Read Acts 1. A 62 year old American woman named Diana Ryad is trying to swim from Cuba to Florida right now. It’s her fourth time trying. Jellyfish are stinging her. She’s been slowed by storms. She’s trying to be the first person to do this swim without a shark cage – which means, obviously, that she risks shark attacks. She eats peanut butter to keep her strength up. She won’t sleep. She succumbed to asthma last time. It’s 103 miles. She sings to make her load lighter. When asked why she does it, she says that without a vision, people get depressed. They overeat. She wants to inspire people to achieve their dreams, no matter what their age.
I’m inspired. But I have to admit, her story made my pool swim last night seem tame – and really, really nice. Her dream is not my dream.
What are our dreams? Some people are lucky. They’re single-minded, have only one dream and the focus (or what can look like selfishness to the rest of us) to achieve it. Most of us mere mortals usually have a lot of dreams – and they often conflict. We want to love and be loved by our families – and yet also achieve some degree of fame, glory and honor. We want people to like us, yet we have a vision that requires solitude and sacrifice. So in order to achieve our dreams, we often need to sort out which ones are the most important. And then we need to find the power – which we define as focus, money and time – to achieve the dreams we most want.
In other words, in our way of thinking, we think we need to sort our priorities, rationally we hope, and do what we need to do to achieve the dreams on our list, one by one. That’s the idea. In reality, we find ourselves sidetracked more than we would like to admit. A day will pass, and we’ll wonder what we accomplished. A week will go by, then two, then a month, and we’ll find ourselves no closer to achieving any of our dreams. We wonder why. We criticize ourselves to others – calling ourselves names like lazy, unfocused, pathetic, weak, useless – names we would snap at our children for using about themselves. We wonder if the problem is that our real dreams are the ones we end up doing, and that maybe our other dreams are unrealistic, or fantasies, or mere distractions from our real life.
But what is real life? Is it just being ordinary? Is that the lesson? To just stop being a Walter Mitty and engage more fully in our real lives? Is the message to enjoy changing those dirty diapers? To bloom where we’re planted? Yes and no. Yes, real life means discovering transcendence inside our every day existence. But no, absolutely not, if it means accepting that we’re ordinary and we should have only ordinary dreams and we should accept boredom and dissatisfaction. Because we know, deep in our hearts, that real life is NOT just living a hum drum existence. Dust we are, and unto dust we shall return, yes – but it’s stardust we’re made of. As C.S. Lewis put it: “all that is earth was once sky.” There is something eternal inside each of our hearts, and we chafe against the temporal.
So how do we reconcile the two? How do we enjoy our temporal lives in a way that satisfies the deeply infinite call inside us? How do we strike a balance between our duties – and how I hate that word – and our dreams? Is even that way of framing the question completely off base?
Because if we listen to our hearts, if we go off by ourselves and respond to the longing deep within us to sprint 106 miles, to write screenplays, to host t.v. shows, to be adored, to love extravagantly and kiss slowly, to parent perfectly, and to leap like calves released from the stalls – we start to sense that there is a way to live, really live, every part of our lives in the way we’ve always dreamed of.
That’s God’s answer, anyway. He whispers to our hearts that the answer to our dreams lies in seeking His peace, His joy, His love and His power – and He will show us the way to transcendence. It’s the answer that every fairy tale hints at. The answer lies outside of ourselves. It lies in being clothed in supernatural power, and in love – because dreams made of love bless us because they satisfy us even as we are in the midst of weaving them. Dreams woven from love, and with love, and in love, are not achieved upon completion, but in the very moment of creation. The more we spin straw into gold, the more joy fills our hearts. And although even that sounds like a fairy tale, it’s not. It’s more real than we can ask or imagine.
That’s why Jesus’ promise of power in the first chapter of Acts is intriguing in its simplicity. Jesus tells the disciples this before he floats up into the clouds: (1) wait; and (2) receive power.
Jesus’ last instructions are backward to our way of thinking. First of all, waiting is the last thing on our minds. We want to DO. We want to leap into the ocean, sprint 106 miles, dodge jellyfish, suck down peanut butter, and outfox the most sharp-toothed sharkiest sharks. Or at least creep slowly into a chlorinated pool and do a few laps.
Second, we don’t want to RECEIVE power, we want to grasp it. Receiving is hard for most of us. Receiving feels like an admission of weakness. Okay, scratch that. Receiving, by definition, IS an admission of weakness. In order to receive we have to admit a lack in ourselves.
