Of Flood and Drought

Pardon my rambling a wee bit–it does, as usual, arrive somewhere in the end.

Regen, Regen,
Alle pflegen
Sich, darüber
Aufzuregen.
Regen, lass mich
Überlegen,
Bin ich dafür
Oder bin ich dagegen?
–Die Prinzen

Rough translation: “Rain, rain, everybody feels the need to get all excited about it. Rain, let me consider, am I for it or against it?”

My sweet friend Bethany has written a beautiful post on the question of rain and its dual nature, blessing to the parched and curse to the flooded. It’s a duality I’ve been struggling with myself in recent months, having rediscovered the Jars of Clay song “Flood” in a season where I’ve felt my theme song to be America’s “A Horse with No Name” (except that I’m still not quite sure I’ve hit the point of “It felt good to be out of the rain” yet). And it’s found a new twist in the last week as I’ve watched the lake levels rise while friends claim to be losing sleep over the loss of life downstream.

There is no silver lining! those friends have screamed. Who cares if the lakes are recovering and the fields are green when people are dead?
But wait, I thought suddenly. Look how much water the lakes have caught. How much worse would things have been had the lakes not been low enough to absorb the flood?

There’s a Romans 8:28 in there, but the parable could have several applications, I think. Maybe the fuzziness is due in part to my filtering the idea not only through my own experience but also through that of Jared Padalecki, whose #AlwaysKeepFighting campaign against depression took on new urgency when he worked himself into deep exhaustion that worsened his own struggles, and Carman, who announced earlier this week that his pushing himself too hard too soon after going into remission from cancer was threatening the health of his heart. Thanks be to God, both of these brothers had wise advisors (friends, family, and co-stars in Jared’s case, good doctors in Carman’s) from whom they sought help and whose advice to rest and heal they heeded (Jared by canceling con appearances, Carman by canceling his latest Kickstarter-funded album project); and they also had supportive fan bases encouraging them to take care of themselves.
But of course, we don’t have to be celebrities to have a fan base–Hebrews 12:1 tells us of the “great cloud of witnesses” that’s cheering each of us on, no matter how obscure we are in the eyes of the world. And especially when we’re in times of drought, however literal or metaphorical, it’s important to remember the promise of Psalm 127:2b: “He giveth His beloved sleep.” After all, when Elijah was suicidal in 1 Kings 19, the first thing God did, even before giving him a message of hope, was to make him do nothing but sleep and eat for two days.

I keep thinking back to a message God urgently wanted me to hear at the beginning of this journey, from Priscilla Shirer’s excellent study Discerning the Voice of God, drawn from the story of Moses: “When you’re in the desert season, God is preparing you for the next big thing.”* The seasons of our life aren’t just measures of the passage of time; they also season us, as one seasons wood or metal to strengthen it for a given purpose. And I keep thinking that the droughts of our life, the ones that drain our reservoirs so dangerously, also hollow out a space in our life to contain an oncoming flood. Maybe it’s a flood of blessing, the “pressed down, shaken together, and running over” kind that could have been the ruin of us if God hadn’t made room for it. Maybe it’s a flood of hardship of a kind that only someone who has been through the desert on a horse with no name can weather. Or maybe it’s a matter of God putting us in the gap to absorb a flood, of blessing or of curse, that someone “downriver” from us needs to be spared lest that person be utterly destroyed.

Note that I’m not trying to say the drought of 2011 and the dry years since are unequivocally good times because the land and the lakes have been able to absorb so much of the water dropped by the recent storms. The suffering in this part of the state during this drought has been terrible. Nor do the drought seasons of our lives necessarily cease to be hard or necessarily kill off only sins and other parts of our lives that needed killing off. Romans 8:28 doesn’t mean that the bad things that happen are actually good or that we deserved them in some way. Tolkien captures the tension well in this exchange, between Manwë, the archangel ruling Arda as God’s regent, and Námo Mandos, the archangel of judgment in whose house the souls of Elves rest within Arda, from Chapter 11 of The Silmarillion (emphasis mine):

It is told that after the flight of Melkor [= Lucifer] the Valar sat long unmoved upon their thrones in the Ring of Doom; but they were not idle, as Fëanor declared in the folly of his heart. For the Valar may work many things with thought rather than with hands, and without voices in silence they may hold council one with another. Thus they held vigil in the night of Valinor, and their thought passed back beyond Eä and forth to the End; yet neither power nor wisdom assuaged their grief, and the knowing of evil in the hour of its being. And they mourned not more for the death of the Trees than for the marring of Fëanor: of the works of Melkor one of the most evil. For Fëanor was made the mightiest in all parts of body and mind, in valour, in endurance, in beauty, in understanding, in skill, in strength and in subtlety alike, of all the Children of Ilúvatar [aka Eru = God], and a bright flame was in him. The works of wonder for the glory of Arda that he might otherwise have wrought only Manwë might in some measure conceive. And it was told by the Vanyar who held vigil with the Valar that when the messengers declared to Manwë the answers of Fëanor to his heralds, Manwë wept and bowed his head. But at that last word of Fëanor: that at the least the Noldor should do deeds to live in song for ever, he raised his head, as one that hears a voice far off, and he said: ‘So shall it be! Dear-bought those songs shall be accounted, and yet shall be well-bought. For the price could be no other. Thus even as Eru spoke to us shall beauty not before conceived be brought into Eä, and evil yet be good to have been.’

But Mandos said: ‘And yet remain evil. To me shall Fëanor come soon.’

It is, rather, a matter of God making all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). I know in my own life, I’ve sensed God closing doors and changing interests in ways that make me suspect something big is coming from somewhere away upstream… I just pray I’m ready for whatever it is when it hits.

* Funny thing is, when I rewatched that lesson just now, I didn’t hear that exact quote again, even though I remembered her saying it several times. Hmmmmmm….

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