by Pringle Franklin
I was struggling to resurrect my fallen angel. Why was this so difficult? He kept rolling away from my grasp.
Too often it’s the same with the people whom we love: they resist our well-intentioned efforts to help. So the ebb and flow of this dance felt sadly familiar, expending energy on behalf of an ill-fated rescue, only this time my task was to save an angel statuette from murky waters.
A neighbor had given me the tiny praying angel after my father passed away in 2000. We had kept the terra cotta figure around in the yard for almost 17 years, and yet he had never found in his proper spot. He is so small, about 10 inches tall, that the flowers and shrubs in our garden beds dwarfed him. On the patio, the childlike angel seemed unmoored, without impact, more clutter than art. One recent day while I was planting rosemary in the garden, I received an inspiration. I relocated the angel boy so that he was kneeling on the edge of an oblong pond in the patio area, staring down at the basin with clasped hands.
Ah, that felt better. In this setting, he looked meditative and peaceful. One might stop to wonder what the little angel was thinking.
Yet my husband resisted the new placement, saying that he was sure to bump the statuette into the water. Keeping that in mind, I moved to tiny angel to the far end of the reflecting pool, hoping to keep him out of the flow of foot traffic.
For three days, everything went well; often I found myself looking with new eyes at the little statue. Funny how simply relocating an object of art to a fresh locale can heighten your awareness and appreciation of it.
Then a crisis struck.
“Your angel is under water,” Sam told me.
“What happened?” I said.
“I knocked it over, and now it’s in the pond. And I am not sticking my hands in that water to get it out,” he said.
I received this news with a sigh and went to peer into the pond. Sure enough, the orange-tinted clay creature was swimming on his side, wings down and toes floating under the grayish water. We keep chlorine in the reflecting pool, and Sam regularly scoops leaves out, but there was enough rotting debris circling around the basin that I wasn’t keen on plunging my hands into the water either.
I fetched the long-handled pool net, trying to scoop the angel into the woven nylon end. However, the net was too weak to properly support the compact statue, and my efforts felt clumsy. As I was pushing him around the water, he was stirring up swirls of yang and muck. I paced around the oval pond for about 10 minutes, angling the net this way and that, but I was merely knocking the kneeling angel around like a hockey puck.
I felt defeat standing over me and jeering. “You are such a hopeless incompetent,” ran through my thoughts. My shoulders drooped. Perhaps I would be forced to stick my arm up to my elbow in that dirty water, and Sam, who was sitting nearby at a patio table, would tell me that it served me right for having ignored his warning.
Had I been foolish? I wondered. And yet I had been touched to see the angel gazing fixedly into the pool. It had not felt foolish.
As I squatted around the basin, net in hand, a thought crossed my mind. I remembered Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A new surge of determination fortified me. I prayed a silent prayer, telling the Lord that while my efforts had failed, I believed that, if He willed it, I could rescue the angel through Him, through his love and power.
I thrust the net toward the angel, and this time, the winged creature rolled right into the center of the net. It took a moment for my brain to register. The angel was trapped. The struggle was over. Soon I had hauled the angel out of the water and set him on a garden wall to dry off in the sun. He looked no worse for wear.
And I felt remarkably better. The part of my brain that had been listening to self-critical language was silenced. For I had been reminded: I was not left to my own bumbling efforts down here on this earth.
When prayers are answered quickly like this, our connection to God might feel magical, but this is not magic; we are not given prayer to satisfy our petty whims or selfish cravings. Prayer is an electrical cord connecting us to the Source, and sometimes when we remember to plug it in, the Lord in his mercy will answer a sincere cry for help. This “proof” should not be mistaken as a tool for making our lives on earth easier, as many who received the loaves and fishes from Jesus misunderstood the true value of what the Master was offering. Rather such miracles are evidence of the power that is available to us in the spiritual realm. The lesson in God’s abundance applies to conditions of the heart and soul which are much more important than a sunken garden statue or a basket of fish and bread.
If God can answer prayers about earthly issues so efficiently, through the energy flow of Christ, then why should He not give us the grace, and the courage, to actually grow more and more like Jesus? When Christ taught his new commandment in John 13:34, “Love one another as I have loved you,” he was both calling us to action and offering to help us with the uphill journey.
Let’s get specific. Since August, I have become aware, through divine revelation, that critical and judgmental and gossipy talk is offensive to God, as He is the loving Father of all. Since I gained this clarity in a personal way, not just in a general “thou shalt not” sort of way, I have been astonished to notice some of the ugly things that spring from my lips. I have been making slow progress to change this habit for months. One day, I will bite my tongue and resist saying something unattractive; yet the next day, I may join into a conversation with gusto and begin bashing someone’s behavior without even pausing to reflect.
But now the fallen angel had brought me an “Aha” moment. In my future fight against temptation, I will remember to call upon Christ for help, and to expect to receive help that is sufficient. In the case of gossip, the self discipline that I need to obey his higher calling will be granted when I seek the grace to follow Him.
We all have our bad habits. Yours may be in a different arena. Whatever the area of weakness — and let’s be honest, at times we enjoy our proclivity to sin — we are not going to find success on our own. The only hope is to rely firmly on the promise of Phil. 4:13, that we can overcome through Christ. His power is ours for the asking when our intention and purpose line up with God’s will.
If we flop back into our comfortable pattern of sin, it is not because we are fallen creatures. That excuse is dust; in Christ, we are no longer left defenseless. If we fail, it is simply because we don’t care enough to take up our cross and struggle under it, relying each step on the sustaining grace and strength of Christ.
I must ask myself, what is my true desire? Do I really want to pull back when others begin to gossip? Let’s be real here a moment. I fear coming across as prudish if I refuse to go along with a friend who is complaining or back-stabbing. No sister wants to gossip alone! If I must speak only in love, then how can I have normal conversations with other females? I don’t want to pinch my lips and act like I swallowed my tongue. But if I confess that I am guarding my words, it will seem like a criticism of the person in front of me who has just said something indiscreet.
Only by keeping my focus on Christ and his ability to do all things in me can I find the right path forward. Keeping this focus is easier if I spend time daily in deep prayer. My experience in Centering Prayer — a silent meditation on God’s presence — has opened spiritual floodgates. My mind has become less cluttered, and I am more able to grasp the reality of what living in Christ can mean.
As Paul suggests in Romans 12:2:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.