So it’s interesting that what Jesus promises to give is power. Power to us is almost a magical word. Power is the kind of thing superheroes get from magic rings. It’s the kind of thing world leaders achieve through a combination of luck, ruthlessness, ego and, sometimes (although not always) skill. It’s something that slips through our fingers the more we try to grasp it. In short, worldly power is something to grasp, seek, grab and hold – and it’s as elusive and slippery as jellyfish.
The power Jesus promises, therefore, is starting to sound enticing. His seemingly backward way of achieving it – by waiting – is beginning to sound like something we’re willing to try. Because when we’re sick of grasping, grabbing, making lists, fighting and clawing our way into…. dissatisfaction, we swallow our pride, go where we’re told, sit around with people we wouldn’t have chosen ourselves, and…. wait.
We wait. We hang tight. And slowly, suddenly, amazingly, we discover something we never would have thought of ourselves. Waiting itself is a victory. I don’t mean the kind of shallow praise we give to our children when they fail – “don’t worry, darling, that you came in last of all, you were a winner in MY eyes” – I mean that really, truly, there is extreme power in just waiting. That’s because in order to wait, we have to believe in the thing we’re waiting for.
Really? I thought we were waiting for power. But, as always, in God’s way, the moment we choose to wait for God’s power, we are given it. Boom power. That’s why we read in Isaiah that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength like eagle’s wings. It’s not, I don’t think, because if we wait for hundreds of years, one day, at last, God will renew our strength. It’s because there is strength in the very act of waiting. If, as the Bible teaches, we are created to rely upon God, the moment we choose to rely on Him, we are tapping into our true source of power – God.
So if waiting is power, it’s interesting that the second part of the equation in this two part pathway to power is the power itself. The power Jesus is talking about here is the Holy Spirit. He has been promising for the past three years of His ministry on earth, that God will give the gift of the Holy Spirit after Jesus leaves. What is the Holy Spirit? It’s God. It’s love. It’s all that God is. It comes inside us, any of us, anyone who wants it, if we ask Jesus for it. So what kind of power is it?
To answer that question, all we need to do is look at where this power comes from. It comes from God dying for us. God gave up His power in order to clothe us with power. He gave up His holiness to make us holy. He gave up His perfection to clothe us with perfection. He gave up His beauty, to clothe us with beauty. He took the shame of the cross, so He could give us clean slates and dignity.
It’s really that simple. It’s so simple, as the mattress ad puts it, that even a child can do it. It’s so simple, in fact, that only someone who comes to God like a child can do it.
So Jesus tells the disciples to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit, and then He ascends into the clouds. Two angels come and ask the disciples why they’re staring up at the clouds. Well. Um. Because….. why WOULDN’T we look up at the clouds if we’d just seen a man float on up there? If it were me, I’d be straining to see if I could still see those toes. The angels then tell the disciples not to keep staring up at the clouds because they say Jesus is coming back the same way He left.
This seems to make even less sense. If we know Jesus is coming back down the same way, why wouldn’t we spend all our time looking up at the clouds to catch a glimpse of Him on His way back down? Why wouldn’t we, in short, spend all our time day-dreaming?
The answer, I think, is that the angels are onto something that we’re not. The answer, I think, is that if we listen to God – and if He really is God, why WOULDN’T we listen – if we leave the mountaintop, travel to the city, and wait together where He tells us – He will give us the kind of glory that will make us feel like we’re floating up in the clouds, even as we walk on this earth with our clay feet. If we humble ourselves enough to ask for God’s power, and admit we don’t have it in ourselves, He’ll fill us with His love. God longs to fill us with His love. He wants to fill us with His joy. He promises to fill us with His peace. He wants to give us, in short, the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
And that’s when we start to discover that true power comes from peace. The more peace we have, the less we’re distracted. We find real power lies in God’s joy. The more joy we have, the more we can leap out of bed and achieve our dreams – all of them. We find power lies in love. The more love we have – God’s kind of love – the more fulfilling our lives become.
And all this comes from waiting. Does it sound too good to be true? Yes. That’s because it is. It’s the sort of goodness we can only wait for – and in the very moment of waiting – in the act of choosing to trust God instead of ourselves – we feel the stardust inside us lift us up in response to our choice to live the way we were made – with supernatural extravagant God-given shark-evading jellyfish-resistant bountiful joy.
posted by Caroline Coleman on what would have been my father’s 87th birthday, August 21, 2012 in carolinecolemanbooks.com