Are there certain words that are a part of you? Words that reside deep inside you, that hold a special place in your heart? Are there words that bring to mind a vivid mental image each time you hear them? Or perhaps words that instantly come to mind anytime you see an image?
As I was walking this morning, I happened upon a dead squirrel. I was startled, quickly adjusted my stride to miss the poor creature and, within seconds, was contemplating the word fervent. You might rightly be wondering why. It was because the squirrel was stretched out, like a football player reaching for the goal line with every ounce of his being. For me, this posture of stretching beyond our natural or safe boundaries will always be equated with the word fervent.
Years ago, I was studying the book of Peter with a group of women. Being the Word Girl that I am, I looked up the Greek origins of the words of the verses as we went. There is a verse that says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." Another version says, "Keep fervent in your love." I read a commentary that described how the Greek word ektenes means wholly stretched out. That was interesting - and painted a rather vivid picture of how God wants us to love each other - but I might have only remembered that in passing had the word not been called to my mind later.
At a spring women's retreat about five years ago, I experienced my first moments of silence with God. It was a directed silence and only lasted a couple of hours. I can remember leading up to this retreat that I was so excited to try sitting in pure silence with God. I had a list of things I wanted to pray about and I was ready. I got my blanket out, laid down in the sunlight, opened my Bible and my mind and heard God say to me, "Those things you wanted to talk about? You already know the answers to them, don't you? Here's what I want to talk about. I want you to love me fervently." I was not planning on hearing that, I can assure you.
But that conversation with God prompted me to look at my relationship with Him and see how head-oriented it was. I loved looking up the Greek for the verses we were studying, loved reading commentaries on the verses, loved diving into God's word. And God wasn't telling me there was anything wrong with that. He merely showed me how very safe it was. Because studying something and falling in love with someone are two very different things.
That first taste of silence whetted my appetite in a way I never could have imagined. And I'm sure it's no coincidence that it was in that silence that God asked me to think about loving him in a stretched out, vulnerable way. Because that's what loving fervently is - it's vulnerable, it's exposing and it is risky. I saw that part of it right away and, quite honestly, I still struggle with that aspect of living and loving fervently. I want desperately to be authentic, to be real, to be fervent. But I Do. Not. Like. Being. Hurt. And when I open myself up to give and receive love, I'm allowing for the possibility that good and bad may either one come - pain or beauty might walk in the door of my heart.
I want the strength and courage to die like that squirrel I saw this morning - stretched out to give and receive all that life has to offer. I don't want to live and die curled into a ball, safe and secure - but I fight these tendencies every day.
I have been feeling overwhelmed this week, day after day, moment after moment. My mind has been skittering from item to item on my to-do list. I have worried about everything from scheduling time for my daughters with their friends to scheduling a parent meeting to what I should do about standardized testing. I have felt stretched thin, but not stretched out in an "I claim this life as mine" kind of way.
This morning, my daughter A read to us from the Jesus Storybook Bible as we ate our breakfast. She read us the story of the Israelites and the parting of the Red Sea. After she finished, I read the girls one of my favorite verses from this story, Exodus 14:14. It says, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
I think this might be the key to living fervently: letting God do it for me. On my own, I am hesitant to stretch myself out, fearful of being not enough, afraid of being hurt. Sometimes I need to just be still and let Him doing the fighting for me.