We can be assured that God’s love indeed means that all will be well, but here and now this truth must be held in faith rather than full understanding.
Julian of Norwich
A dear friend invited me to join her on a two-night silent retreat at a Benedictine monastery in December. It was perfectly timed as I was surfacing from a painful conflict with a friend and an intense season with a growing ministry. I was wrestling with realities I couldn’t control and questions that weren’t being answered.
It’s been a dry season with little sense of leading or emotion in my spiritual life—not a dark night, but perhaps a “gray afternoon of the soul.” I went on the retreat with no expectations (hence, no disappointments) but longed to feel a fresh sense of God’s presence and leading. For the friends who know us well, their first question was, did we “cheat” and chat? No, although we were given a reprieve for two of the meal times. And we followed the advice of a friend who had been on a silent retreat, “Don’t eat raw carrots during dinner.”
We joined the rhythm of the monastery, early to bed, early to rise, simple meals, set times of prayer, and silence. I took long, quiet walks in the monastery’s hundreds of acres of woods and trails using my camera as a way to stop and see. I slept. I journaled. I listened for God. That was the hardest challenge.
God did meet me as quietly as my surroundings with two simple messages. I’ll write about the second in a coming blog. But here is the first:
All Shall Be Well. As I walked and waited, prayed and pondered, I heard a quiet reassurance, “All shall be well.” And that one simple, but not ‘pat’ sentence, allowed me to breathe. These words originally came from Julian of Norwich, a 14th century Christian mystic who wrote and counseled during the dark days of the Black Plague and 100-Year War. As a mystic, she longed for deeper intimacy with Christ and struggled with the big questions such as why God allowed sin in the first place and what was the fate of those who had never heard the Gospel. She never received a direct answer to her questions, except to be told that whatever God does is done in love, and therefore "that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
Like Julian, I too received no specific answers to my questions. No clear direction. Except to be re-directed to the truth I needed most to hear.
God is love. Therefore.
Julian wrote in her Divine Revelations, “For some of us believe that God is almighty and may do all; and that He is all-wisdom and can do all; but that He is all-love, and will do all–there we fail. And it is this unknowing that most holdeth back God’s lovers, as I see it.”
But how can I live with “unknowing,” with unanswered questions and unfulfilled longings? Again the answer comes back to love. A God who chooses to create and love, a God who longs for relationship, is a God who also lives with longing.
“God and we must live with longing if love is the life we choose . . . We accept the pain of longing, for it is also joy.”
So God has directed me in my struggles and questions. Choose love. And choose to trust that God is loving and therefore, “All Shall Be Well”—not as some shallow platitude, but a truth which acknowledges that all manner of things may not be well at this present moment. There will be storms and dark nights and gray afternoons but, ultimately, the light will break through.
As worries or weariness take me down, breathing in the truth that “All Shall Be Well” doesn’t fix my problems, but fixes my thoughts on the One who loves. The one who proved His love for us by sending His own son to die for us.
I don’t only “breathe in” this statement but sing it out. Many artists have written songs on All Shall Be Well. My favorite version is by Andrew Peterson.
You may not have the option to go on a retreat, but pause in the middle of your busy life and consider:
What is the question you most wrestle with before God and where in your life do you most long to hear “All Shall Be Well?” Photography thanks to Bill Carroll.
Scroll to the bottom of my blogsite to comment or respond to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again for reading and pondering with me and Julian. I'll post the second "message" in a few days.