John 9 tells the story of a man who was born blind (Read it here). Jesus' disciples see the blind man and ask Jesus, "What caused him to be born blind? Was it his sin, or the sin of his parents?" We ask the same question all the time of our own lives.
"Why is this happening to me?"
"What did I do to deserve this?"
Jesus responds to them by saying that it wasn't the sin of either that caused the man's blindness, “…but this happened that the works of God might be displayed in his life.” (Jn 9:3) When the religious leaders later demanded an answer as to why and how this happened, the only answer the formerly blind man had was what Jesus had done. Very literally. This is what happened to me. He made mud. Put it on my eyes. Told me to wash. Now I can see. I don’t even know where He is now.
A few hours before no one thought he had anything to offer. But now the works (plural) of God had been and are going to be displayed in his life. His own problem had become a vehicle for God to work. We all have a "blindness." It's a limitation or illness or weakness that is there for the purpose of displaying God’s works in our lives. There are the obvious ones like physical illness, lack of discipline, or too much emotional dependence on the feelings of others toward me. But there are deeper and more subtle ones too. They give us a feeling of loss or even grief. We wish our lives could avoid these moments.
Like the disciples these times make us uncomfortable. We want to quantify, to describe, to know why, to have an answer for what makes us uneasy. Sometimes in these hard moments, words become all that we have. We use them like packing peanuts. We think that if life is full of them that it somehow keeps us safe, protects us from being damaged or broken. But the truth is that often we need to be exposed. We need to feel…and while sometimes words help us feel, often they get in the way. They give us the sense that we are doing something when all we are really doing is filling space. In moments of sadness and grief and questions like "why is this happening?" we often need to let the space stay empty. To feel it. And to fill it only with the right things.
That's one of the reasons that God so often displays his works in and through grief or loss. In grief, whether it is ours or someone else's, we become more cautious about filling the room with words. We pick them carefully, like decorating our favourite space…traveling all over and looking for the one perfect piece that will bring more than just another object into the room. We want something with meaning. A gift that was given from a friend far away. A picture that inspires something within us that we can’t even name…but we hope to someday. In grief this is how words function. We choose them carefully. They are not all the same. Some are questions. Some are funny stories. Some are realizations that we have lost something we didn’t think we’d lose. But we have to be careful filling the space too quickly. If we are not cautious we will become word hoarders with boxes and piles of words and concepts covering the windows, leaving only a small path to walk through. We need space in life. Space to hear a fish jump in the river. Space to visually soak in the fog on the mountain, to hear the bird sing. Space to see our "blindness" as a possibility to "display the works of God" in our lives.
As much as it is difficult to understand, that man needed his blindness. The world needed his blindness. It was one way for there to be space to display the works of God. The disciples saw the emptiness and tried to fill it up with a reason. “Who sinned?” Like them, we shy away from empty places. They makes us uncomfortable. We would rather fill them with dollar store theology trinkets than to wait for the right element to be displayed.
God help us to not rush in to fill space, in our life or in the lives of others, with too many words, or even too much action. Help us to wait patiently for you to display what you want there. To allow the space to exist for what you want in our lives; in us. Not just through us, but in us.