Joash shooting the arrow of deliverance. William Dyce
Last week, during a 72 hour worship festival, I found myself thinking of a dominant woman in my life, who apparently delighted in blocking my ideas. Off and on, I mentally composed apparently innocuous emails to her, sardonic and biting in a veiled way, emails I would “accidentally” CC to everyone in the email chain. Completely accidentally, you understand!Yes, in the middle of beautiful soulful worship that thought crossed my mind.We are made of mud and the breath of God, we are told in Genesis. That is the only way to understand us humans.
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And the image I kept “seeing” was of me standing with a great golden bow and arrow, pulling back the bow, the arrow poised at the bow-string, about to shoot my arrow at that uber-annoying woman.
But no, I would not.
I thought of where that image might have come from. The gift of words can be used for a livelihood, as Ishamel kept himself and Hagar alive in the desert with his bow and arrow. It can protect oneself or one’s family, as Elisha instructed the naïve King Jehoash to shoot his arrows, declaring as he did so, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!”
Or we can waste our arrows on sniping, conflict and negativity.
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We are finite beings. But we find it hard to remember that our time is limited, our energy is limited, and our abilities are limited. We continually believe we can squeeze in one more thing, say one more “yes.”
Then suddenly in middle age, these limitations of energy become very real to us, and realize that we are in the land of trade-offs. If we do A, we will not get to do B: we realize this through bitter experience. We have to choose carefully!
We have a finite number of arrows. Spending our energy in petty hostility and arguments and conflict, whether online, or in real life, means we will have less time and energy to do what we really want to do, the one thing we’ve been put on earth to do with our one wild and precious life.
A limited number of arrows, a limited number of hours. I come from a line of long-lived women on both sides of the family. My grandmother Josephine Mathias died at 98. I remember visiting her mother, my great-grandmother Julianna Lobo who died at 102. My mother’s grandmother, Alice Coelho, also lived to be 100.
If I live to the average age of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers—and I have better medical care, a more careful diet, more exercise, but far more self-imposed stress—I might live for another 17255 days. A lot, but not infinite.
Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, the Psalmist cried.
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I noticed something else. Each time I thought of writing my silly snarky little email, all peace left my heart, I felt out of alignment with the worship around me. When I decided to send a tactful non-distressing email, peace and joy returned and I could worship. And then the naughty writer in me slyly suggested yet another sardonic wisecrack, and the white dog and the black dog wrestled.
“Every negative thing and thought is always of the Enemy, and every positive, life-giving, up-lifting thought is always of the Holy Spirit.
“Settle this issue in your heart. The Holy Spirit is always positive, and Satan is always negative.”
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How will I spend my limited arrows, my limited hours?
I don’t want to waste any of them in conflict, hostility or shooting down enemies, instead of leaving God to deal with them, or (sadly!) to allow them to remain in my life for my growth in strength, patience and wisdom?
I decided. I would send no foolish emails, none at all.
I want to steward my time and energy wisely, using my arrows to open up deep life-giving wells of beauty, wisdom, peace, and joy for myself and for other people. To create something beautiful.
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I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20). In my early years as a Christian, that statement mystified me. It seemed extreme and theoretical.
I now think it’s a choice. We choose to be aligned with Jesus, we choose to live and move with his grace that so powerfully works in us. When it’s difficult—in diet, or exercise, or writing, or relationships–we rely on his grace to help us, step by step, relying on his benevolent “possession”. And if the very thought of doing something makes us lose our sense of peace and joy, we do not do it.
We choose the positive, and not the negative. We number our days that we might apply our hearts unto wisdom.