Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 33: Focus on God

"O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughing-stock all day long; everyone mocks me.  For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction! For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.  If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name’, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.  For I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. ‘Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.’  But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten.  O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. 

Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.
-Jeremiah 20:7-13

We were warned in training for the YASC program that we would have cycles of high points and low points in our attitude and happiness throughout our year. This has certainly been the experience for me—I’ve had two brief breakdowns in my first eight months when I’ve questioned God’s mission for me in Haiti. Fortunately, these have been surrounded by longer stints of happiness and positive vibes. Given that I’ve experienced these ups and downs, it’s no wonder the bi-polar-like passage from Jeremiah was the reading for today that most spoke to me. I certainly don’t compare my low points during my time with YASC to the suffering that Jeremiah is known for having endured, but I can relate to the doubt he has in God and God’s mission for him.

The reading selected for today cuts short a section where Jeremiah is speaking to God after being persecuted by an officer. The selected reading begins with Jeremiah expressing frustration with God, but ends with high praising, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers” (20:13). Pretty uplifting, positive stuff. However, Jeremiah’s speech keeps going and ends like this:

Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “'A son is born to you,' making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (20:14-18)

Wow, what emotion! I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything that articulates frustration and anger with quite the same force as this passage. For me his words are dramatic and rather disturbing.

It seems to me that Jeremiah’s frustration and anger come through when he focuses on what is wrong in his life and with the people surrounding him. People mocking him, his proclamations of giving up, the whispering people watching for him to fall, being persecuted and placed in the stocks by Pashhur—he certainly has a long list of negatives on which to dwell. His journey as a prophet was riddled with forces working against him, doubting him, and trying to pull him down. When Jeremiah is focusing on these things, he is in outright despair.

But when Jeremiah focuses on the Lord as his warrior, as an army to judge the wicked, as a deliverer of the needy from the hands of evildoers, he sings of hope! And he commits his cause to God.

When we focus on the flaws of our world, the wrongdoings of our fellow humans, and our own personal shortcomings, we become despondent, resentful and angsty. When we focus on God, we see light and are invigorated to follow a righteous path. When we focus on God, we see the Warrior manifest in the virtues of ourselves and others. When we focus on God, we recognize how we are God’s army of peace, messengers of love, and doers of good things.

Alan Yarborough is serving in Cange, Haiti, representing the Diocese of Western North Carolina 
and the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. He's working in economic development
 for Cange and the surrounding area in the Central Plateau.

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