A little less than a year ago, before a flight out of the country, I programmed a Bible verse in as a reminder on my phone in hopes that it would soothe my flight anxiety:
“The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deut. 31:8.”
Every morning before the flight, and during the trip, the verse popped up on my phone at 6:30 a.m., staring up at me as a notification from my phone until I cleared it. At the time, it was a suitable reminder to pray, to pause, to center myself again in the Lord.
When we returned from the trip, I thought, “Why not just leave the reminder as it is?” And so I did.
The experience has been surreal. Every morning, rain or shine, misery or joy, the same verse: “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you…” On the right mornings, it is an encouragement: something I need to hear before a major occurrence. Most days, if I am honest, it has somehow become a benign reminder.
But on many other days, it feels starkly out of place.
Picture this: I am sitting over my morning coffee, catching up on whatever horrors await in the news and contemplating my vast to-do list for the day. Yesterday, my supervisor announced she wanted a quicker-than-usual turnaround on some numbers that normally take me a week to complete; one of our international education projects is ramping back up again; my (new) coworker doesn’t have the information she’s supposed to have and needs me to help her. I have a bunch of unanswered requests in my inbox that need to be cleared out before morning’s end, a calendar packed full of meetings, and a list of home chores to complete when the workday is done.
In that moment, beset with every mundane irritation and task of everyday life, the intrusion of Scripture into my day feels so strange, almost as though it doesn’t fit. The day does not feel holy. The tasks do not feel holy. Nothing I am doing or worrying about seems that it should or would matter in the least. What God promises is weighty and life-changing; what I set out to do every day feels everything but. Whenever that verse pops up on my phone it feels almost too grand and too big for me, for the piled-up normalcy of the everyday.
And yet I don’t delete the verse. I peer at it every morning, trying to apply cosmic weight to what feels like a thousand weightless acts.
But then yesterday I chanced on something I had written in my journal less than a month ago as a response to some scraps of Latin I had come across. I don’t remember writing it, or what occasioned it, but I read it and found myself startled:
Amor simplex callidus (simple love, clever)
Rufus amor pallidus (red love, pale)
The Christian faith is born in blood. Visceral suffering in which the ethereal and unseen is made violently manifest. Divine meets earth, dirt, salt, bone, flesh. Remarkable that blood was what was required: it is integral to the human memory of tangible pain. Even the sign was written for us to read clearly. Love as blood—love rendered red.
As I recall I was thinking at the time about the elemental simplicity of Christianity. And it is simple. Fierce and simple: simple enough for a child, for simple enough for anyone who desires to understand it. Simple enough that in the face of my complex modern life it feels as jarring and odd as the appearance of that Bible verse at 6:30am, that the Lord of Hosts would deign to interact in any way with my world of meetings and tasks and worries-that-aren’t.
The disconnect reminds me of what I cannot fathom about God.
What does possess God to break Himself down in such a way only to meet with us? Love, yes—but what a fathomless and terrifying love, and so beyond anything my frail human heart can comprehend. The mysteries of God’s great affection are daunting and lovely. The God of all things approaches my deeply finite, deeply human, deeply meaningless concerns with a touching abundance of care. To Him they are not meaningless; to Him my meetings matter. Because He loves.
The disconnect also reminds me of how uselessly complex modern life can be. Accomplishments, praise, satisfaction, worries, confusion, curiosity, desire: I ebb and flow on these currents. More often than not I live from moment to moment, task to task, and God is a part of all of these things but I do not always permit Him to be master over them. Next to the agony of the cross, it all seems quite small.
For all of these reasons, I keep the verse on my phone.
Tomorrow I will wake up, and as I sit and wonder why there was nearly a riot in the streets over whether or not to wear masks—God has conquered!—and if one of my meetings will be canceled—the Lord goes before you!—and if I remembered to unthaw the pork shoulder—do not be discouraged, for I am the Lord—I will experience it again: the tension between the world of faith and the world of flesh, life between now and what will be. And I will experience that strangeness—God’s voice blaring into the everyday—as a reminder that what is seen is not all there is, that a vast and transcending love is the driving force behind all that I am granted to approach and experience in that day.
And I will be grateful.