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Superlatives

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].

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michael #

    A welcome reminder, especially as we prepare to leave Vancouver and return to Alberta.

    May 2, 2010
  2. So very true — “through patience and perseverance and attentiveness and openness and even frustration and despair…”

    May 3, 2010
  3. Ken #

    Re: “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.”

    It does sound like a pledge drive.

    Re: “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.”

    Ascetics testify to this.

    If it is true, then God is quite frugal with grace, and there is more to works, hard work, than protestants generally testify. (I know you are not protestant.)

    It reminds me of a passage in a River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. He wrote of his father, a trout fisherman and a pastor, “To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

    May 3, 2010
    • I don’t think God is frugal with grace I just think it comes to us in a wide variety of ways and is dispensed over long periods of time.

      (What a great quote, by the way!)

      May 3, 2010
    • James #

      Even pledge drive salesmen [and even genuine hucksters] are loved by God and make up the family of God. As Mennonites we have our fair share of them 🙂
      I was there with Ryan and tend not to be as gracious and well spoken as he is. I am however very thankful that his words came out before I wrote my response. Maybe that too is a sign of God’s grace.
      Well, spoken, Ryan!

      May 4, 2010
  4. “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.”

    I sure hope He works in the little moments and not just the big, because that’s 99.37 percent of my life: ordinary.

    May 5, 2010
  5. Shawn #

    I just want to say that was an Awesome article.

    May 7, 2010
  6. ricreliable #

    I [superlative] this article! I googled “God can only be described in superlatives”, and thank google, it brought me here. 🙂 I love the sensitive, non-judgmental assessment that was able to detach from the hyper-charged environment and take a breather with God into the “ordinary”. Love, God, Faith and the spiritual realm – is such a profound place – we find Him by intense seeking, but abide in Him by disciplined rest. Like the treasure seeker who struggles to find, and when he does, is brought to worshipful and restful amazement. The deepening discovery of God in my heart/soul/mind injects superlative, and renews and revives the fire of first Love. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    April 15, 2012

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