By Susan K. Smith,
When I was a little girl, I lived with foster parents, Mama and Daddy McElrath. I never knew my birth father, and my mother was away and I do not know where she was. I was too little. But every two weeks, she would come home to the McElrath’s house, and I was always super excited. Mama McElrath would comb my hair and put what seemed like a million ribbons in it, and would have me put on a dress. I don’t know what actual time Mama would come home, but it seems like it was always late afternoon. When it was nearly time for her expected arrival, Mama McElrath would call out to me, “Susan, it’s time for your mother to come home!” And I would run outside and sit in the middle of the sidewalk, in my dress, facing the direction of the main street from where Mama always came. When I would see her walking down the street, I would get up and start running toward her, crying, “Mama! Mama!”
Even when I was sick and was being made to stay inside, I would not miss sitting on that sidewalk, in my dress, waiting for Mama. She was my life, and I needed her.
It occurs to me that perhaps many of us are sitting in the middle of a sidewalk, dressed up, waiting for God…but it also occurs to me that too many people have given up waiting for God. They have stopped doing their best, “dressing up,” as it were, for God, because they have gotten discouraged with life. They have had too many obstacles thrown in front of them; they have cried too long or have lost hope and the belief that God cares about them. Too many of us, even faithful church-goers, have given up sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, waiting, expecting and welcoming God into our lives.
Our human eyes often get in our way; we look for what we want to look for and lose the ability to see what God wants us to see. We have clogged ears and cannot or will not hear God saying to us, “No!” and we end up running to the wrong person, the wrong opportunity, the wrong voice. We have lost our ability to discern God from all other forces in our lives, and we just run toward those forces, blindly, and are sorely disappointed when those forces turn out not to be what we hoped for.
There were times when I was waiting for my mother, sitting on that sidewalk, when I could get up to run because I thought someone coming down the street was her …but my eyes knew my mother, and as I’d run, my eyes would see that the person coming down the street was not her and that that person would not welcome me and love me, because that person could not. I would walk back to the front of Mrs. McElraths’s house and sit back down in the middle of the sidewalk …and wait.
In this thing called life, we too often get tired of waiting. We get tired of expecting and not receiving; we get tired of being uncomfortable as we wait. There must be a reason why Isaiah wrote, They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” It must be because Isaiah knew that waiting is not a passive, but is, rather, an active endeavor, with fits and starts, comings and goings, like the sea ebbing and flowing on the shore. We strain our eyes and try to make God into our image, and conform to our wants and needs, and grow impatient as God remains God in spite of our protestations. Sometimes, we may very well miss God because in our impatience, we have run not to the source of our help, but to the source of our disappointments.
When we look for God, when we are desperate for God to “come” to us, as I was desperate for my mother to come to me, we are honored with God’s presence. God walks toward us and we, whose eyes may have been straining and filled with ears, can see. We can see and our spirits tell us it is OK, no, even better, our spirits tell us that it is time to run to God. As we run toward God, God runs toward us, as happy to receive us as we are to find the comfort of God’s presence. We leave the middle of the sidewalk and go to the Source of love and grace and mercy and forgiveness. We leave the front of the house which could give us some comfort and care, to the presence of the one who can give us complete comfort and care.
I don’t remember my mother leaving the McElrath’s house to go back to wherever she was going. Never once did she make me watch her walk out of the door. The image I have and which I treasure is my mother …walking, almost running toward me as I ran toward her, and her holding my hand as we walked into the house together.
God is walking toward us, Hand outstretched. God, help us to have eyes to see so that we can leave the middle of the sidewalk, and run to the source of our strength.
Amen and amen.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith –Writer, author, musician, pastor, preacher and social justice advocate. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and author of “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives,” which won the 2009 National Best Books Award. Follow Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith on Twitter:www.twitter.com/cassad