“How many times do I have to tell you?”
I’ve said it to my children. “How many times do I have to tell you to rinse out your dish and put it in the dishwasher?” “How many times do I have to tell you to hang up your wet towel?” “How many times do I have to tell you to call me when you get there?”
I’ve said it to my students. “How many times do I have to tell you that MLA format requires you to double space and use 12 pt. font?” “How many times do I have to tell you the due date?” “How many times do I need to tell you to document your sources?”
But today I am hearing the words myself, “How many times do I have to tell you?” But while I growl my words in exasperation at my children and my students, I am hearing the words spoken gently into my heart as my chin is lifted tenderly by gentle fingers that draw my eyes upward.
How many times do I have to write the same blog? How many times do I have to admit that I am “bent on turning” and that I did it again, I turned and went my own way. In this very busy semester, I went back to what I know — soldiering. Ok, fine, it has been a milder version of soldiering. My regimen now includes daily doses of rest, reading, and recovery. It mandates several repeats of yoga and walking. It requires completing responsibilities to family such as laundry, cooking, and bill paying. On the surface, it looks pretty healthy. But it’s subtle soldiering. Want to know why? Because I’ve been relying on myself and listening to the voices in the trenches. How do I know? Because I’m surly.
There, I said it. I’ve been surly. Again, it’s a subtle surly. I’ve been able to be fairly pleasant to the people in my life, but my internal monologue is grumbly and negative. That’s part of the reason that I didn’t blog last week or the week before. I sit down to type and the interior pops onto the page. It’s the only thing my fingers know how to do. I mean, they try to produce a positive message, but it ends up sounding saccharine — not at all genuine. And I can spot fake from about a mile away. Even when it’s coming out of my own fingers. Yuck.
So, today I’m waiting for student papers to come in. I’ve graded everything that’s in my possession. I have nowhere to be today. I’ve got the day to myself. Yes, I plan to do some baking, but I feel the pull to my Bible and prayer journal. I feel the need to catch up on my YouVersion reading plan — I’m about three days behind.
Being my surly self, I got diverted several times on my way to my reading, but finally I plunked down on the futon and opened the app on my phone. Yes, I know, even getting caught up on YouVersion is a bit like soldiering…shhhh…it got me there, ok?
I was scrolling through the daily readings…blah, blah, blah,….fine, Isaiah, I see you. I kept reading and scrolling, reading and scrolling, Isaiah, my friend, you have so. many. words. Like a true soldier, I continued to read and scroll, gonna get caught up, you know. But then something happened. My soldiering self sat down when I heard a voice that I recognized. It wasn’t a voice from the trenches.
It wasn’t saying “do more, be more, get more;” it said, “he will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms.”
It didn’t say, “be the greatest, prove your worth;” it said “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” (Hop. Flit. Jump.)
I’m tired of hopping and jumping, I thought. And almost immediately I read, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
What must that be like, I grumbled weakly, to not grow weary? And I read, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.”
Oh, yeah. I’m not alone, am I? The world does not spin because I’m trying so hard. “Fear not, I have called you by name; you are mine.” I am His. I don’t have to prove my identity through my performance. “I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember my sins.” Really? You don’t remember that I was just blogging about my propensity to turn and here I am again, confessing to the same exact sin?
“I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like a mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
I hear you. I’m turning. How could I not? You are speaking directly to me. How did you manage to do that through the Bible reading plan on my phone?
“I call you by your name.” Yes, you sure do.
“I name you, though you do not know me.” You’re right. I haven’t been acting like I know you.
” I am the Lord your God. I am God and there is no other.”
Yes, yes you are. And let’s just get it out in the open. I’m bent on turning, so you’re probably going to have to tell me again.
“Fear not, I am the One who helps you.”
Isaiah 40-44, selected verses