I lay face down on the floor in the great room, fists clinched, deep sobs racking my body. I was inconsolable. The mournful cries that welled-up from the depths of me echoed off the walls of the empty sanctuary making the sound even more forlorn. My mind was racing with questions as I pondered the moment I had just experienced. It had started out hopeful enough but had ended in an ominous cloud. How could something like that happen? Especially today?
When I started my morning, it had begun like most others: awake to the alarm. Feed the cats. Drink the coffee. Choose His joy. Today of all days, I knew - I must choose joy. As I drank my favorite brew of dark roast coffee from the comfort of my cozy couch, I reflected on the current painful season of ministry. The last couple months serving in my little parish had been trying to my heart: this congregant had openly voiced their harsh opinion without concern, this other congregant had taken their side and pitted against me, while this leader who served beside me didn't bother to help at all. It was just another week in ministry. At least that's what my husband and I joked to one another on weeks like this. After 20 years of serving in full-time occupational ministry, we had learned that, if you are going to be in the people-building business, you had to learn to take the nasty blow, the negative opinion, and the gnarly wound without becoming offended. It was something I was usually good at doing, but even a pastor's armor get dings now and then, and as I sat there letting the warmth of the coffee sooth my tastebuds, I knew I had to find a soothing for my soul.
So, I grabbed my bible and my car keys and decided to go to the garden - a little gated retreat nestled in the back of a facility that is often used for weddings & photo shoots. The owner of the property had graciously given me a key to the locked garden after learning how I love to spend time in prayer outside. It was a glorious gift to my heart - one that I treasured dearly. Since learning to hear God's voice in the woods of my backyard as a child, nature had always brought me solace at the deepest levels and today - it was just what my spirit longed for.
As I pulled my chevy into the parking spot outside the garden gate, I could already sense comfort wrapping around my heart. Yes, this was exactly what I needed: a still, peaceful place where all of the disappointment of ministry, the depression of unmet dreams, and simply the turmoil of living under the sun would be stilled as I listened to His voice. I unlocked the gate and made my way to my favorite spot: a decorative bench overshadowed by towering trees. I sat down and looked up at all the early morning activity that filled the branches. Countless birds were darting to and fro, singing loudly, calling to their mates, and making my heart laugh at their exuberance. As I watched them enjoying the morning, I knew this moment was a gift from the Lord. It brought me back to memories in my childhood backyard retreat where I first learned to love these flying songsters. Ever since those days, birds had been to my heart a metaphor for spiritual living: keep flying higher & keep singing praises, no matter the season. No matter the moment, just keep your wings open to the winds of the Spirit and your song rising to your King. I whispered my thanks to the Lord for giving me both this reminder to keep singing and this feeling of joy that settled on my heart. The depression and disappointment was lifting away. I closed my eyes and drank in the communion. My heart was coming alive.
Suddenly, the sound of fluttering wings pulled me from the moment and I opened my eyes to enjoy the birds activity again. However, as I looked at the source of the sound, I noticed, not a bird playfully frolicking about, but one flailing in distress on the ground. It began to move in strange circles and fell over on its side. I sat stunned trying to figure out what was going on. Its sound of agitation began attracting other birds and one by one they flew near to him. A gathering had circled around it and I fully believed that they, too, were concerned for their comrade. But instead of compassion, these abhorrent beasts began to peck and harass the poor creature. I jumped from my bench, shooing the wretched bullies away and knelt down next to the bird. The thing was obviously having a seizure. It was terrified and in torment. I took off my jacket and wrapped the little thing gently in the fleece, speaking softly to the fowl, while also petitioning softly to the Lord to heal him. Hot tears streamed down my face as I unashamedly and earnestly prayed for this bird. For the next twenty minutes, I interceded. I commanded. I asked. I did all I knew to do in the arena of prayer and still, the little thing died in my hands. I was heartsick. But before I had time to fully mourn what had just happened, I heard a familiar sound over to my right. I turned to look and my lips parted in utter horror as I realized that another bird was having a seizure. Was it possible? Another right here and now? I looked about all around me to see how many more may be sick. Panic was rising in my heart. I wasn't sure what to do, but still I prayed.
I gently laid my jacket down on the ground and eased the dead bird onto the grass. Sobbing, I made my way over to the suffering bird who was now seizing terribly. I prayed with all my might for the poor creature, acting on all the authority I knew I had been given. Still, it seized. I noticed another bird just beyond the hill acting rather strangely and felt bile rise up in my throat. I closed my eyes to the scene then grabbed my jacket and turned to leave. But I couldn't. I resolved: I would wait until this little one was healed or at rest forever. So I turned back and lifted my hands in worship to the Lord. I did the very thing the birds had taught me to do all these years - just keep singing no matter the season and spread your wings to the wind of God. And so with hands outstretched in worship, I lifted my song: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee, how great Thou art! How great Thou art.
