Years and years ago, long before choosing a name for a year became fashionable, a word came to me that I knew was meant for the upcoming 12 months.
It happened when I was on a long walk with my beloved dog on my birthday. The day had dawned foggy and visibility was low. We came to a large field and I decided to let her off the leash (I should have known better). She almost instantly saw a rabbit and was off like a shot. I yelled her name, frantically shouting commands for her to return to me, listening for her barks to follow through the low clouds. Nothing. I thought I had lost her. Worse, we were parallel to a busy road and I feared for her life. My panic and dread rose with each step I took forward. I stopped to pray. I loved that dog. She was the first dog I had called my own and she was just as attached to me; I couldn’t lose her. “Dear Lord…help me find her.”
Then, out of the fog, she came trotting back to me with a dopey smile on her face. I fell to my knees in joy and relief and she barreled into me (labs do such things). All was well.
After I secured her to the leash, secured her to me, and as we made our way home, I prayed with a heart filled with thanksgiving and gratefulness for her return.
And then, something happened that has become a tradition I have continued since that first walk, so many years ago on my birthday. I distinctly heard a word. One word. I couldn’t tell you what that word was because it was over 20 years ago and I don’t remember, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that I knew this lone word had meaning and I believed was meant to be a prayer focal point from that birthday until my next.
I hadn’t been praying for a word. I wasn’t listening for a word. I was focused on my foolishness of letting my wannabe huntress off her leash and dodging a calamity on that foggy day. Yet, as clearly as I can hear a bag of kettle chips being opened three rooms away (possibly my super power), I heard a word spoken to me.
Since then, I have continued the tradition of a taking a walk on my birthday (my beloved lab has since passed). Mostly, I pray (as is my habit when I run) with no expectation. I’m never sure if a word will come, but each year one has. Some years the word thrills me, other years the word makes me anxious.
Last November, I took my walk. Almost immediately I heard, “The Year of Great Faith.” Um, no thank you. (those of you familiar with my relationship with God, know I’m a lot like Moses…SEND SOMEONE ELSE!)
I heard the phrase more than once, and more than once I rejected it. Why? The word “great” indicated pain. You don’t aquire greatness of any kind without a trial. Plus, it was the first time I had heard a phrase, not a solitary word. NoNoNoNoNo, no thank you. I’m nothing if not polite.
Yet, I kept walking, praying even more fervently: God, if it is your will, would you allow another word, pretty please? I heard the phrase enough to know that another word would not come. November 2014-2015 would be The Year of Great Faith.
I started to cry. My instincts told me the year was going to be the toughest I had ever faced. My fear of the year shifted to the possibility that someone I loved would face great suffering. As soon as that thought entered my mind, I prayed that if anything was going to happen, if anyone was going to suffer greatly, let it be me.
I knew that it might be a prayer in vain, that if this was not His plan, that I’d have to indeed rely on my faith to grow to get me through. I also knew it was a selfish prayer. What if there was someone close to me that needed great faith and by asking for the suffering to be mine, I denied them that gift? I prayed selfishly anyway; I didn’t want anyone close to me to suffer. Let it be me. When I was done pleading and bargaining, I handed over my anxiety and fear. I had no idea of the whats or the the whys; I only knew I would follow where he would lead me.
When I got home, Garry asked me if I had heard a word. I burst into tears again. When he heard, he was resolute that it would be okay. After all, it was The Year of Great Faith.
I’ll be honest here. I also hoped that if my prayer was answered and I was the one to walk through an unknown valley, that those around me, those I loved, well, I prayed their faith in turn would grow.
I had no idea what was ahead; I had no idea the valley I would encounter. Not an inkling.
This year has indeed been The Year of Great Faith. In part, my prayer for placing me in suffering’s way was answered. Yet, there have been other unexpected hard moments, on top of mine, that have required us to trust in ways we never knew possible, as we journeyed to great faith.
When I faltered, in the throes of chemo side-effects and sickness, Garry would ask me: What year is it? And I would answer (sometimes grudgingly in my sufferng): The Year of Great Faith.
It became our mantra of good and reassured us that there was much to be gained from the hard.
As for those around me, and my prayer for their growth in faith, I may never know until I pass from this world to the next what results were had. Of course, my prayers still go to that end, but I am not the changer of hearts. All we can do as followers of Christ is to sow seeds of love and pray they may take root and grow.
This November will be no different; I’ll take a walk and pray with no expectation. Maybe the words are done. Maybe this will be the year of silence. My prayers are ever constant regardless of audible answers. I do not need them, yet take note if they present themselves. I will also remember with fondness, as I always do, the walk that started this tradition: my dog bolting from my protection and praying for her safe return.
Growing in faith takes a dogged determination. You have to decide to reject fear and the what ifs. You have to cling to the promises of a loving God. It’s not an easy flippant thing to do; it comes at a price, as all things of great worth.
No one willingly wants to experience hardship, yet this life if full of it. This year has brought me to my knees in many ways, but today, as we get ever closer to November, I am thankful for my faithfulness to proceed with trust that God loves me and His lessons for my life are intended for good, even if I must know the hard by name.
The Year of Great Faith has been one I will remember for the rest of my life…just like the Year of Joy, when we learned we would become grandparents.
All is well with my soul, as I pray it is with yours, my babies.
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Mark 5:36