Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say,”Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9
This weekend I went out to dinner with friends to celebrate a birthday – and with it another year of friendship forged into flashing steel through fire and prayers. We feasted on pasta, wine and, most fulfilling of all, life giving words. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11.
As we filled ourselves with food and conversation, we discussed loss. If we had not, honestly, there would not be much to talk about between these three women. The juxtaposition was jagged – a feast as the backdrop for these friends to process the hollow grace of unanswered prayer. I wish I could share their stories, but as Aslan wisely reminded Lucy, that is not your story. I sat at that table in the dim light with Lynne and Renee, a tantalizing bowl of ravioli and a stem glass of Pinot Noir in front of me, filling myself, body and soul, with abundance. Food, wine, encouragement, fun, challenge, trust, strength, laughter, memory, affirmation. It filled me up, this meal spent processing through the unfulfilled.
One thing we talked about at that dinner was fasting. God spoke to me recently about fasting. During a church wide fast in May, I was praying about the future of our family. I was thirsty that day. O God You are my God. My soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Ps. 63:1. I wanted. I was a hole.
Everywhere, a world pocked with scarcity. I hunger for filling in a world that is starved. Ann Voskamp.
God both filled and emptied me that day. I got an email from a friend, also fasting, who had prayed for me. She sent me verses from Daniel. She apologized for them in her email, because they were bleak. She did not know that I was fasting for a baby, or, at least, oblivion. Lord, give me another child or take away my desire for one. Over and over. Years of that prayer. I am so tired of that prayer; it is a black hole that sucks me inside out. The verses she gave me were about seasons, the rhythm of moving into a life where things change. The verses were stern, about accepting the endings and moving ruthlessly into what God ordains next.
Ugh. Punch in the empty gut.
I went into my closet and laid my Bible, open to those verses, on the floor. I huddled in the posture of a bow, my forehead on the floor, my hand spread wide on the open page of my Bible. I did not even pray. I just laid there and waited.
Flooding, filling, overflowing my mind, this: what if I do not give you what you pray for? you have prayed it for so long. what if you released it and let me give you a prayer?
Then, this: The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded. Ezekiel 24:15-18
Stunned, I let that fill me to the brim with its bitter mercy. Like no other prophet, Ezekiel actually lived God’s words. His whole life was a metaphor of the calling on his life. He ate food cooked over animal dung, he laid on his side for over a year, he dug through a wall with his bare hands, he put himself in exile outside the city – all for this: perhaps they will understand, although they are a rebellious house. Ez. 12:3.
Ezekiel drank the cup of suffering to the dregs as a sign to God’s people. I laid there on my closet floor, forehead still on the floor, hand still resting on the Words, listening to the emptying and the filling: what if I ask you to fast, forever, from the family you wanted? what if you continue to want it, forever, and I do not give it to you? will you be like Ezekiel? what if i take from you the desire of your eyes and you must carry the Wanting in your heart as a sign to my people? will you be a metaphor of my grace in the unfulfilled? will you be empty and filled at the same time? will you live fulfilled in the fasting?
The Israelites dwelled in the desert until an entire generation paid with their lives for their rebellious hearts. They ate manna. It was mystery food, miraculous food. Its name means “what is it?” It would appear on the ground six mornings a week, and it tasted like wafers and honey. It was sweet and nourishing, and it sustained God’s people for a generation of judgment and mercy. It fed their bellies and their faith in suffering and joy, redemption and loss, worship and rebellion, hardship and provision. It is the most mysterious, symbolic substance; the foreshadow of the eucharist.
Will I fill myself with manna? Will I let a mystery sustain me? Will I be a metaphor? Will I open my clenched fist, lay down my black hold prayers, and allow Him, and Him only, to be my portion, filling up everything?
You must speak my words to the house of Israel, whether they listen or fail to listen. But you, son of Man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel and be like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.
Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
(excerpts from Ezekiel 2 & 3)
I open my mouth and fill myself with a yes.