Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Broken, Part 2: A Mother-Minister Speaks About Love on Mother's Day

Bronwyn was speaking at her Church on Mother's Day - so Dad and the sisters made our way to Calgary early that morning to hear her. What follows is in part taken from her message and in part the thoughts that it provoked deep in my soul, so that it's taken me all this time to be able to sort through them and articulate them with some level of coherence.

The text she chose was chapter 17 of the book of First Kings, in the Old Testament. The story is of the great prophet Elijah, who had run afoul of the foreign Queen Jezebel and her weakling husband King Ahab for passing on the decree from God that because of all the worship of Jezebel's idol, Baal, which was spreading unimpeded throughout Israel, God was going to cause no rain to fall for a period of time.

That period of time ended up being three years.

Because Jezebel was determined to have Elijah's head God sent him to seek refuge, first at the brook Cherith and, when that dried up, then to a town named Zarephath, which was under the domination of the country of Sidon. There he would meet a widow, whom God had told to feed him.

The country where Jezebel came from ...

As Bronwyn was unfolding the story for us, my mind paused at this point. If that had been I, I would have wanted to run in exactly the opposite direction to the home of my declared enemy! However, Elijah obeyed - hiding in plain sight, as it were, waiting for the rich widow to show up.

But when the widow appeared she was scrabbling around looking for twigs for firewood in the land that had received no rain for so long and consequently was in a state of famine and emergency. Elijah called out to her, "Would you please give me a little water to drink?"

Amazingly, this exhausted woman started to head off to get water for the stranger. And as she walked away, Elijah called out, "And also, could you bring me a little bread to eat as well?"

I can just picture the beleaguered woman rounding back on the prophet. "As the Lord your God lives," she began, "I don't have anything baked. All I have left in my pantry is about a handful of flour and a little oil in a jar. As a matter of fact, what I was doing when you saw me was gathering a few sticks of wood so that I could make a small fire and cook one last little loaf for my son and me. After we've eaten it, we are going to prepare to die."

She said, "The Lord your God," I thought to myself. One of two things must have occurred in order for the woman to have responded that way. Either Elijah was easily identifiable as an Israelite to this woman, and she distinguished between her local deity, Baal, and Elijah's God, J'hw'h - the name so sacred, so precious, Bronwyn said, that it should only be breathed with great reverence. This is the God that this mother at breaking point invoked as indisputable assurance that what she was telling this stranger was true.

But what about the other option - God had told Elijah that He had already ordered a widow to feed him. When Elijah asked the woman for water she went to get it because she knew what it was to be downtrodden and in need of help. But when he asked for bread, she must have recognized him as the man that God had told her to feed. "Feed some man?" she must have thought scornfully when God gave her the command. "I don't even have food to feed my son!" And so with all that emotion building in her in response to the divine order, with all that desperation at the thought of her and her son's unquestionable death due to starvation, she let loose on Elijah.

I can imagine Elijah just grinning. "Ha! This is my rich widow!" he might have thought to himself. "Don't worry," he said to her kindly. "Do everything you've already planned to do. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me; and when you've done that, make one for yourself and your son. And this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, promises: your flour will not run out, and neither will your jar of oil ever empty, until the day God sends rain to the earth."

And so she did.

And so He did.

It tells us that she and Elijah and her household ate for many days.

And if the story were in a fairytale book, the mother and the son would have lived happily ever after or at least for many years.

But life isn't a fairytale, is it? One day Elijah returned to the woman's house only to find her beside herself. She was clutching her son to her breast, her son who had suddenly taken ill and had died. When she saw the prophet her sorrow and despair found their voice: "What have you against me, O man of God?" she wailed. "You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!"

I guess that because we are so conscious of our shortcomings, this is a natural response for us - What did I do wrong? And in my mind's ear I heard the words of a young father, a godly man whose infant daughter was very ill, gasping for air, almost blue in the face. "O God!" he cried out. "If there is some sin in my life ... if you are trying to teach me a lesson ... this child cannot understand that. O God, please deliver her!"

I thought how very often I have the same visceral reaction to calamity. What am I being judged for - what have I done that I am receiving this punishment? 

As Bronwyn read this part of the passage my knee-jerk reaction was What on earth was the sin the mother was alluding to that was so bad she thought it was punishable by the death of her son?

