This post concludes a series on accepting our circumstances. For the previous posts in the series, please see the following links:
"Stay" was one of the first commands we taught our current dog, Ebony. We employ it in a range of applications. For fun, we have him stay in an assigned spot while we leave his field of vision and hide a favorite toy for him to track; this is our family version of hide-and-seek. More importantly, this command can keep him out of harm's way, out of the driveway as a car approaches or out of the kitchen when a glass has broken or something toxic to him has spilled. Sometimes, we use it for something simply necessary, to communicate that he has to stay with the pet guardian at the kennel and not follow his desires out the door to the car with us. He doesn't need to understand or know the reason; his responsibility is to obey until we release him to go elsewhere.
My dogs have taught me a lot about myself and my relationship with God. This instance is no different. I, too, need to learn to stay when instructed, whether or not the reason makes sense to me. The temptation when the mundane continues long and monotonous without respite or when circumstances grow uncomfortable is to seek escape and diversion. My husband likes to quote an ancient Christian proverb in such cases: "Go, stay inside your cell, and your cell will teach you all things." In its original context, the exhortation called monks to seek the solitude of their monastic cells instead of society and activity with each other, to find interior quiet through exterior quiet. Might it not equally apply to accepting the situation Providence has assigned us? To obeying the command, "Stay," with a glad and pliable heart?
That command was given me clearly through my doctor this summer, with instructions to stay in my house and rest. The orders defining my cell were clear, but throughout I faced the choice of perspective. Would I view my living room today as a prison cell or a monastic cell where God met with me? Was this house arrest or a house party? Some days were more challenging than others, and the cell defined by four literal walls proved less frustrating for me, actually, than the walls of pain and weakness shutting me up with myself and my sins.
My youth minister used to say, "Wherever you go, there you are," and there's the rub. Staying in my cell stripped away the distractions and sin-management techniques that usually enable me to avoid looking too closely at some of the ugly aspects of self waiting for transformation, the places where I had unconsciously said, "Not Christ, but I." My Master showed me my resistance to receiving without reciprocation, which is really pride; my persistent control-freak tendencies (pride, again, and fear); and that what I thought was acceptance of chronic illness was really the absence of threat to my "Isaacs."
The teaching hasn't all been ugly, though. Through staying in my cell, I have also been learning that my family still loves and cares for me when I'm not producing and contributing; that I can trust God to meet my loved ones' needs without my help; and that
The command comes differently to each of us. Whether our cell is a sickbed, a cubicle, a prison cell, a difficult relationship, or a noisy household, may the Lord grant us peace, joy, and the grace to recognize in these boundaries the best possible teachers to conform us to the image of Christ. May we resist the urge to seek change when it's not God's leading but only our attempt to escape from the discomfort of growth. May we learn to recognize, heed, and even welcome the Master's voice calling, "Stay," knowing He is in the cell with us.
For further exploration of the boundaries idea: My poem "Contentment" is available in the archives of Communique Journal.