“Did you shake this?”
My dad eyed the salad dressing critically. “It doesn’t look like you shook it.” Then he took the bottle into both hands, held it out, and shook it vigorously.
Well, yeah, I suppose compared to that, I had only swished the salad dressing around a little.
I didn’t understand that the salad dressing had elements that naturally separated, and so it had to be shaken before use to bring those elements back together to balance the taste.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about how, sometimes, people need to be shaken before they can be used, too. I just finished reading The Curate of Glaston by George MacDonald, which is all about that kind of shaking, and one passage particularly stood out to me: “Sometimes a thunderbolt, as men call it, will shoot from a clear sky; and sometimes into the midst of a peaceful family, or a yet quieter individuality, without warning of gathered storm above, or lightest tremble of earthquake beneath, will fall a terrible fact, and from the moment everything is changed. That family or that life is no more what it was – probably never more can be what it was. Better it ought to be, worse it may be – which, depends upon itself. But its spiritual weather is altered. The air is thick with cloud, and cannot weep itself clear. There may come a gorgeous sunset though.” And so recently, I’ve been reflecting on the seasons during which my own spiritual weather has been altered.
I remember meeting with a friend several years ago, and as we discussed our lives, she said, “I don’t feel like I’ve had the one great trial of my faith yet, do you?” I didn’t really know how to respond. Even then, before I had really gone through much in my walk with Christ, I felt like my faith was never too far from one of those thunderbolt moments – those seasons when everything was shaken, sometimes even what I had thought were the most foundational elements. I never believed it would be just one great trial, one great thunderbolt, one great shaking; I thought it would be more like a video game, where I would graduate to levels of greater and greater difficulty. I was, however, slightly jealous that someone could have the somewhat romantic notion that there would be just one great trial of faith, when I didn’t have that luxury.
They are not bad things, these spiritually-altering seasons. They often feel like bad things, because everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and how everything settles after that shaking is outside of our control.
[F]rom the moment everything is changed. That family or that life is no more what it was – probably never more can be what it was.
That’s not to say we don’t try to control it – to short-circuit the thunderbolt, to try and hold things in place as they are coming down around us.
We don’t understand we’re often better off going through spiritual alterations and releasing the shaky things. It produces value within us: “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3b-5a NIV). This thunderbolt passage in Curate is about Helen Lingard, a character who has little in the way of passion – described as someone who doesn’t really think for herself, doesn’t fall in love, and whose face doesn’t show much. Without being shaken, she would have gone on, just as she was, and of course, there would have been no story and no character worth mentioning.
These seasons will also bring us closer to God if we let them. I am frequently reminded of something C. S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed, after his wife passed away: “…My idea of God is a not divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?…” God Himself says, “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come” (Haggai 2:6-7 NIV). The writer of Hebrews expounds upon these sentiments: “The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27 NIV). With every shaking, I get closer to Him, and His nearness germinates His life within me.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and in the patron saint of the Irish we have a great example of someone who was shaken before use. As a young man, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave. After making his escape, he felt a call to return to Ireland to walk among the Irish, so he studied to become a priest. Even then, the Church refused to back his calling because of his youth and inexperience. He opens his Confession this way: “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.” He remarks about his calling, “So I want to give thanks to God without ceasing. He frequently forgave my lack of wisdom and my negligence, and more than once did not become very angry with me, the one who was meant to be his helper. I was not quick to accept what he showed me, and so the Spirit prompted me. The Lord was merciful to me a thousand thousand times, because he saw in me that I was ready, but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life … Indeed, I was not quick to recognise the grace that was in me; I know now what I should have done then.” If he hadn’t been shaken, St. Patrick would never have ministered in Ireland the way he did.
What will come of my being shaken today? I hardly know, except I will be brought closer to God, and in His closeness, I will become more. And I believe with my whole heart there is a gorgeous sunset in my future.