I go to one of those churches that does praise choruses. I was raised in one that sang hymns. I know most of the Christian songbook, I think, just by virtue of repetition in many services through the years.
Sometimes, maybe often times, my memory is engaging my mouth to produce habitual sounds which probably don’t differ much from any other time I sang them. Then there are days like today.
Kristian Stanfill’s song, “Always” was the song. I’ve sang it maybe dozens of times. I really don’t remember when I learned it. I do know this: today it was different. The lyrics say this:
Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always
I was cruising just fine, fairly engaged and thinking pleasant thoughts about God and the way He is such a stand-up guy. A fellow you can really count on to show up when you need to move a couch, that kind of person. Standing by when help is required. And then I choked on the words.
I don’t mean I started coughing and sputtering. I mean the words stuck in my throat and wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t say it. “He will not delay, my refuge and strength…” the sudden thought of that overwhelmed me. God is not some buddy that you call when you want to go to a movie. He’s EVERYTHING. After that, all I could hear echoing in my head was, “You really think so?”
Honestly, I couldn’t sing the rest of the service. I grew up in a church where people who get emotional are assumed to have horrible things going on in their lives, so I really suppressed that whole feeling before it got out of hand. Seriously, though… it was starting to seize me. The deep, searing emotion that God really should be EVERYTHING. Maybe He isn’t my Funko Pop collection, but he’s the source of my joy. He is my sustainer. He holds me up so I can have the luxury of buying stupid crap that I don’t need.
It’s been two or three hours since we left and I still feel haunted. Sometimes the Holy Ghost really is a specter. I don’t have a resolution and maybe I won’t get one, but something is upended in my life right now. God wants to know if I believe him. He’s kind of a big deal, so I don’t want to answer too quick. I have a feeling that if you follow him, things can be pretty crazy.
And delay. He will not delay? “You really think so?” I have held on to the whole, “He makes all things beautiful in his time” lyric since church camp, and I think there’s truth in that. I think God works on God’s timetable and it’s really not about us. But delay? I don’t know. Sometimes He takes a LONG time.
And while I was sitting there, not singing, mouthing the words but emitting no sound to keep from releasing tears, this right hook hit me right in the face in the next song:
You give and take away, You give and take away
My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.
Oh NO. I hope I’m not coming across as overly dramatic here, but seriously, this was starting to cause me anguish. It’s not enough to ask me if I think you’re really in charge, God? Now we have to discuss whether or not I’m cool with you taking things away? Things that I wanted? Things that I considered pillars in my life?
I’m not turning this around into a message for some other reader because that’s not where I’m experiencing it right now. This is burning deep in ME. I’m chewing on this gristle and I don’t know how to spit it out. Today, God was loving, but he was also stern to me. He was tired of me singing things I don’t hear myself, he wanted to know what I really thought. I don’t know the answer. It feels real and I’m not sure where that leaves me. I’m not struck blind like Paul was, but I do feel like I’m stumbling around. While being chased.