A day or two ago, the Psalm in the lectionary was 119:32. I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart. In this year of injury and disability, my "running" the course has been reduced to a walk with occasional slow jogs. Literally, in exercise and energy, and metaphorically in capacity. We've both finished six decades now, and I find it easy to jump to judgement, to constrict my heart in a hold-on sort of way to a more defined and defendable territory.
But the psalmist was unlikely young or unscathed when this was written either. In fact, a few verses before, his soul clings to the dust and melts from heaviness. His life included the kind of loss, betrayal, danger, suffering that would wilt most of us and certainly discourage a child from following that path. Yet a very similar phrase is used of his son Solomon's gift from God in 1 Kings 4: wisdom and largeness of heart.
This is the rub: what if my heart stretches in joy, but even moreso in grief. It seems reasonable to try to constrict the range of experience rather than keep putting expanders into a weary, thinning, weak heart . . . but that might not be God's best. In fact the scariest verse in the Bible is also in Psalms (106:15): He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul. The way of victory, ease, comfort, security, recognition, success might look appealing. But not at the cost of a shrivelled soul.
So the course we are running has been a bit rocky these days. Hearing the woes of friends, or people who just come to see if we can help. Yesterday a young man my kids' age who had really tried to seek medical help for his sick mother (not quite my age) with a complicated story that reminded me of how vulnerable a widow can be in this place without her husband's family's help or her own, and how much responsibility for siblings and parents falls on the shoulders of a young man. Or praying for and listening to a friend whose deep fear of spiritual harm from jealous neighbours has sent her into a spiral, and having her mother remind me that the perception here is that one is more vulnerable to curses than other parts of the continent, leading to a lifetime of unease. Or people we know with illnesses that would be hard to manage even in a resourced place, and feel impossible to improve here. Or a team mate losing her father ten thousand miles away, and agonising through decisions to return for family closure and moving ahead with distant mourning. Or what really deflated our hearts this week, two different unrelated people we trust and depend on caught stealing from the mission leading to hours and hours of meetings, testimony, false stories and searching for truth. Sad, heartbroken betrayal, and sad that others on our team were hurt.
Besides just trying to keep up with griefs like the above sample from the last couple of days and zooms and emails and face to face meetings and medical consults and study and planning and correspondence . . . the background of our days has been a challenging run as well. No power, well, that's about half the time so hardly remarkable. When the rain pounds unseasonably ceaselessly, it's harder to keep even minimal lights and computer charging going with solar, or to get clothes dry, so we're always scrambling. But when the clean water system from Ngite goes down, ironically due to heavy rainfall damaging the intake up in the mountains (too much water leading to no water) . . that throws the whole town for a loop, tens of thousands of people scrambling to carry water in jerry cans from streams and rivers like the old days. And our whole team and our neighbours, sorting out the few rain-water tanks that still fill from roofs, how to ration and do without laundry and showers, how to not get sick from dirty water. And what to do with 365 students and dozens of teaching staff and their dependents at a boarding school with nothing to drink, cook with, or wash with. An emergency tanker of water took 24 hours to materialise due to various problems, we nearly shut the school and sent the kids home a week before the term was supposed to be over, but as of the last few hours, water is flowing and students are taking exams. Water, electricity, and did I mention phone/internet service? No problem that our phones get cut off for ten days right, in juggling our Area Director roles and family at distance?
So today I'm trying to hold onto the prayer that our calling is not to escape all this, but to grow bigger hearts in all this. That's a mystery and a mercy, so please pray that for us to run the course and find our hearts stretched. We can't make it happen. Only God can.