Teaching some management courses on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation for the Little Wound School District a few years ago, I was impressed by their spirituality. Before one of the courses was about to begin, the leader asked one of the elders of the tribe, who happened to be the Athletic Director of the school, to lead in prayer.
They pushed back from the tables and we all stood, the elder Arlo Provost began to pray— in Lakota. It took my breath away; I had no idea what he was saying but I had never heard anything like it. He said, “Amen” then sat down and we all sat down too. I was stunned. Then they all turned their heads to me. I opened my notes and began to teach them about managing multiple priorities. I felt like the foreigner that I was.
It reminded me of a story I read somewhere that I hope is true about one of the “rites of passage” of Lakota boys. A father would take his son out into the wilderness at age 14 and leave him there by himself over night with scant provision to survive the day and night. It is said that the boys would spend most of the night sitting up listening to all the wild sounds of the night, the owls hooting, the rustling in the brush, the snorts in the dark, and the wolves howling. A very restless and frightful night for the young brave.
But in the morning when the dawn broke over the eastern horizon—off about a hundred yards—the boy could see a lone man standing beside a tree. Then the man started walking towards him and the boy would recognize the walk of this warrior-father. He had been there all night watching his son.
God’s kind of like that with us.
Sometimes I cry out to God, “God, where are you? I just don’t see you!”
And in that still small voice God says: “Remember the Sunday School class when the teacher, Mrs. Peggram, made you leave the class because she couldn’t get you to shut up? That was Me. How about that time when your head hurt so badly that you cried yourself to sleep and your mom came to your room to rub your neck? That was me. I was there. Remember when your dad came to give you a ride home when the meanest kid in school wanted to beat you up? I was there. I was caring.
“Remember when you were in high school, and you were gangly and awkward, and nobody wanted to be around you, and you felt all alone? You weren’t. I was there. Remember when you were in college, and you were so empty because you thought I had gone away? And you even doubted that I existed? And you walked around that campus crying out, “If you are here . . . show me”? I was there. I was right beside you. Remember when you were working construction and couldn’t pay your bills, and they came and repossessed your truck? And you cried yourself to sleep that night? I was there.
“Remember in your forties, when you lost your job, your friends, your sense of purpose and you thought you were going to never see light again? I was right there.
“Remember when you stopped and ate lunch at that Burger King in Vernal, Utah and told your oldest son why you lost your job and were leaving Colorado? I was there at the table with you and the next two hundred miles of silence that hung between you and your fourteen year old son. Don’t ask me where I’ve been. I’ve been close the whole time.”
I want to paraphrase and personalize a famous passage of scripture in the Old Testament for my own edification, if not yours.
When Joe was a child, I loved him,
And out of sin I called My son.
But the more I called him,
The more he ran from Me.
He sacrificed to the gods of this world,
And burned incense to carved images.
“I taught little Joe to walk,
Taking him by his spindly arms;
But he did not know that I healed his wounds.
I drew him with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
I stooped and held him.
God is always near, redeeming, guiding, forming, mending, and protecting us.
Today, my oldest son celebrates the seventh anniversary of his marriage to my daughter-in-love, Ashley. And none of that, including the four subsequent grandchildren, could have happened had God not taken an active and sovereign role in the life I was trying to live. I don’t understand how God uses past mistakes to make beautiful art, like a wonderful marriage of seven years for my son and four red-headed angels, but He does.
As we live our lives, fretting about what goes bump in the night, keep your eyes on the eastern sky. One day, maybe not too distant from now, we will see our Warrior-King returning to wipe away every tear from our eyes, heal our wounds, and set things to rights in this sorry dark world. We are not nearly as alone as we think we are.
In a word, it’s called hope.
“Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” I say.