Let me start with a cliché line here, that this has been a long time coming.
I found myself on an airplane yesterday flying back from Chicago to Atlanta. See, every single flight for me is a step of faith due to a piece of my story that even reading back through just now brought tears to my eyes.
So, partially to distract myself and partially because I hadn’t been in the Word in a few days I opened my Bible. Now, I am a huge advocate of studying books or sections of the Bible at a time in order to get the most out of your study, but my Bible just kind of opened to 2 Kings so I read the story of “The Shunammite Woman“. This is a short story that follows the story of the widow who had nothing and then began pouring so much oil she filled every container in her community, which allowed her to stay afloat financially. In verse 8, a story begins of a woman who created a room in her home for Elisha the prophet to stay in. At this point, my heart toward hospitality is loving this. The text says that she wants a son, but her husband is old, but Elisha looks at her and says, “You will have a son in a year.” So she does. This miracle. This act of God. My heart is praising- God, how good you are, how sweet you are to meet our needs, but then I read the next part. “Her son dies.”
What? He died? Really? I mean why did we even put this story in the Bible? This is awful. But the story continues that the lady got on a donkey and rode to Elisha and once Elisha came, the boy was raised to life. Whew.
I was lost as to what significance in the world this text could ever have. But it reminded me of a few other stories in scripture. First, I thought of Abraham. Abraham wanted a son so badly, but he was old. After not believing God would give him a son and even not being able to talk, he had Isaac. After some time, God called Abraham to go and sacrifice Isaac. Again, I have this moment of like what? Why is this in the Bible? But when Abraham is about to sacrifice his beloved son, an angel stops him.
And what I think the Lord is revealing in a very strange way through the stories of The Shunammite Woman and Abraham is that He is too gracious to ever allow an idol to satisfy us. He gave both Abraham and the Shunammite Woman their desires and then their desires were put to the test. For Abraham, He literally had to choose God over His son’s life. For the woman, the choice was made for her. But in both circumstances, they took a step back from rejoicing over their met need and re-fixed their gaze on the Need-meeter.
Later, we see one of Jesus’ friends Lazarus pass away and his sisters are so upset Jesus didn’t come sooner to heal Him. But Jesus comes and he raises Lazarus from the dead, showing both His power and His compassion.
As for me, I once had a time all too similar to Mary and Martha’s. Here is a passage from my journal of fall break of sophomore year:
After finally arriving in Orlando, I had a great weekend with my brother, sister-in-law, mom, and best friend. It was Sunday evening, and time for my mom and Haven (my best friend) to fly back to Greenville so Michael (my brother) and I took them to the airport. The mood was light and we said our goodbyes and see you at Thanksgiving.
A few hours later I was at Michael’s church listening to a message when I looked over and saw Michael and Kacie (my sister-in-law) looking very intently at a text on Michael’s phone. Michael got up and left and for some reason I didn’t look at my phone. I knew whatever the situation was, Michael could handle it. Michael came back in the church and motioned for Kacie and me to walk out which we quickly did. I can’t even remember the words he used but he informed us quickly that the engine had crashed in the plane my mom and best friend were on. I looked at my phone to find the message from my mom saying, “our plane is in crash mode. I love you!!” My heart dropped. We immediately got into the car and headed straight for the airport.
About 15 minutes later she sent us a message saying that the plane made an emergency landing and they were alive! This, and that the Lord is gracious was all I knew. I called Haven’s mom to give her the news. I can barely remember the 4 block walk to the car. I definitely cannot remember any conversation in the car ride there. I just knew I just wanted to hear their voices again.
We finally arrived at the airport. I walked in the doors and saw a scared woman in the corner. I called out, “Mama!” She turned with eyes full of tears and we hugged and savored the sweetness of togetherness all over again. Haven decided to stay with the airline and get on a second plane home. It was difficult to leave but I covered her with so many prayers.
She just needed to tell her story, over and over and over again. And so she did. She told me that the whole time she had a bad feeling, but she just equated it to her being anxious.
Finally the plane took off and they were on their way. But as they seemed to complete their ascent and turned the right direction, everything went silent. Normally silence is a comforting, peaceful thing, but for your plane to suddenly become silent, it is a horror. And so was the next few minutes of my mom and best friend’s lives. All of the lights went out and air turned off inside the cabin. The pilot came on the speaker and said that they had lost power to both of the engines and to prepare for impact. My mom said the flight attendants came out and were giving different people different ways to sit in order to prepare for impact. She said Haven just kept on reading her book, I guess to act like it wasn’t happening. They kept reminding people how to unbuckle their seatbelt, because I guess in intensity, pulling the lever slips your mind. Soon they again heard a noise. They had regained one engine! So the plane flew lopsidedly in a direction no one knew continuing to descend. They told them to prepare to land in water and were preparing to use their seats as flotation devices.
In my mom’s mind she was not only practicing her steps to get to the wing to exit. She was watching all of the events of our lives she was going to miss. She said she told herself she would never see me get married, she would never meet her grandkids… She thought about how my whole world was on that plane and how desperate I would be without her or Haven. She was holding hands with the women around her and repeatedly quoting her favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11.
Minutes later, the plane landed on a runway. They hit hard but safe. Emergency personnel were everywhere, fire trucks, ambulances… All my mom wanted was off. They tried to keep her at the gate and told her she had to speak to a representative. She told them she didn’t want to talk to anyone and she left.
All night she just needed to hold my hand. She was just so grateful that we could touch again and I was too.
That night we slept together on the couch, per her request. I waited until I felt like she was asleep and I finally let myself sob. I cried and I cried and I cried. My whole life flashed before my eyes that night. I read the quote earlier that week, “friendship is not one big thing, it’s a million little things.” How true that statement is. I began to picture a million little things.. how home would never be home again, how hard Thanksgiving would be, how difficult my wedding would be without a mom or a maid of honor, how much I would miss being taken care of… The tears poured and the thoughts flooded.
The next morning we woke up early and rented a car to get my mom back to South Carolina from Florida. She was afraid to drive but I was too young to drive a rental so we picked it up, she drove across the street to a gas station and then we switched. Along the ride, she made phone calls to her friends and her parents. She relived the story again and again. I was grateful that it was sunny so my sunglasses covered my eyes and she couldn’t see the tears that repeatedly formed. My whole world was rocked.
And I think if someone were reading my story they would have that same moment of What? Why is this here? when I got that text from my mom.
But I also think of another passage in scripture, when Jesus died. When he took His last breath on the cross and everything seemed hopeless for a while.
And I think what God has pieced together is that He meets our needs and because He is good, we become fascinated with what He has given instead of praising the Giver, like the lepers who are healed and didn’t even thank Jesus. Like kids on Christmas morning, so excited about their gifts they completely skip over telling their parents thank-you. Just as Abraham idolized Isaac, the Shunammite woman idolized her son, Mary and Martha found their security in Lazrus, and my mom and my best friend were my world. But He is too gracious to ever allow an idol to satisfy us. So, just as the people when Jesus was on stand shouted, “WE WANT BARABBAS!” we choose what we think will satisfy us, and even try and use it in place of God, but it always comes up short and we always come up empty handed.
And our very wise Father, perfect in all of His ways, knows that the best thing for us is Himself, so He turns us over to those met needs, whether it be sons, brothers, boyfriends, friends, wealth, etc. so that we can find their mortality on our own- their inability to replace God in our lives.
So I am learning that only He can satisfy. And as much as we pray and long and even if what we so desire is provided, He still is the best and greatest thing for us.