The past two days were spent at the annual provincial conference of the churches in our denomination. There was a mood of celebration and excitement. We heard a lot of reports about what people were doing for God, how God was leading and directing this or that ministry, how/why our churches should give to the work of God. It was a weird combination of refreshing and exhausting.
As is so often the case at these kinds of events, there were no shortage of superlatives. Many things were described as “amazing” or “incredible” or “awesome.” We heard the language of “miracles.” We were exhorted to dream big, to do risky things, to leap out in faith and watch God work in [insert superlative] ways.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am not prone to the use of superlatives. I think we use them too easily. They make me uneasy. When I hear them, I feel like I’m being set up for something, like someone wants something from me, whether it is money, or time, or promotion, or whatever. Superlatives are used to sell things, and I don’t like either being marketed to or feeling like a salesperson. Sometimes, I fear, our superlatives are used to try to convince ourselves that God is behind what we are behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re trying to convince ourselves of something that we’re not really sure about.
Of course, I don’t deny that God can and does work in [insert superlative] ways, but for whatever reason I can only take so much of the language of superlatives at these kinds of events. So this morning I checked out for a while. We had been doing a lot of sitting and listening and talking, and as someone who is introverted by nature, I needed to get away for a bit.
The conference just happened to be in the city where we lived for the first four months of graduate school. In fact, we were only a stone’s throw from the family’s house where we lived for those first four months. So I thought I would wander over and say hi to the generous folks who opened their home to us during a transitional phase in our lives.
They weren’t home, unfortunately, but walking around the neighbourhood where we took our “first steps” as a family away from the familiar surroundings of southern Alberta was good for my soul. I retraced the path to the bus stop that I anxiously trod each morning, often in the steady rain of my first west coast winter. I remembered the foreignness of a ninety-minute ride on a packed urban bus for someone accustomed to the wide open spaces of the prairies. I remembered how nervous I felt embarking on the world of graduate school. I remember wondering if I was up for the challenge. I remember wondering if we had made the right decision.
I walked over to the elementary school where I would walk or bike with my then five-year-old twins. I remembered how they pedaled their little bikes over the speed bumps in the parking lot. I remembered how they learned to use the monkey bars and how they laughed hysterically while they threw gravel down the slide while their dad sat on the bench, slogging through introductory textbooks on Biblical exegesis and Greek. I remember marveling at the fact that the grass was still green in the month of December.
As I walked and remembered, I thought about those first four months away from home and where they ended up leading. I had no idea where I would end up after my time at grad school. The future was wide open for us. It was a bit scary and a little lonely, but we survived. We stayed afloat and have landed on our feet. There are still days of both joy and contentment as well as uncertainty and restlessness. But I know that God was and is “at work.” I know that God has led us and guided our path, and that God is good.
I returned to the conference grateful that while God can and does work in [insert superlative] ways, he also works in more ordinary and predictable ways as well. The life of faith is not always a life of superlatives. More often, I suspect, it is through patience and perseverance and attentiveness and openness and even frustration and despair that God’s work takes place. And it takes time. Growth, progress, and spiritual formation are journeys that take years, decades, lifetimes. That’s how God works.
It was a good walk, a good reminder.
You might even say it was [insert superlative].