerance for what I perceive as the pain that others, especially loved ones experience. In the past year I’ve had to face the dirty diapers, ear infections, teething pain, tummy aches. It breaks my heart to hear Amalee cry. My impulse has been to soothe her pain as quickly as possible. I have come to the difficult realization that we cannot always protect our children from pain. Sometimes they will cry and we will not be able to take away the hurt, nor should we. Parenting is one of the toughest if not the toughest job with long hours, little rest and huge responsibilities.
Toby and I did not know which method to settle on for helping Amalee sleep. Every time she cried at night I would wake up and go to her and soothe her back to sleep. I ended up being awake most of the night. I thought I was losing my mind. I talked to anyone and everyone about sleep because I was hardly getting any. I read all sorts of books. Finally we settled on a method known as controlled comforting. It involved a combination of letting her cry and comforting her in 20 minute increments. I hated to hear her cry, but I realized that I needed to let her for a bit, even though it was upsetting. Thank God it worked! She figured out how to fall asleep on her own. Pretty quickly too. Now, I don’t want to get into a debate with you about what sleep training method you think we should have used because I know there is a lot of controversy. The point I am trying to reach is that letting my daughter cry a little meant trying to be comfortable with the discomfort I felt. It meant shifting from thinking that I had to do everything in my power to make things right to allowing her to help figure it out with me. I had to let us move through the discomfort, stay with it awhile and recognize the benefit of it as well as try to help alleviate it. She was learning and so was I.
Time and again I see that in my prayers I ask God to take away pain and difficulty, to resolve my conflicts. I echo the desires of the psalmist who wrote “My heart is in anguish within me. Fear and trembling have beset me. Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” It is so appealing, but fleeing the discomfort is not often the best answer. There can be so much more to gain from sticking it out. When I think about God as a parent, which I do often these days, I think that God might be in favor of the controlled comforting method of parenting me as one of the best ways to teach me and help me to grow. Maybe you too. God knows that we can handle more than we think we can. God knows there is something to learn from being uncomfortable and that there is power and beauty, even in pain. I truly believe that God wants us to learn to cope in difficult circumstances as much as God wants to bring us peace. As a parent, I am balancing both of those needs, and I believe that God has done so with me. God comforts me but God also lets me cry.
There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish joke. A father was teaching his son to be less afraid, to have more courage. He was going to teach him this by having him jump down the stairs. He put his son on the second stair and said “Jump and I’ll catch you.” Then he put him on the third stair and said “jump and I’ll catch you.” The little boy was afraid but he trusted his father and did what he was told and jumped into his arms. The father put him on the next step and then the next, each time telling him “Jump and I’ll catch you.” Then the boy jumped from a very high step, but this time the father stepped back and the boy fell flat on his face. He picked himself up, bleeding and crying, and the father said to him “That will teach you.” When his father caught him, he felt filled with love and when he didn’t, he was filled with something else, something more … life. John 10:10 tells us that Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Abundant life, in all its fullness is what we are meant to have.
Going back to the stories that I began with, theologian N.T. Wright reminds us that in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke “they all tell the stories of the mountain-top experience of the Transfiguration and the story of the shrieking, writhing possessed boy in that order, as if they ‘go together.’” He points out that “God’s voice, after all, was heard during the glorious episode up on the mountain, but God’s power is dramatically revealed in what happens below, where people are suffering.” Radiant, heavenly light and a distressed father and son, side by side stories that remind us of how complex God’s revelations are and at what surprising times and places they can occur. Wright goes on to say, “It’s true, then, that in our own lives, our experience of God, rather than being our own private pursuit and comfort, is inextricably linked to our response to suffering.” Being present in our own suffering or the suffering of others can bring us closer to the presence of God. Times of discomfort and disturbance are just as holy as tranquility and transcendence.
Life is wholly, holy. It is all holy. The crying, screaming fits of it and the calm, peaceful bliss of it. I am learning to be with my discomfort and my daughter’s discomfort without fleeing from it, but discovering the holy in the midst of it. God said “listen to him.” I am saying to listen to him, listen to your life. Listen to the pain in it and the joy in it and you will find God in both. In this Lenten season we are moving towards the cross and what better example do we have of suffering and ecstasy joined together to reveal how incredible God is. The cross can make us very uncomfortable. It was a gruesome painful way to die, but when we see it, we do not only see death. We also see new life and hope. God may lead us into the darkness, but God will also lead us out of it to the light. In the darkness, in the difficult times, we may lose our way, but God is never lost and never loses us. God is our parent, without the flaws of human parents, but with the perfection of the divine. We are called to trust in God’s ways even when they unsettle us. I am learning through my own parenting experiences how to see God parenting me. Sometimes I look at how messy my life is and I think God has no clue. Then I get a view of the bigger picture of God’s glory from the mountain top and I think to myself, “now I get it.” I pray that you have those moments of revelation too. I pray that there are times when God astounds you and times when God quietly surprises you with the power of God’s love in your life, through all the times in your life.
Dear, God bless us and disturb us so that we might be made more holy and more whole, drawing ever closer to you and those you love.