And with that, the little bird breathed its last.
I turned and made my way to the car, sobbing every step of the way. I had to get to the church. I had to get in the secret place with God and ask Him how something like this could happen. It was so unnatural. So surreal. So painful to the soul.
My mind was racing with questions as I pondered the moment I had just experienced. It had started out hopeful enough but had ended in an ominous cloud. How could something like that happen? Especially today when I needed such joy? Arriving at the church, I lay face down on the sanctuary floor, fists clinched, deep sobs racking my body. I was inconsolable. I knew it would seem foolish to many people: why would I be so heartsick about a dead bird? Some would even argue, "what's the point in praying for an animal anyway?" But it wasn't just about the bird. Yes - I am a super compassionate animal lover who is known for saving spiders instead of squishing them, but at the core of this, it was much more: it was the sting of disappointment in unanswered prayer; the deficiency in the pursuit of seeking 'the fullness'.
It's not the first time I had felt this sting. I had knelt in earnest prayer in a hospital hallway after leaving the room of a thirty-four year old mother, who just seconds before, unexpectedly passed away. I had laid my hands on a deceased teenager at a funeral and prayed under my breath repeatedly for them to live again. I had interceded in front of my congregation for a dying child to be revived only to stand and report the next week that the child had gone to heaven. I had interceded for friends and strangers alike to be healed, made whole, and delivered and could recount time after time when what I was requesting, didn't come to pass. And there in laid the distress of my heart as I cried out on that sanctuary floor. And there in also laid the gift: the gift of disillusionment.
Disillusionment is defined as, “A feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be; the condition of being dissatisfied or defeated in expectation or hope.”
For many who experience the bitterness of unanswered prayers, continued illness, and even premature death, the pursuit of 'seeking God for healing' or for 'the next level of faith' seems like a waste of time. Entire denominations are built upon this very principle: that God no longer does the things he did in the book of Acts because we don't see it happen in our day and age. Some wounded believers, when encountered with unmet expectations, feel they have made the discovery that God is not as good as they believed him to be and therefore live in either two camps of disillusionment. First are the ones who start out starry-eyed and full of hope and then when life goes wrong and prayers are unanswered, they either blame God for the pain and become derailed in their faith. The next category is the group that doesn't really blame God for doing wrong, but instead build a theology that says God must not want them pursuing such things and they themselves were wrong to expect it. But both of these groups are missing out on the beauty and the purpose of the gift.
But there is another group who embraces the purpose. It is know as a gift by those who have cultivated an intimate walk with the Lord that understands His will and His way. Whenever disillusionment comes their way, they may mourn and wrestle with the pain, but ultimately they embrace the moment as a lesson from which to learn. What do I mean? They compare their circumstance with the word of God and then dig their proverbial heels deeper into the soil of His love and confess, "I know your ways, God! I know your word! You are good! You are healer! You said the sick would recover! You said the dead would rise and I will not let my circumstance stop my pursuit! I will not let my circumstance dictate my belief in who You are!". For those who have anchored themselves, not in a worked-up, 'I'm a failure if I don't see it happen' mentality, but in a "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN," trust in God - these ones see the moment of unanswered prayer as a gift to keep pursuing Him until it is done. Yes, the definition of disillusionment is, a "feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be," but this type of believer knows that God is just as good as they believed Him to be and more! The 'something that's not as good as one believed it to be' isn't God - it is the very earth we are living on! It's the disillusionment with the state of this fallen world; that it is not in right order yet, that it is not 'as it is in heaven' yet. And this is the gift given to God's people to keep them pursuing His kingdom come.
So, that day I prostrated myself on the floor weeping after feeling heart-breaking disappointment in the garden didn't break me. No - it stirred up my fire to keep pursuing God for more. For after all my tears were cried, after all my questions were asked, I picked myself up off of the floor and I danced and I whirled and I hollered for His goodness. I let my feet lead me into war, my arms into the battle. I lifted my voice with a shout of triumph and told the devil exactly where he could go. For I would not be intimidated by defeat; I would instead take this moment as a gift from God and a warning to the enemy. For the enemy may try to distract me in my pursuit of walking exactly like Jesus walked, but I will not back down. He may enter my garden of prayer and disrupt my peace, but he will not steal what is supernaturally given by God. And although he might have meant the pain, the disappointment, the disillusionment to defeat me and do me harm, God promises that He will turn everything around for my good. Yes, everything the enemy uses to defeat me, God promises to use for His glory and for my good. And here in lies the gift.
May God find in me a heart that receives that gift; one that is learning from every lesson He presents me. Whether that lesson originated from His hand or from the enemy's, it doesn't matter. What matters is that I am ever learning the things He is teaching. In so doing, I will ever be deepening my trust in God's goodness and therefore will ever be refusing to stop my pursuit of the very thing the birds taught me to do years ago - just keep singing no matter the season and spread your wings to the wind of God.