What did Elijah have to say about her sin?


He wasted no time on what was not important to the matter at hand. He simply said to the mother, "Give me your son." And he carried the lifeless body of the child upstairs to the room where he himself had been lodging.

What? No wringing out a confession and making sure the widow was right with God before dealing with the dead child? No minimizing the sin to make her feel better or aggrandizing it so that the woman would realize the depths of her depravity?

No - he lay the child's body on the bed and in the privacy of the room he cried out to God: "O LORD my God, have You brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?"

And with that he stretched himself three times over the child's inert body, beseeching, "O LORD my God, let this child's life come into him again."

As Bronwyn told this part of the story she stretched her arms out like someone would if they were to cover a smaller body with their own.

Just like someone whose arms were stretched out on a cross.

And life was given back to the boy. Elijah took him downstairs to his mother and all he said was, "See, your son lives."

No lecture, no sermon, no "now let's get you right with God." He didn't have to do any of that. The mother, who I am certain would have been hugging her son like she would never let him go, said to him with a heart of gratitude and love, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."

And she believed.

When I came to God I was eight years old. My Mum had taken me to a play being performed by some visiting actors from America. It was called "The Six Who Died." To cut straight to the chase, one girl, Jenny, went to heaven; the other five were sent to hell.

It literally scared the hell out of me. We went home and Mum explained to me again the plan God had executed for me, for each one of us, to be with Him. She explained that all of us have fallen short of God's glory, to the point that He could no longer really associate Himself with us. But He loved us and wanted us to be with Him; and so He came down to this earth, taking on the form of a man. Jesus was all God, and all man, all at the same time. And because He was both, He was the only one who could bridge the gap between God and man, bringing both together again.

He did that when He stretched His arms out on the cross, covering all of us and all our sins with His own body offered as the ultimate sacrifice to bring us to God, to bring us eternal life.

That evening I knew that I had to have that life, because I was terrified of the alternative.

It was a couple of decades later that I stopped fixating on the horror of death and damnation as the reason to follow God. It took all that time, and several difficult circumstances in my life, to start slowly understanding that the ingredient I had managed to skip over somehow was the key ingredient: that God LOVED me and that's why He went to such an extreme as to sacrifice His own life for me. It wasn't just that He was keeping me out of hell; even more than that, it was that He wanted me to be with Him and enjoy Him forever, as the catechism says.

It is His great love for me that finally made me want to commit myself to Him. And what I discovered was that perfect love truly does cast out fear - not that my love is perfect, but His is; and when I allowed myself to luxuriate in that love, my fear of death and hell disappeared.

That's what this widow, this desperate mother, experienced on this day. Let's not forget that for the longest time, on a daily basis, she had been receiving tangible proof that God cared for her - there was always food on the table despite the drought! But when her son died, all that was forgotten in her overwhelming fear that whatever her sin was had caught up to her. God through Elijah showed her that it wasn't that at all. He showed her that He loved her and her son. And it was the manifestation of this love that finally broke down her defences, that finally broke her heart.

And as that young father prayed for his daughter years ago the disease that been present for so many terrifying nights was arrested; my airwaves were opened and I was able to breathe freely and calmly again. The illness has never returned.

What God wants from us is that we love and trust Him, and that we in turn show His love to others. It doesn't seem too much to ask, to me.

Bronwyn drew her message to a close by pointing out that this restoring of a dead son to his mother is the first resurrection reported in the Bible ... What a mother's day that would have been!

One of the songs that is going to be sung at my funeral (if you're planning on coming, plan on singing!) is "Sitting at the Feet of Jesus", because these lyrics speak directly to my life:

Sitting at the feet of Jesus,
I would look upon the past;
For His love has been so gracious,
It has won my heart at last.


  1. i can barely see to type because of the tears.

    beautiful, karyn. so incredibly beautiful...God's provision, elijah's compassion, stretched out arms, the giving back of a child and your own story weaved in.

    oh how i wish i could sit with you again with a latte, those purple chairs and just chat. you have wisdom embedded deep and He uses it in such wonderful ways.

    love you.

  2. The love of God is greater far
    than tongue or pen can ever tell.
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    and reaches to the lowest hell ...

    As you and I have sung many times,
    oh, how He loves you and me!
    xxx Bronwyn


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