Pondering Philippians 1:6, part 1

As young people—in our teens and even twenties—possibilities often seem endless. I remember thinking I could be a doctor like my dad and help lots of people with their health issues—maybe on the mission field. I could write the next great children’s novel—and be like Madeleine L’Engle. I could open an orphanage. I could…

Now life feels more limited–and a lot more complex. I understand that opening one door means closing another. I see so many needs and often feel helpless to assist. I know children are starving around the globe and I look at my comfortable lifestyle and wonder what biblical living means for those of us who stay in the suburbs. I struggle with the differences between needs and wants. I wonder if all the “little” things I do each day are really making a difference. Is THIS what I’m supposed to be doing? I sometimes wonder.

The Christian life no longer seems like endless possibilities; it seems wrapped up in—perhaps even restricted by—“small” choices within everyday life.

But in the midst of my questions, my wondering, I’m learning to cling to the promise of Philippians 1:6—“…being confident of this, that He who began a good work in (me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

And lately God has given me the privilege of seeing that verse “fleshed out” in the lives of some older believers.

Because of the writing assignments I do for Wheaton Academy, I often get to interview believers much older than myself. They tell me their stories and about what has happened with them since they left Wheaton Academy. In their 70s and 80s, they don’t focus on the “small stuff” that unfortunately controls much of my early-40s, mom-to-6-kids, suburban life. But I know they DID experience these things; I’m not always talking to people who lived their entire lives on the mission field. Like me, most of the people I interview have children. They, too, bought homes and “settled” and lived in American culture. They, too, worked and had to bring home a paycheck to feed and clothe and pay sports fees and activity fees and for the cleats and shinguards and guitars to take to the sports and activities.

But they have something I don’t, a vantage point that I usually lack. They have a long view. One of them recently said this to me: I look back on all my career, all the jobs and changes and successes, and on our family life, and I see God purposefully preparing me and my circumstances for what I am doing now, in my golden years.

This bird was hanging out in a tree in our backyard a week or so ago. Hawk? Falcon? Anybody know? Whatever it was, it was big and fun to watch.

This bird was hanging out in a tree in our backyard a week or so ago. Hawk? Falcon? Anybody know? Whatever it was, it was big and fun to watch.

This man didn’t orchestrate things; he just did what came next—which is what I feel like I do most days, wondering if it’s what I’m supposed to be doing, wondering if it’s of any eternal purpose. This man didn’t have the long view IN the moment, in the journey. He just put one step in front of another and NOW he can look back and catch a glimpse of the pattern. He sees how all the “little” was part of the BIG, and that helps him to trust that there is an even bigger, even deeper pattern beyond and beneath what he is able to see right now.

And his long view helps ME to be “convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in (me) will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in (me.)” Phil. 1:6 Amplified version.

The Long View

All of the kids except Nina. They love photo shoots.

I watched Wheaton Academy’s performance of Les Miserables tonight.

Amazing story, amazing performance, music, direction, and adult leadership.
It was seriously excellent, and I was moved,
But I needed some time to get past the amazing performance to the truth God wanted me to see in it.
You see, I left the show missing working with high school theatre, the incredible thrill of working with students, of helping them transmit a character and story they didn’t know they had within themselves, of getting to know students in the very personal ways theatre creates. I left missing the world I was involved in for many years.
With that longing still in my chest, I came home to my 11-year-old daughter baking shortbread–while listening to the music of Les Mis. Jane was in the kitchen, too, singing along. Then Nina came down. They all saw the show last week and have been waiting to hear my reaction to it. Nina wanted to talk through several of the scenes. We sang songs together–not very well.
No wow factor—just my life.
And it struck me that my longing for something I no longer have—though not wrong—is a desire for a different story than the one God has put me in right now. I, like most people I know, am drawn to redemptive stories, stories that have purpose and sacrifice and change and love. The problem is that, though I’m pretty good at recognizing redemption in others’ life stories, I can be really bad at spotting it in my own.
So I want someone else’s. Tonight I wanted what I used to have. Yesterday I read the blog of a friend who is working in Africa marketing jewelry handmade by Ugandan women (check out her blog on my blogroll), and I wanted to be on the front lines of a social justice mission. Two days ago I learned of an Iranian pastor who is on death row for his Christian faith. Though I did NOT want HIS life right now (or that of his wife’s!), I for certain thought of his story as being more redemptive and more important than my own.
But generally, when we look at a life from outside it, and think, oh, that’s so redemptive, so purposeful, the people in it don’t see it that way; often, they are asking for escape from it (a truth clearly showed by the characters in Les Mis).
It’s good that we recognize redemption in others’ stories—we should use that recognition to encourage them and pray for them—but we also have to START seeing redemption in our OWN stories.
We have to start seeing it in the crushing, painful times.
In the grind-it-out, nitty-gritty times.
In the waiting, I’m-not-going-anywhere times.
In the doubting, wandering, holding-on-by-a-thread times.
If ANY of our stories could be condensed down to the 2½-hour-movie-version, we would be able to see redemption in it—at least our OWN redemption. But life doesn’t come with a soundtrack that lets us know when big moments are coming—or that this IS a big moment, a moment full of grand and glorious purpose. So we don’t see the BIG story.
We need the long view, the big view. God tells us His view of time is entirely different from our own. Our days are but moments to him. Our lives like breaths. This does not at all mean that our lives don’t matter to Him (for we know His thoughts toward us are precious and numerous, like grains of sand on the seashore; see Psalm 139:17-18); no, it tells us that He HAS the long view, the big redemptive view of how all our lives web together into the biggest story of all.
All these things in my life that I am tempted to think DON’T have real meaning—they DO. They are part of that biggest story. They may be behind-the-scenes stuff, but they matter. My nitty-gritty is affecting the stories of Dave, Em, Jake, Maddie, Patrick, Nina, Jane—and all the others they bring home for dinner, for the night, for the weekend. My nitty-gritty is being used to change ME.
MY story is a story of redemption.
So is yours.
We need to ask for the long view
And for the grace to persevere when we don’t see it.
Scripture passages:

Psalm 90:4 (The entire psalm is one of lament, but even in his sorrow he looks to the Lord for the “long view” {verses 16 and 17})

2 Peter 3:8-9 (and from there to the end of the chapter—lots of long-view “stuff”)