Wherever you may live, I’m sure you have nicknames for your city or town that represent its character or something special about it. Most people who live in Winnipeg have heard our fair city referred to as Winter-peg because of our harsh winters. I moved here just over five years ago and, as it turns out, they were right!
Not only did we have a white Christmas, but the snow storm that hit on Christmas day ensured that our Boxing Day was spent shovelling driveways and pushing countless cars out of snow ruts in the street. It seems we'll do anything for a good deal. Our latest storm added to the growing piles of snow we already had which makes me wonder where we will possibly put any more of it (it’s snowing as I write this).
But all this snow revealed to me a mystery that I had been wondering about since I moved to Winnipeg. On all the fire hydrants in the city, there is a plastic pole sticking out the top with a reflector on the end of it. It sticks up about three or four feet higher than the actual hydrant. I have always wondered what those were for because I don’t remember seeing them while living in Toronto.
After our Christmas storm, as I was driving past huge piles of plowed snow on the side of the roads, I finally made the connection. Those poles are there so that Firefighters can find the hydrants even if they are buried in the snow. They are also there for our city snow plowers to know to be careful in that spot so that they don't hit one and turn the street into a skating rink. It was such a revelation for me because until that point, I had never seen enough snow that the whole fire hydrant would be covered. It was only when the hydrant pole's purpose was fulfilled that I was able to see the reason for why it was there.
I believe we do some things in life without understanding the purpose in the moment. Our spiritual walk with Christ is one of these. Our traditions and rituals guide us through the seasons of life and prepare us for when the storms come. We do things that we may not understand or necessarily enjoy in the moment because of what it can do for us and our faith in the future.
What are the habits or disciplines you have developed in your Christian walk? For me, memorizing Scripture has become vital. As a child, my parents and church would encourage us to memorize Scripture by giving us rewards and treats. In Bible School, part of our weekly assignment was to memorize Bible verses. Although I can’t always remember where a particular passage is found or the exact wording, I can recall many verses that I learned throughout my life. Even now I continue to commit more verses to memory as I hear and read them.
One of the recent Scripture passages I learned was the beginning of Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
Psalm 46:1-2 (NIV)
I may have heard it many times before, but I only really paid attention to it this past year during a course I was taking at Canadian Mennonite University. Our professor shared his story and how those verses had been a pillar of hope during the difficult experience of losing his child to cancer. I knew in that moment, when I saw how much it meant to him, that this would be a passage to remember.
I wrote the verses out and put it on my desk. Every time I saw it I would say it until I was able to recite it without looking. The months while I was learning those verses were good months. I hadn’t experienced much difficulty and wasn’t under a lot of stress. In many ways it was like walking through the streets of Winnipeg in the summer and wondering why fire hydrants have long, plastic poles on them. One could wonder, why would you need those verses when life is going well?
This past month however was like our Winnipeg Christmas storm. It was (and is) a difficult season with two of our church members passing away in the span of three weeks and several others suffering from serious medical conditions. What I thought would be a relaxing time for me to get some things done turned out to be one of the most important and difficult times in my pastoral journey thus far.
It is in this season that the words of Psalm 46 come to me over and over again. Not only that, those are some of the first words from the Bible that I share with families that are going through a difficult time. Now that I am in the context of the storm, I understand why I spent time memorizing that passage (and other passages as well). That practice of memorizing Scripture has guided me, given me strength and hope in a way nothing else can.
The same teacher who shared Psalm 46 with our class also talked about the importance of soul care. That’s what our spiritual practices are. The habits we form in Bible reading, memorizing, praying, fasting, music and singing, meditating, etc., feed our souls and encourage us in our faith. They bring us closer to God and give us time away from the struggles of the world. But most importantly, soul care prepares us for the storms of life. They give us a foundation from which to engage God when the world around us seems to be crumbling.
As we approach 2017, I would encourage you to make time for soul care. Take the time to develop spiritual disciplines. Take time out of the business of life to just be with God. Try out different techniques and styles and see which ones jive with you. Even though everything in your life may seem to be just fine, I can guarantee that it won’t always be. For those moments, and for the now, fill your soul with the river of life that only flows from Jesus Christ. Trust me. You won’t regret it.