Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

11 July 2010


In the early days of my adult faith, . . . I saw God everywhere. I spoke of God all the time. I bored and alarmed others with my preoccupation with matters of the spirit.

Soon, though, the business of living—which has its own jealous demands—resumed. I had two toddling daughters, a widowed mother-in-law living on our farm, a new teaching job at the local school followed by another new job at a nearby university, an additional part-time job helping my husband with big seasonal farm chores—haying, weaning, selling animals, calving assistance—and all the claims on my attention that attend such responsibilities. Soon, . . . I stopped noticing God’s presence as much, stopped looking for it. I read the Bible less frequently and nodded off at church.

Before I knew what had transpired, I found myself in another place, spiritually speaking--. . . a place of spiritual oblivion. I simply stopped perceiving all the evidence of God’s presence that I had come to cherish. Gradually, unintentionally, I began to live from one day to the next in just about the same way as I had lived before I became a believer, except that now I tacked a little prayer onto this or that worry. Father God, I prayed, help me know what to do about Charlotte’s thumb-sucking. Holy Spirit, please speak for me when Lisa and I have our talk about class scheduling. Oh, Jesus, let Kris not be so stressed all the time. As soon as I had prayed my little prayer, I was done with God. Most times, I didn’t even notice, or rejoice, when my prayer was answered. By then, another worry had already laid claim on my relationship with God, and the old one was forgotten.

I forgot not only yesterday’s problems and prayers but the very core of my own faith history: the longing, the relentless seeking, the daily discoveries of God’s involvement in my life that had made me a believer in the first place. Somehow, my faith, over time, shrank to empty habit, something I should be doing or feeling rather than the daily fulfillment of my desires and hopes.

. . . Sometime during this period of oblivion, . . . I came across a journal I had briefly kept back when my faith was still new. A fellow teacher named Mitzi—younger than I was but a lifelong believer—had given me a blank book for Christmas. Its cover was a field of watercolor wildflowers—lavenders, pinks, greens—and Mitzi had labeled it “A Blessing Book” on the first page. Although I found the book was a bit cutesy, I nevertheless used it to keep a detailed account of three weeks of my life from that time. My disagreements with my husband. Our money troubles as farmers. Childrearing difficulties. Conflicts at work. My night worries. Eleven entries just like those in the diaries I had sporadically kept as a teenager, but with one big difference: I repeatedly compared the events of my days to what I was reading in the Bible. The entries were about as far from blessings as they could be. Rather, they recounted struggles, worries, discord—doggedly accompanied by strangely peppy-sounding efforts to see meaning in my grievances. Or, more exactly, to see the direct intervention of God in the everyday details of my life.

In one entry, I interpreted my boss’s micromanagement of a program I administered as evidence of my own unwillingness to submit to authority, and I found hope in Peter’s promise that “the God of all grace” would “restore” me and make me “strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). The word Peter used for restore, I noted—I’ve no idea where I found this out—was the same Greek word he would have used for mending the holes in a net. In another entry, I considered how best to confront a coworker’s misbehavior in light of Paul’s counsel to “restore”—the same word Peter used!—fellow sinners “gently” (Galatians 6:1). Meanwhile, my husband and I were having one of those convoluted early marriage fights involving potty-training issues, his mom’s constant involvement our day-to-day routine, and whether or not to get out of farming entirely, and I blithely wrote, “I should be wanting to do God’s will in this. I still too desperately want God’s will to be the same as mine.”

If there were no record of this admonition to myself, no record of those three weeks of living by faith, they would be gone forever. In the period of spiritual oblivion in which I found myself in the years that followed, I could not even recognize the earnest person who wrote those eleven entries. Time had transformed me into a person inexplicably unaware of my constant need for God and incapable of desiring God’s will over my own. Incapable, even, of recognizing God’s ongoing involvement in my life. Although more mature in every other way—older, wiser, and by then the conscientious moral coach of my own children and whole classes of befuddled students—I was a spiritual adolescent at best. I lived in the moment. My life was too hectic to admit much of a future beyond a scribbled to-do list, and I had not yet cultivated one of the primary skills necessary for distinguishing the presence of an unseen, unheard, untouchable God: remembering.

~excerpt from A Field Guide to God (Guideposts Books, 2010)


Shelly Collins said...

Thank you for posting this. I am a teacher and mother of three and found so much to relate to in this exerpt. My prayer is that I will be fully aware of my constant need for God every day.

patty kirk said...

May you be restored!