A friend I had not heard from in a long time wrote to me and apologized for being a sh*tty friend, not returning my phone calls or texts. I was happy to hear from her and responded that she is a friend, period, without qualifiers. Was I disappointed that I had not heard back from her earlier? Yes. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to hear from her whenever she was ready to reach out! In that moment the story of the Prodigal Son became real in my life. I was happy to hear from the person who I thought was lost, but now was found.
Then I read a terrific blog post by Jen Hesse, titled “God never wastes the space between.” It got me thinking about my own in-between spaces – those times of waiting for the next step, of wondering what the next step will be or what it will bring. It is wonderful to celebrate the end of the waiting – the joyful reunion of friends or family members, the new relationship, the new job, the return of good health – but sometimes, unfortunately, we have a long period of waiting. The season of Lent in the Christian church is a season of waiting, remembering the decades that the Jewish people spent wandering in the wilderness, following Moses, before getting to the promised land. The season of winter feels like a season of waiting for the sun to return to prominence in the hemisphere, waiting for leaves, grass, and flowers to emerge in springtime. Waiting can be a lonely, dark, dispiriting time. I am a person who loves to have a plan. Waiting for a plan to emerge has been difficult.
Fortunately, the seasons of Lent and winter also bring the assurance that the waiting will end. God’s people did not wander in the wilderness forever, it just seemed that way to them. Winter does not last forever, spring does return. It does not return in the same way that it did last year, and my future will not look the same as my past, but I will not be stuck in my present state of waiting forever. It is reassuring to be reminded that God is with us in the waiting, in the wilderness, when it is hard to hold onto faith and hope. I am thankful for friends and family members who reach out, for writers who share their stories of struggle and faith, and for my church community. Even when I cannot see what is ahead, I can take comfort in the knowledge that I will be surrounded by faith and by opportunities to live out my faith.
And what does fertilizer have to do with any of this? With the emergence of spring it is time to turn over the earth, dig into the dirt, and prepare the garden and flower beds for planting! If you’ve ever lived near a farm you may know that cow manure (sh*t) makes excellent fertilizer, much in the same way that vegetable scraps make excellent compost. But cow manure and vegetable scraps do not become excellent fertilizer or compost overnight! They need a lot of time to decompose and change their physical properties into something that will provide nourishment to other plants. Something that is a waste product can, over time, become a new and valuable commodity, contributing to our well-being. Similarly, the parts of ourselves that we fear are used up or out-of-date can be renewed over time.
Reading the scripture verses about the “parable of the prodigal and his brother”, as it is called in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, I am reminded that there are two brothers in the story. These days we could call them siblings. One has stayed at home caring for the family farm/property, the other has left home with his/her inheritance money and wasted it on decadent living. When the prodigal returns after years of no contact the father rejoices but the other sibling is annoyed, feeling unappreciated for the years of loyal work that they have provided. The father’s words to both of the siblings can provide comfort to us, whether our period of waiting has seemed productive or not. To the first he says, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31.) You are always with me. How much I need to hear that in my times of darkness and waiting! Then he goes on, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this [sibling] of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32.) In God’s world the old becomes new, the dead come to life, the waiting ends in rejoicing.
Lord, thank you for being with me always – in the waiting, and in the rejoicing to come. Amen.