Loose ends. The term comes from the old days of sailing ships and their multitudinous rigging ropes. Each end had to be tightly bound to prevent it unraveling. I'm a little like a rigging rope; I unravel easily.
Give me predictability, a plan, a steady routine and I hum along through days and weeks and months. Make a sudden move and I jump (ask Jim how many times I've squealed when he's come up silently behind me in the kitchen in the quiet of a pre-breakfast morning.) Ask me to make an unexpected move on short notice and I am overwhelmed at all the minor details required to transition smoothly. And smoothly is the ideal, right?
Loose ends proliferate in my mind. What will unravel if I don't attend to it? I hate lose ends. The unexpected makes me uneasy. I haven't had a chance to prepare for it. I prefer that everything be tickety-boo, (Don't know this expression? Danny Kay will help. Have a listen here! ) (with perhaps a blue-bird on my shoulder too?) But Life doesn't seem to come in such a tidy package.
My mother-in-law (the greatest cheerleader a wife could hope for) is dying. These many miles away we 'watch' and wonder how long and are poised to travel. Death always seems so unexpected even though it's one thing in life that is assured.
For that matter, life itself is a series of loose ends. Growing up is that—for both child and parent. What will the future hold? Parenting is not an occupation with a tidy job description. Just do this and that and results are guaranteed. Child 4 of 5 is moving out next week. Did we see it coming? Well, yes. Was I expecting it? Well, yes. But am I ready? No. Shouldn't there be a ceremony of some sort? Should it be a celebration or a teary-eyed farewell? Both, I think. But it will pass without fanfare. We may not even be here to wave…
Whether it's a tiff or a task, a birth or a death, or all the growing up in between, I long for the peace of resolution, completion and closure. The uncertainty of the unknown plagues me like a canker sore at holiday time. Makes me edgy and, well, at a loss to know what to do next—'at loose ends' you might say! Leaves me not knowing what to do with expectations. Do I postpone hope or nourish it at risk of disappointment?
Unanswered prayer is another loose end I've been staring in the face this week. Praying without fainting on the one hand, and on the other, resting in faith that my prayers have been heard (even when I can't see the end results!) I don't find this an easy balance. But I'm pretty sure that redoubling my efforts, fueled by doubt as to whether I've been heard, is not the solution. There is no peace here. One could argue from the case of the persistent widow petitioning the unjust judge, but my petitions sometimes seem more like the odious sound of a dripping faucet, the likeness of a quarreling wife never pacified, (Prov.27:15) nagging reminder that her will has not yet been done.
Must I have all the answers before I can rest? Must I know 'the rest of the story' before I will trust? Life is too long a process to be lived in this suspended animation of holding my breath till I can see all the outcomes. Or of living beneath guilt, that I am to blame for hopes gone awry, and therefore must do something, or at least pray harder?!
As a related aside, I read this helpful word from John Piper this week in response to a mother who was feeling the guilt of her child's suicide:
"If you spend your time trying to figure out whether you should be feeling guilty, you'll always come up with an ambiguity. Just relax and feel guilty, and then deal with it the only way that you'll be able to deal with it at the judgment day, because I promise you at the judgment day you'll feel guilty….And if you don't have a solution for that issue now, you may not then. So let's just relax. We're guilty as charged. And now I repent."
[eds:John Piper, Justin Taylor,Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints, Crossway Books, 2008,p.138]
But this whole pressure of wanting loose ends resolved and prayers dramatically answered (now), has come to a head this week. I have been wrestling for assurances instead of resting in the ones already given. Fixation with present loose-ends distorts my perception of God's overarching purposes and unremitting vigilance to fulfill them.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
(from Immortal, Invisible God only Wise—Walter Smith, 1876)
I've had to step back, repent, and ask for fresh faith to see His ways as I ought. If I insist on loose ends all being properly tied up before I am at peace… well I am not going to know much rest. It is not to the one who has no loose ends in view that God promises rest, but to the one who knows who is in charge of all those frizzled ends!
