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. 

Spoiler Alert!

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I’m in one of my panics that always ends with me in a fetal position (and no, that is not a yoga pose). Let’s just say I’m possibly being irrational. But note to all men, especially my husband: don’t ever tell a woman she’s being irrational, even if she is, even if she says so herself. And don’t tell her all the rational “facts” that life is really not that bad. Just listen, nod sympathetically, at the most make “mmm” sounds through closed lips. With the emphasis being on the closed lips. Second important note: Some women may like to be patted on the arm. Not me. 

Here is what’s causing me to roll into a hedgehog ball (and why you may not want to pat me on the arm): I’ve come away from a week caring for sick aging parents I cannot help. I’m overwhelmed on all sides: fearing the future, grieving the present, and flashing back to some hard memories. I’m trapped in Mount Doom and nothing my husband and friends say reaches me.

Everything is wrong. Everyone is wrong. I am wrong. I’m surrounded by chaos that will never go away and is growing. I’m at the bottom of the pit in the land of Mordor. It’s filled with Orcs and goblins and Wormtongue is whispering in my ear, “This is the way it’s going to be, forever.”

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As I wallowed in my Mount Doom, I had to prepare to teach Romans 8. (Note: It’s why I teach. It forces me, even when I’m in a hissy fit or deep pit, to deal with truth.) Scripture can do what I let no man do, whisper true truths to me, exposing Wormtongue, whom I call the “Lie Guy.”

Romans 8 was my “pit-stop.” In every verse God met me in the midst of my Mordor meltdown. Beginning with Therefore there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus and ending in Nothing will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, my Heavenly Father embraced me with truth: I am not alone. In Christ Jesus I have the Holy Spirit and a new way of life and peace. I do not have a spirit of slavery, but a spirit of adoption so I can cry out Abba Father. He gives me permission to groan for better and not feel guilty that I don’t even know what to pray. He’s up to something good in my life.

I begin to uncurl.

God’s Double-Handed Grip on Me

He has known me, chosen me, called me, justified me, and glorified me. His love will not let me go. It is a done deal.  That is my Abba Father’s tender yet unbreakable grip on my failing, flailing life.

He knows the tortured raw questions inside my head in the midst of my pain:

Are you, God, really for me?

Will you really give me what I need and want?

What about all those who are criticizing and ripping me apart? Will they win?

Who can condemn me? Will you?

Is there anything that can break me away from your loving grip?

The answers to those questions are like the Abba’s other hand holding me. (And I do let Him pat me on the arm.)

As I feel my Abba Father’s strong doubled-handed Scriptural embrace, I hear him whisper what only a beloved father can say to a downwardly cycling daughter, “It will be okay.”

With one hand he steadies my shaking shoulders and the sobs wracking my core. My volcanic emotions never erupt—I’m too well trained for that—they just implode and eat my insides. As my internal lava flow ebbs, I relax and begin to hear his truth.

With his other hand, he strokes my hair, “It will be okay. I am for you. Remember, I chose you. I called you. I justified you. I glorified you. I see you. You’re beautiful. You look so much like my beloved son.”

“Think about it. If I sacrificed my Son for you, don’t you realize I will follow through and give you all your true heart desires? Yes there are many who are lobbing charges and condemnations at you. But don’t you remember what I said?  There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Although your self-condemnation hurts me, it will not stand.  Christ died for all those accusations, even your own. Nothing will take you away from me. You are safe. You are secure. You are loved.”

He pauses as I look up, “Everything will be okay. In fact, everything will be more than okay. It will be glorious.  Wait for that day.”

As my breath slows, I read the sign he’s left with this chapter:

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  I sense him saying, “So, are you ready?  I want you back out in this beautiful, broken world. But never forget my embrace and my truth.”

“Everything is going to be okay” may be a weak statement to some people.  But it lets me breathe. It allows me to stop and be in the present moment, even with its hard realities. It will be okay.

It is okay—and it will be okay—in fact, it will be more than okay. I unroll from my fetal ball and show my husband where to hang the sign so I won’t forget.