During a recent doctor’s visit my friend Bunnie was given 9 months to live. Most people would be devastated, but Bunnie went home, put on her glitter eyebrows and rabbit face paint, and went to work.
Bunnie is a professional clown.
She delights in bringing joy to anyone she meets. The ominous diagnosis from the doctors (lung cancer, round two; she’s been through this before) has only intensified her desire to be a light for God. She clowns, passes out inspirational books, share’s God’s love with whoever will listen, and gives her time to loving on the homeless.
But, of course, even a professional clown will feel the weight of such a prognosis.
Recently Bunnie told me she was having a particularly hard time. She felt like she wanted to go see a pastor she knew for some counsel and prayer. She spoke this out loud to God and immediately sensed him say, “Nah, you don’t need to go see the pastor. Just look over there!” She looked out the car window and saw a homeless couple she’d spent time ministering to in the past. Suddenly the thought came that she could get them some food, offer the woman a manicure (she has her own manicure kit for such occasions), and tell them a joke or two. She told me that instantly her depression and sense of being overwhelmed disappeared and she was energized. Later, the couple thanked her profusely for serving them, and she told them they didn’t know how much God used them to bless her.
This lovely woman who’s been told she’s facing the end of her time on earth–someone who could understandably just focus on making herself comfortable–found solace and purpose in loving others with her time and gifts. And she does this continually. God has led her to focus on the good she could do and not the heaviness of her situation, and he gives her refreshing and renewing joy in partnering with him. It’s a great lesson for those of weighed down by much less dire circumstances.
Now, I don’t come from the “just suck it up” or “get over it” school of life. Pastoral counseling is a life line to countless souls. And I believe the Bible is clear about listening to and feeling our emotions. Lament—the pouring out of our complaints and emotions to God—is sanctioned and recommended in the Bible (approximately 70% of the Psalms are laments) and Jesus undeniably approved this practice several times, including his echoing of Psalm 22 on the cross.
But getting stuck in lament or the unanswered “why” of our situation is counterproductive to faith.
God put an exclamation point on that for me very recently. I was getting some counsel and prayer for a personal physical challenge that’s been a source of lament for me for several years. (BTW, I do believe and pray for healing.) While praying and listening during the session I sensed God say that I needed to stop my constant questions about that situation so that I could focus on asking other questions. It was like a shaft of light hit me. I’m called to write; to ask questions and investigate answers. I believe God was saying that my focus on the “why” of my problems (which I may not get an answer to here on earth) was distracting me from addressing things he would have me write about.
Like Bunnie, I needed to take my focus off of what seems to be so wrong with my situation, and put it on the good ways that God is inviting me to collaborate with him now.
Bunnie is finding joy in living her life as it is right now, instead of yielding to the seductive despair that loss and uncertainly can tempt us with. She’s been through this before and fought for and won her healing and right now she has decided to leave it up to God to sustain her and care for her. Whether she is healed or not, she’s fighting with every breath to bring him glory through her life as it is.
She recognizes that God has put her here with a purpose, and that he designed and predestined good things for her to do—even now—that will bring true joy. (Eph. 2:10) And he will be faithful to lead her—and us—to those good things as we listen for his voice.
Bunnie’s example reminds me—no matter what my current circumstance–to, “forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead, pressing on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Phil 3:13-14). That prize which includes the promise John the Revelator recorded in Rev. 21:3-4 :
”And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”
Update: Bunnie passed on January 12, 2018 in Florida where she lived. She was truly a blessing and an inspiration to all who met her.
J. Scott McElroy is the author of Finding Divine Inspiration (Destiny Image) and The Creative Church Handbook: Releasing the Power of the Arts in Your Congregation (InterVarsity Press). He directs The New Renaissance Arts Movement and blogs at JScottMcElroy.com. Reach him at Scott(at)TheNewR.org