A New Thing

This is what God the Lord says—

the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,

who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,

who gives breath to its people,

and life to those who walk on it:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;

I will take hold of your hand.

I will keep you and will make you

to be a covenant for the people

and a light for the Gentiles,

to open eyes that are blind,

to free captives from prison

and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!

I will not yield my glory to another

or my praise to idols.

See, the former things have taken place,

and new things I declare;

before they spring into being

I announce them to you.” Isaiah 42:5-9

I took great comfort in the promises of God back when I thought I knew what they meant.

And above, you have one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books of the Bible. Isaiah talked all the time about the amazing things God would do–after all, he was a prophet. Of course, his book is also full of some pretty scary stuff: consequences for those who rebel against the truth. The irony was lost on me for so long, that I would have fallen into the category of those who had eyes to see but were blind; ears to hear but were deaf. I constructed a God in my own image, one who played by my rules and fulfilled my expectations: made the path I had created smooth ahead of me, calmed all storms before I got seasick, and generally functioned as a helpful assistant who appeared when I called.

zigzag

Courtesy unsplash.com and Cagatay Orhan

I told someone recently that it wasn’t until I moved to New York City, and my third decade of life, that I began to understand God enough to realize that my life could be–according to my own appraisal–going incredibly crappily and it not be a form of punishment. As a 30-year-old dentist in the city, I lived from paycheck to paycheck, budgeted for toilet paper and cereal, had some really bad dates, and had one really unsettling misunderstanding with the IRS. But I also encountered grace preached to me for the first time, made some lifelong friends, and met my husband. I suffered consequences for my unbelief and rebellion (most of them having to do with those bad dates and copious amounts of well drinks), but I also encountered redemption, forgiveness, and the unfailing love of Christ for me at my lowest points.

All of it was grace.

So now when I read that he is doing a new thing, comfort may not be my first reaction. You could forgive me for being a little wary of a God who is good but not safe. In fact, I can almost always bet on some amount of discomfort being involved in this walk with him, because part of the work of grace is to pull us out of our smaller comforts, our lesser ports of security–our idols–and into the only arms that truly hold.

Becoming a parent has been a collision of grace and comfort in my life, with grace holding the trump card every time. I spend much of my time on the floor of bathrooms monitoring potty-training, or bent over a tub scrubbing a tiny body, or, most memorably and painfully, in a hospital bed while my son healed beside me. It is messy, exhausting, uncomfortable work–but it is also grace. It relentlessly pulls me out of myself and the sad little director’s chair from which I try to run the universe and onto my knees as I encounter, day after day, how insufficient I am for the job at hand.

And this is Good News.

It’s good not because it’s easy or smooth or safe, but because it points to the one who is sufficient, who is enough, who is everything I’m not. And he is always doing something new, because he makes all things–including me–new.

In the last month of last year, my older son turned four and wasn’t yet speaking. As his birthday came and went, I grieved for the passing of another year without words. Days later, he opened his mouth and spoke to us–and he hasn’t stopped. This new thing is halting and difficult for him, and it moves slowly and at times uncertainly. We don’t know what the road will look like, how long it will take to unfold, what struggles will be a part of it. But every time I hear his perfectly imperfect speech, I’m reminded that we worship a God who is in the business of New Things. Who is the Word. Who opens eyes that are blind, releases captives from prison, and brings light from darkness. A God who stood in a temple hundreds of years after the prophet wrote about him and repeated Isaiah’s words, reading them from a scroll to those who had eyes but were blind and ears but didn’t hear. Then he sat down and–in one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture–informed the crowd that he was the fulfillment of the word just spoken.

He is the new thing, and we always have him.

Which may not be safe, but is always good.

Written by Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips is a former Southern belle and recovering fundamentalist who was exiled to New York City for five years to think about what she’d done. After a widening of life experience and becoming reacquainted with grace, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband and two young boys, where she practices pediatric dentistry just often enough that it helps pay her Netflix bill and allows time to write her blog (plansinpencil.com) and contribute to her favorite websites (thewheelhousereview.com, mbird.com, bodypoliticblog.org).

About Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips is a former Southern belle and recovering fundamentalist who was exiled to New York City for five years to think about what she’d done. After a widening of life experience and becoming reacquainted with grace, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband and two young boys, where she practices pediatric dentistry just often enough that it helps pay her Netflix bill and allows time to write her blog (plansinpencil.com) and contribute to her favorite websites (thewheelhousereview.com, mbird.com, bodypoliticblog.org).

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