All Shall Be Well

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 nancy@nancywcarroll.com. Thanks again for reading and pondering with me and Julian. I'll post the second "message" in a few days. 

What Ad Are You Living Out?

Easy_button Choosing the "AND" Life in an Easy-Button, Less-Filling World

A Coke Zero® ad stresses “AND”—tastes great AND zero calories. The actor shouts “Who wants ‘or’? ‘Or’ makes you choose.” Then he sings a version of War: “OR, What is it good for, absolutely nothing!”

Maybe for diet drinks the “AND” life with the tagline “Enjoy Everything” works. But not in my too-much-AND life.

Who wants OR? Me.

I don’t want everything. Everything includes . . . well, everything

I want my family to live passionate lives for Christ without the and of the pain that drives us to Him. I want revival with no and of repentance, grace with no and of groaning, success with no and of sacrifice, mercy with no and of messes.

But somehow those I love and respect the most are poster families for the AND life (even if they wish for the OR life).

Mike and Terese prayed for revival for their city and for the kids at their son’s urban elite prep school to become Christians. It’s happening. But it comes with the AND of their beloved son’s football-related traumatic brain injury. Derrick and Cathleen prayed for their college daughter to refocus on her faith. She amazes them with her renewed passion for Christ. The AND? An unplanned pregnancy and complicated custody battle with the ex-boyfriend and the baby's adoptive family.  A family member is facing a painful divorce. It's driving him to questions about religion that he never considered before. Yes, it is worth it. But is there no other way?

Why can’t I have “OR?” Why can't I have the the depth of character and Christian faith of people I respect without the AND of their lives, the darkness and pain that, in part, is what made them the compassionate, overflowing people I want to be like.

I confess. I want all the benefits of the Christian life without the AND of the brokenness, confusion, neediness or vulnerability.

I want to live in a different ad, the “Easy-Button” life promoted by Staples.

The Bible never tries to sell us the Easy-Button life. From the beginning, it clearly portrays the Both-And life. In Genesis, we see both the creation and the fall, and see redemption weaving threads of hope and life into the fabric of sin and death. In the Gospels, Jesus comes both as Savior and Sacrifice. Mary both miraculously gives birth to the Son of God and bears the mother’s pain of his public death that would save the world. As believers, we experience this Both-And world, this already/not yet place where we live out who we are and wait for who we will be in this home that is not our home.

Maybe the Coke Zero one-liner is as close to theological truth as an ad can get. “OR, What is it good for?” Biblically rich living is a Both-And life, filled with simplicity and shrouded with mystery, glimpses of glory in the midst of pain, ongoing choices to embrace both joy and sorrow. You can choose to live the “OR” life but you will find it a lesser life. You’ll find yourself living out the Miller Lite tagline of life: Great taste. Less filling.

Jesus promises a life that has both great taste and is more filling—a full and filled-to-overflowing life.

 OR, what is it good for?

I want it all—Jesus and every ounce of life he is calling me to live. So I will edit the Coke Zero tagline and choose—not to “enjoy everything”—but to enjoy Jesus in everything. I choose the AND life.

*Names changed