Any regrets? Well, I don’t know how you’d answer that question, but as for me, I can honestly say that by and large I don’t have many regrets about my life thus far. Oh, to be sure, there are a few – for instance, there were some classes I wish I’d taken when I was in school, and I probably should have done a little more traveling when I was younger and had the time (if not the money!); and looking back at it now, I know there were moments along the way when I should have been far more outspoken than I was (then again, there were other times when I would have been much better off had I sat down and kept my mouth shut when I had the chance!). But, you know what? For the most part, I’ve always viewed my life as flowing just about the way it should. In both the good and the bad of it, as the song goes,“my life flows on in endless song, [so] how can I keep from singing?”
From time to time, however, I do catch myself indulging in a bit of 20-20 hindsight: you know, the wistful longing that if only you could have known back then what you know now! Maybe it’s the result of watching my youngest and his classmates graduating high school – all these kids who have come such a long way to get to where they are, and yet have so far yet to go! I mean, there’s so much ahead of them, isn’t there; the discovery of all of life’s wonders as well as its harsh realities, moments of utter joy and elation mixed with despair and hardship; and this is to say nothing of mistakes made and lessons learned along the way. But this is part and parcel the stuff of life that helps us to grow!
Nonetheless, there are still times I look back and say to myself, man, if I’d known back when I was going to high school what I know now, things would have been different! For one thing, I wouldn’t have been so awkward; I would have had more confidence in myself, and that would have had a major impact of my relationships with my friends and most especially with girls (!); moreover, I would have paid more attention in class because now I really do understand how a lot of what I was learning back then really did “apply to real life.” It would have been so great!
But then, as I go through this checklist of things I’d do differently, it occurs to me that back when I was a gangly, awkward and ever-so-slightly nerdy 15 year old, I wasn’t ready for that kind of profound insight! Fact is, I wouldn’t have understood (hey, most of it I was told at the time by parents and teachers and others, and I still didn’t get it!). I was too young, too inexperienced to have been able to absorb it all – honestly, I was too busy trying to find my own place in the world to have listened to have paid attention to any wisdom from the future! Yes, I had a lot to learn, but the thing is, learning doesn’t happen all at once; true wisdom takes time and happens gradually over the course of a lifetime, one experience and insight at a time. I know this, because trust me, folks, where this unfolding mystery of life is concerned, I’m still on a learning curve!
On the night of betrayal and desertion, Jesus was desperately trying to teach the disciples all the things that they would need to know after he was gone – there was so much that that they needed to hear about God, so much wisdom that needed to be absorbed; but time was running out, and besides, the disciples weren’t ready to hear it all yet. “I still have many things to say to you,” Jesus says, “but you cannot bear them now.”
And that was true; at that moment, the disciples could not possibly have foreseen how their lives were about to change; they couldn’t have grasped the idea, much less the reality of his resurrection, nor could they have known or understood the scope or impact of their own ministries of the Word. Right now, it was more than they could handle: and so, in his words of farewell, Jesus promises them a teacher, “the Spirit of truth,” that will guide them into all wisdom and truth. “He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
This is the Holy Spirit, the gift of God’s own self-disclosure. The disciples are going to need enlightenment and instruction and revelation as to the nature of God and to their own mission as Christ’s disciples? Here comes God’s own persona of the Spirit coming to them directly to give them what they need for peace, strength, insight and continued growth! Here is a Holy Spirit coming to reveal truth as they’re ready to hear it and to receive it – for these first disciples, and all the believers who would follow: this is what would sustain them long after Christ had gone; this is what would lead them boldly along faith’s pathway in the days and years ahead, come what may.
It was a wonderful gift – but isn’t that typical of God? To give us what we need to guide us into all truth and lead us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake? The gift of the Holy Spirit, you see, is just one more way that God is relentless in bringing us into a deeper relationship with him, by giving us the insight we need amidst the unfolding mystery of human life. Author and preacher William Willimon puts it this way: “The Holy Spirit is a power, a power outside ourselves, that helps us in our weakness, yes, but also a power that pushes us, prods us, pokes at us, and rarely leaves us as we are… [it is] one of the most demanding, difficult, blessed, revealing, wonderful gifts God has given us.”
When it comes to our faith, beloved, we’re always going to be on a learning curve – as it is often said, faith is a journey not a destination, and the wisdom we gain is what we’ve garnered along the way. Truly, sometimes “the way” is rough – but the good news of the gospel is that by this gift of his Holy Spirit, God promises to never abandon us in the hard times, but to always be with us with love and strength. And in the process wisdom, truly “divine” wisdom that has been present from the time of creation will come to us, often in the most unlikely of places.
Perhaps like me, you were struck by the sheer poetry of today’s Old Testament reading from Proverbs – first of all, it depicts Wisdom (that is, the Spirit of Wisdom) as having feminine attributes, as having been created “at the beginning of [God’s] work, the first of his acts of long ago,” present at the formation of the mountains and the seas, and always there beside God in his work of creation, “like a master worker.” “I was daily his delight,” says Wisdom, “rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
Those are beautiful words; and what they express in such a rich and eloquent way is that it is truly God’s delight to guide us and teach us; God is not about to keep a distance from us as we go about the joys and sorrows of our lives.
It’s like your best friends; the people in your life that you don’t have to pretend with, or to deal with in such a way that they never discover “the real you.” True friends are transparent to one another – they are not afraid to let each other into their lives, to reveal themselves to the other and to be who they really are with each other (what’s the old saying? “Friends are those people who really know you, and who like you anyway.”).
Well, God is that true friend: making every effort to be transparent with us; inviting us to know him, giving to us what we need for us to be closer – so that we don’t have to be content merely to stand at a distance from him, but to have such a relationship with him that we no longer walk the way of life alone, but every and always in his company, helping us shape and direct the journey as we go.
And that is good news indeed!
Because life is an unfolding mystery, a “long and winding road,” as it were, on which the moment we think we’ve figured out which way to go, there’s yet another twist and turn to navigate – without at GPS or even a roadmap to help us! There are indeed so many times in this life we find ourselves lost in the uncertainty of it all; oftentimes we look around us and wonder if for all the wandering we do life has any real purpose and meaning at all! But because there is one who always walks the way with us, and because his spirit never abandons us, somehow we do find the way to go – or at the very least, the strength, courage and hope that will sustain us as we muddle through the journey. God’s own Holy Spirit – our sanctifier, our teacher, our advocate, our friend and our constant companion on the road, the one who delights in walking with us every mysterious step of the way – this is the Spirit that will lead us unto all truth …and bring us the joy of life that only he offers.
May we all live today and always filled with that wonderful spirit; and thanks be to God who gives us that Spirit as a gift!
AMEN and AMEN!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry