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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

In search of the solid things: “The solid things aren’t things at all.”

Ben Goshow

When we moved to Toronto three years ago, we came thinking only of impermanence. Three years, and then a return to the house and the church and the people we knew. But soon after we came (or if not soon, at the end of our first year here), we began to wish to stay. We considered the idea of making Toronto home. I think a lot about the word. Home. I even wonder if it will be the subject of my next book. So many of my deepest longings and desires find their way here, to home, to the solid things, to permanence and its place. I could wonder why this pull is so strong in me. Or, I could agree that this desire is fundamental to what it means to be human.

On our way home from Washington, D.C. last week, our family was listening to an audio version of Gary Paulsen’s, Hatchet. It’s a wonderful story, and it opens with Brian Robeson staring out of the window of a small plane. Brian’s parents have recently divorced, and he is flying to see his father who works in the Canadian oil fields.

The thinking started.

Always it started with a single word.

Divorce.

It was an ugly word, he thought. A tearing, ugly word that meant fights and yelling, lawyers – God, he thought, how he hated lawyers who sat with their comfortable smiles and tried to explain to him in legal terms how all that he lived in was coming apart – and the breaking and shattering of all the solid things. His home, his life - all the solid things. Divorce. A breaking word, an ugly breaking word.”

Yes, that’s it. The solid things. That’s what I’m longing for, searching for. And the solid things have to do with home and marriage and family (dear God, help me to make good on the promises I’ve made), but the solid things are certainly more than that. If you are a Christ-follower with any kind sober appraisal of the world, with any kind of willingness to read the Scriptures and interpret your reality through that lens, you will be obligated to see how impermanent the world is, how un-solid today’s ground beneath our feet. Hope can’t be derived from thinking that solidity can be wrested from a world that, on many days, acts with caprice. Yes, we want the solid things. And we search for them. But they aren’t to be found in our place, in our families, in ministry even. And until we settle this, that the solid things aren’t things at all, we are restless and wandering, insatiable for security and stability.

The solid things aren’t things at all.

I’m reading like a Benedictine these days, starting my days in the Psalms and lingering long over words and phrases. This morning, I opened Psalm 69 and heard the Psalmist’s cry for the solid things.

Save me, O God!

For the waters have come up to my neck.

I sink in deep mire,

where there is no foothold;

I have come into deep waters,

and the flood sweeps over me.

I am weary with my crying out,

my throat is parched.

My eyes grow dim

with waiting for my God.

I remembered the discussion I listened to earlier this week from two of our pastors, one of whom has struggled with depression, the other with anxiety. Different though their experiences are, both, however, used the word, “sinking” to describe their darkness.

Sinking. Without foothold.

In search of the solid things.

And this is the Psalmist’s predicament as well, and in this psalm as in so many others, he vacillates wildly between hope and despair, between pain and petition. One moment, he’s decrying the pain. The next moment, he’s commending prayer and praise. Verse 29 shows that tension.

“I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high.” (v. 29).

And perhaps this could be said another way.

I’m sinking. Let me stand on the solid things.

If the Psalmist’s struggle is meant to teach us anything, we don’t find the solid things by accident. They are to be found by prayer, prayer which is tethered to the wildly stubborn hope that, “at an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, [you will] answer me in your saving faithfulness . . . For your steadfast love is good.” (vv. 13, 16).

The solid things aren’t things at all. And we learn this somehow by praying, by casting prayers like casting lines into the deep waters of our fear. We pray, we cast, and we hook something solid. Perhaps to our greatest surprise, we bring to the surface song and thanksgiving (v. 30).

“When the humble see it they will be glad, you who seek God, let your hearts rejoice.”

Pray, then learn: that the solid things aren’t things at all.