Written by Jessica Ribera
Sitting in beautiful sunshine, I commanded my robot: “Alexa! Play Bach.”
A busy mom, faced with developing a homeschool rhythm and curriculum for 4 kids, I took a day to plan for the coming year. (Plan has felt like a bit of a joke in 2020, right? But, we must carry on with the tools we have, and for many of us, planning is a mainstay).
Before I got to counting out school weeks and assigning readings, I wanted to take time for prayer and reflection. A joke keeps showing up in my social media feeds: “Boy, am I ready for some precedented times!” It’s funny because it’s true. But as believers we know that there is nothing new under the sun, that kingdoms rise, kingdoms fall, riches come, riches go, but the word of our Lord stands forever. He is not shifting or changing. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I asked Alexa for Bach because I know that music helps me to stay present in a moment and to engage both sides of my brain as I enter into a time of supplication, praise, confession, and listening for this eternal, unchangeable God who calls me daughter.
On my birthday several weeks ago, I took a similar, intentional break to consider virtues and focus for my new year. Sitting in the same sunny spot, the Lord impressed upon me my need to grow in kindness. Some of you know me, but you might not have seen the unkindness to which I am prone. Remember that uncle from Home Alone? “Look what you did, you little jerk!” That is often the thought in my head, and, to my shame, on my tongue. I write this having just sat under Pastor David’s teaching based on James 3. I fear setting a forest fire in my children.
Entering into my first year of full-time homeschool, my prayer for the Spirit to produce his fruit of kindness in me feels urgent, essential.
During my short homeschool planning session, I asked, “Lord, will you speak to me about the kindness I know I need. Tell me what YOU know I need.” The soothing massage of Bach’s violins rubbed into my thoughts. I was quiet for a time. Then, the fruit of the Spirit came slowly dancing across my mind. Listening to the music, asking God to shepherd me, gentleness stayed centerstage as the rest stepped lightly off into the wings.
I’ll pause here to say: the Holy Spirit does not always or even often speak to me this way, but I felt confident in tugging the thread because these thoughts tracked with His words in Scripture.
Gentleness settled itself in the middle of my thoughts. Images of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks appeared beside a kind of movie reel of a shepherd, bloody and exhausted, tenderly carrying a wreck of a lamb over a rocky scramble. You are so gentle, I thought. Thank you. Oh! I want to be gentle like you during this time full of wounding and danger.
Violins are, for me, the instrument most able to capture the moanings and songs of a human soul. I don’t want to overstep, but when the tones of a violin touch my pain and needs in ways that words cannot, I think of these words from Romans:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
As I thought of those verses and the word groanings, sorrow joined gentleness. The music sounded gentle but also so, so sorrowful. My own heart has been plagued with sorrow during this pandemic. I weep for the world, for my children whose lives are so disrupted, for lost lives, for the limitations that hurt us. And, personally, this decision to homeschool my kiddos comes with a need to process all kinds of past sorrow. No matter who you are or what you have endured, I think sorrow will be a part of your year.
And what does sorrow really need? Gentleness, kindness, acknowledgement. Our Lord Jesus was a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). He was acquainted with grief, and we esteemed him not. But God the Father gave him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9)! Jesus Christ was obedient through his sorrow, and by his sorrowful, unimaginable wounds we are healed!
Sorrow is safe to engage in the light of Scripture and the providence of the Father.
These words, gentleness and sorrow, have given me a lot to think about. I am eager to keep them in mind as we enter this weird, new, election, pandemic year. Studying these words, I came across this passage from 2 Chronicles. Here, Solomon is dedicating the temple (the hope of generations) to the Lord. He is entreating God to come, to be with them.
“If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemies besiege them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own sorrow and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear from heaven your dwelling place and forgive and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways, for you, you only, know the hearts of the children of mankind, that they may fear you and walk in your ways all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers.” 2 Chronicles 6:28-31
Our pleas and outstretched hands are not directed to the temple in Israel, but they do search for and hope in the same God who met our ancient brothers and sisters there. The Lord has made his dwelling place among us. Jesus’ advent, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit have secured our direct line to the Trinity forever. We may see each other time to time in the next months at masked worship. We can chat online and over texts. But we are connected eternally by the Spirit in our hearts. When we engage Him and each other in prayer, He works.
In this hurting, bewildered world, gentleness is needed. I am praying for this fruit for all his people (and especially for me!). Sorrow cannot be dodged. I hope we can help each other to boldly weep and confess our sorrows, the sorrows of the whole world, to God our Father with no shame or inhibition as Jesus did. Sometimes (particularly between the hours of 4-8pm) gentleness feels painfully out of reach. Sometimes, sleeves are wet with my tears.