Monthly Archives: December 2010

olive shoots

Oh, prayer time. Often boring, sometimes painful, always worth doing. I do half an hour a day, and today I sat for a full 24 minutes before checking the clock! That’s an achievement. When I saw that there were only 6 minutes left, I decided that was just enough time to get through the next chapter in Isaiah. Here’s what jumped out:

And let not the eunuch say,
‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
which shall not be cut off.

I admit, I didn’t want to highlight that one at first. If someone finds my Bible and happens to open to that passage, I don’t want them thinking my, um, equipment doesn’t work. But eh, whatever: let them think what they want. When the Spirit decides to sharpen a verse and stab you in the gut with it (in a good way), you don’t argue.

I think the verse applies not only to me, but to everyone who’s unmarried, whether by choice or otherwise. Children are one of the great blessings of life, it’s true. I always think about that beautiful passage from Psalm 128:

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.

Who wouldn’t want that? But what does that mean for someone with no wife, no children? Poor me: no vine, no shoots, just a dry stalk.

Not so, says God. What do we, the eunuchs, get? “A monument and a name better than sons and daughters…an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.”

That’s just the sort of comfort the Bible often provides. It’s not terribly specific: it doesn’t say what we’ll get, exactly. That’s frustrating, but it’s also good: we don’t know how to want the right things. Here’s a little T. S. Eliot that comes in handy:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing…

I’m not going to sit here and hope for a wife or for children. Or for fame, or for fortune. If I insist on any of those things, I’ll be twisting the path of my life into a direction that might not be natural, might not be what God intends for me, might not fit. I might succeed in getting those things, by brute force. And if that happens, those things will probably make me miserable. Who hasn’t seen a marriage where everyone involved wants out?
But if I do what I can and keep my trust intact; and if, above all, I keep the Lord’s holy days, do the things that please Him, hold fast to His covenant; I’ll be no dry tree, but

a tree planted by running waters,
which yields its fruit in due season
and whose leaf does not wither.

Who are the dry vines, who are the chaff? They are the wicked, and the wind blows them away. My hope is in the name of the Lord, not in the things he gives me; and I will not be shaken.