They have not known my ways, they will not enter my rest… He said.
We are in fact the flock in His pasture, the sheep of His hand. (Ps.95:7,10-11) The desert walk was a long trudge for the children of Israel. It got hot. Sometimes hunger and thirst set in. The end in sight for the parent generation was death! But for their children, the promised land. For both parents and children the directive was to follow the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night and learn to trust God to care for all the loose ends, all the details in between. He longed for them to know His ways and experience His rest.
I have to come back to this story and specifically this Psalm 95 again and again, and I pray often David's prayer: " Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." Ps.25:4,5 This was, incidentally, the verse inscribed on a prominent plaque in my mother-in-law's home. I read it many times. It continues to be my own prayer…
And He hears, and answers. What have I seen this week of His ways?
- Firstly He asks that I hold on to faith. The righteous must live by it. There's no alternative. We do not and will not see the whole story God is orchestrating until this life's chapter is closed. Habakkuk's testimony beckons me to do the same. In the face of impending disaster—the enemy invading, he writes (and I paraphrase):
I will stand at my watchpost and look out to see what God will say—there is an appointed time—it comes—if it seems slow, wait for it. In the meantime, "The righteous shall live by his faith." Don't count on idols. "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him." (Hab.2:1-4; 18-20) There's no way around the necessity of faith. We do not need a 'sign' of His presence and provision. We need to count on it, come what may.
- Another reminder. This life may seem to be a riot of loose ends but the things that matter most are forever secured. Jesus finished His mission (Jn.19:30) My sin debt has been cancelled. I am somehow declared forgiven and therefore perfect, while yet in the process of having my loose ends bound up… "because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Heb.10:14 What a paradox.
He invites me to revel in this place of grace, to firmly take my stand by faith that I am His, as is, by grace alone. Not because I scrambled to tie up the loose ends of my unrighteousness into an acceptable offering, but because of His mercy.
- Lastly, there is this: He found me before I knew to seek Him. He shows Himself to those who have not asked. Ultimately, 'it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom.9:16) And that is the other 'way of God' I've been reminded of this week—His sovereignty. Have you read Romans 10 and 11 lately? Here is the marvel of the Gentiles being grafted into the family tree of Israel, being brought into fellowship with God. In the meantime God's own people, the Jews' are hardened against their Saviour and Messiah. But only for a time. It's part of a bigger plan of redemption that reaches to you and me.
God's purposes run far beyond the circumstances we behold on any given month or year! They are eternal. We are the clay and He is the potter. It's not our place to question why one heart is hardened--one pot designed for 'dishonorable use', while another is fashioned for honorable use. He works in everything to show the riches of His glory', not ours. Everything is from Him, through Him and to Him. No loose ends excluded! Every strand will be woven for His eternal glory. (Rom.11:36)
In these things I only scratch the surface of God's ways. Ultimately they are so far above ours as to be inscrutable, past finding out! (Rom.11:33) Mercifully, we are given glimpses, and this assurance--He is the alpha and omega (the beginning and the end). And in between? We are asked to present the loose ends of our lives to Him for His use, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable though frayed around the edges! (Rom.12:1-2)
Knowing I am in His hands for His purposes I can take a deep breath (and let it out!) and pack, and travel unexpectedly, and parent and pray and walk in a frazzled world, by faith that in every 'loose end' He is at work.
The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.Hos.14:9
Be encouraged with me as you consider these verses that point to the great end of all loose ends—
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (I Pet.4:7)
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Heb.3:13,14)
He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (I Cor.1:8,9)
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (James 5:7,8)
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (I Cor 15:24)
His kingdom will have no end. (Luke 1:33)
And I hope you won't think it irreverent or impertinent if I tack on this carefree song from my childhood—Zip-a-dee-doo-day, Zip-a-dee-ay—there's plenty of sunshine heading our way!! It's the truth; it's actual. Everything is 'satisfactual' after all!
"I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways…" Ps.119:15