This was a wrestle this summer…one that I can’t mold into a tidy little shape of words, the sweat and tears of it are just too fresh. Have mercy with the lack of polish…I considered not publishing it, but, honestly, it feels like a cop out to not give it to you as a part of this series, Sleeping with Bread. And honestly, if you and I were sitting over coffee at Starbucks, (which I would love to do sometime!) I would share this story with every one of you dear friends.
Sometimes we smack into life hard, don’t we? A job loss, depression, a car accident, a death that took love too soon. They are all Pandora’s boxes letting out core longing fears that scream to be heard and the promises we sang in Sunday school just don’t feel honest anymore. That’s when we go to bed with bread and a good, night-long wrestle with the Word.
If I have time (and sense!) in the light, that’s when I pull my journal off the shelf and lament uncensored, (you know there are more lament Psalms than praise psalms?) and weep into the empty page like David in Psalm 22:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night and am not silent.”
Strength drained, I can’t pray in the light, so I wrestle with the Word like the Psalmist in Psalm 77 here:
“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.”
Sometimes sleeping with bread is more of a wrestle, but a wrestle that always ends with a blessing.
I was shaken. Core rocked. The job fell through in June as the last boxes were being taped up and we had rented out our home to beach-seekers for the summer. Stunned, we drove east, homeless. My parents took us in ecstatic to squeeze the grandkids daily. Twelve weeks of what felt like family vacation rose and fell on waves of insecurity.
But the Gift-Giver keeps bestowing even when we are an uprooted mess of roots hungry for a future.
Mom and Dad bought a black and white striped umbrella for the teak table on the back porch and I cooked one feast after another: white wine poached salmon, garlic studded roast chicken and filets smothered with blue cheese sauce. When they traveled to Belgium to see the newest member of our family born, their presence, a cover of joy was removed and naked fear was all that was left. We went back to boxes of Macaroni and Cheese.
I spent the first part of that week in a fog, unable to plan, to pray. Television was my drug of choice and every evening when the kids went down, I did too. One episode of West Wing after another to numb the fear. Triumphal music+ great screen write= Perfect Escape. A day with a new friend finally shook me out. (Thank you Christie Purifoy!) She was gentle with my fragility and we exchanged stories of moves that land us in the desert and a faithful God who with pillars of fire, guide us through. Later, I sat with my heart finally quieted enough to listen.
I was empty and shaken, but our God knows what to do with empty. Empty may feel like a pit but when we hold it out to the Giver, empty is that much closer to being full.
He sent me on a treasure hunt, all that day. Listen, He reminded me, for a short phrase of scripture to take to bed with me, to hold onto tight.
The living Word winding through the subconscious dislodges demons and exposes others powerless.
He reminded me to go to sleep with bread.
When anxiety left the children of the Holocaust without the soft sleep of peace, Viktor Frankl says that they were tucked in bed with bread, curling their bodies around that which would give them life the next day. They needed to grasp certainty.
We too can be woven into such a tight knot of fear that sleep evades and when night comes, we are left with a mind teetering on the edge of a very real hell.
And that which is clearly untrue by the light of day can still mock in darkness.
These verses had slid in and out of my mouth during my daily reading lectionary as I read daily but had honestly never stuck firmly in my mind. “I set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken, Psalm 16:8” They felt foreign and at this point, clearly untrue. Not shaken? Ha! I had been absolutely rocked! Tremors had produced deep fissures in my trust. Ah, but I still clung. Clung hard. He is the only solid Pillar to cling to in the middle of an earthquake. That night as I tucked in with bread, I gripped the crust tight, holding strong onto God.
Jacob had wrestled, holding onto the Life Giver, refusing to give up the grasp, the sweaty slide throughout the night. He believed the next day he, the blessing stealer, would meet with his brother Esau and possibly die at his hands along with all he loved. This night traveling back toward his boyhood home was his only hope and he would wrestle until he knew blessing.
I too held on tight, longing for release from fear, longing for blessing. I repeated the words as I breathed in, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
The promise of not being shaken clearly went along with practicing His Presence. Because I know that He is here, I have set the Lord always before me, even on my right, I will not be shaken.
What came to mind was the hymn, St. Patrick’s Breastplate and that first Sunday as Holy Trinity Anglican when we walked out of the Episcopal church and onto the water and everything felt all wobbly beneath our feet. We began worship and here was that snare drum and the firm beat as we followed the Celtic cross down the makeshift middle school cafeteria aisle.
These were the words St. Patrick wrapped around himself daily against the fear and struggle of a missionary life. He lived choosing to feed his pagan captors Jesus, they who had enslaved him as a child. St. Patrick had overcome the trauma of separation from family as a child, the trauma of six years of slavery and after escaping back to his family, had done the excruciatingly hard work of forgiveness. He had wrestled bitterness and anger and God had sent him back into their hands, to love and bring His Kingdom to his Captors. These were the words that became his protection, the bread he grasped daily.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I held onto the bread tighter, the Bread-giver: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” You are here. Before me. Beside me. Like Patrick, I choose to hide myself in You.
I fell mercifully asleep and dreamed deep. We were on a plane, the whole church we had just left in South Haven, everyone strapped to the metal top, our hair waving wildly in the wind. Lynne Maxwell led the praise team and tried to buoy our fear, play louder, more upbeat. We all tried clapping in time from our sliding aluminum chairs and then the plane began to tip and the whole church, Sonya Silvester, Kathy Sicard, Mark Lewis… all of us began free-falling into miles of empty air. I caught my breath, a mouthful of fear, and then it happened, the Word transforming, the blessing. I began yelling over and over, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
The words proclaimed were like pulling the rip cord on a parachute and I began floating, buoyed, slowly capturing the magnificent view in mental pictures. Flying.
The wrestling came to an end and the little “t” truth became a transforming big “T” Truth and I was truly blessed.
The next morning the blessing continued. The words now had more power than the tangle of my own thoughts and the earthquake stilled.
The bread lodged firmly in my mind and I feasted.
Paintings by Rembrandt, Delacroix found here
Looking for more of the Sleeping with Bread series? Click on the title here:
A Simple Bedtime Practice
How His Presence Changes Everything
Healing through Repetition
My Story: Where my Story is Challenged by Truth
You friend? Have you found any hope, any gift from sleeping with bread? We would love to share the feast.
Linking with the always insightful Laura Boggess , the completely authentic Jen and Ann who challenges and draws and makes me more thirsty.
My gifts this week? 1. A fireplace roaring and the family coming to be warmed, 2.My sister, listening, in-Couraging, 3. Seeing old high school friends, cheering on the flames, 4. rides on a vespa with Uncle Matt, 5. A husband’s grace with my grief, 6. Incarnation Anglican’s hospitality to my children. 7. Time ‘home’ to take deep breaths and remember how to be real, 8. Lindsay and Ethan, joining friends on the journey, 9. Thai peanut chicken, a revelation! 10. the truth from others and the sinking down small and letting Him grow large.