Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Camel Hair Shirt

           I don’t know about you, but camel hair shirts really give me a rash!  Maybe I’m allergic to camel hair. I hadn’t even realised I was wearing one until one day my writing partner suggested several radical measures to take on the piece I was writing. She was absolutely right, but after the call I carried on like the camel from which my shirt was made! I bellowed my objections that the load was too heavy. The way was too long. I moaned and groaned. I whined and carried on!

Just as my lament was reaching its crescendo, the Lord stood before me. He didn’t raise His voice. There was no sarcasm in His tone. He just stood there as Commander in Chief, as Lord. And He said, “You said you wanted to learn everything I have to teach you.” The truth of His words took my breath away. In the spirit I saw myself fall to my knees. I was undone by my own words. He was right. Absolutely right!   

When I first awakened after the initial long sleep of MS many people wanted to pray for my healing. I let them. When I was not healed right away, another round of caring folk suggested first this healer and then another. I went to hear some of them, but always had to leave before much of anything happened. I don’t know why healing can’t happen in the church before 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. 

There was always this hesitancy in me . . . a kind of knowing that the Lord was going to use the MS somehow for His glory and my benefit. That doesn’t make sense, I know, but God’s logic is quite different from ours and His values turn ours on end. I didn’t understand either—still don’t. But I told someone that I wanted to “milk” this experience of the disease for all it was worth. I was not in a hurry to receive my healing because I wanted to learn everything God had to teach me during this time. I did not want to do another lap around Sinai.

As the Lord repeated my own words to me, they hit with such a force I stopped mid-whine. The way He brought my own words back to me did something inside me. The whine was gone. All I could say was, “Yes, Lord.” I felt complaining was over and done—that I could rub on liniment when arduous work made me sore, but not complain? Never again!.

That was when I realised that underneath the robe of righteousness the Lord had given me was a camel hair shirt. I asked the Him “Why the shirt? I can’t get it off.” He explained that He provided the resources I would need when I accepted His calling. I was incredulous! “I need this hot, smelly, irritating undershirt!?” He didn’t respond to the question, just kept talking. “Every calling has its task(s). You are to engage the tasks, but as you do, the tasks will work on you, building and shaping you into the fullness of the character of Christ. The work and disciplines of your calling are the camel hair shirt. The things in and about that calling which poke and irritate the flesh, these are my gift to you.

I stood there with my mouth hanging open. If I understood Him correctly, writing and the rigours of MS are my “shirt” and if I am to learn all the Lord has to teach me, I will submit to those disciplines. I guess once a camel, always a camel. Sad to say, once the initial shock wore off, I have since then skated quite close to the edge of complaining. Like Rudyard Kipling”s camel, I have “humphed”.

I find I move into the flesh in ways I was unaware of. The work, or the people with whom I live and work, poke and jab and my flesh is irritatingly brought to light—sometimes raw from the chaffing, like an untended saddle sore. I am thinking,  probably all flesh is allergic to camel hair.

I am aware that I have a choice at this point. I can choose to forgive and heal, bring flesh to death in relationship to others and the Lord. I can submit to the disciplines of my calling, or I can moan and groan and carry on like a camel. I am finding that as I do the nasty work of bringing flesh to death, the camel hairs irritate less. The disciplines, the parameters of my calling—even the people with whom I work struggle against or struggle because they are not available—all become the banks through which my spirit flows. They define my limits and boundaries; but they are not barriers to restrict or hem me in. Rather, they give direction and purpose to my life. They become the avenues through which others are blessed—to God’s glory and my benefit.

I am finding that when I begin to overheat it usually is not the camel hair shirt causing the problem. I tend to overheat when I move too quickly. I can’t seem to sprint down the lane set before me like an Olympic athlete—too much friction from my shirt. The hairs poke my flesh reminding me to not move that way. They encourage me to proceed at His pace, to stand straighter and walk taller, more like our Lord. That irritating gift keeps me on task—it helps me remember what it is I am doing and why.When I tire and collapse in a heap; when my shoulders melt down into my hips, my body doesn’t fit the shirt properly and the goofy thing starts poking.  When I lean into the flesh the camel hairs encourage me to straighten up, to move and walk in the ways of the Lord. But until I learn to submit to it, this darned camel hair shirt is going to keep on giving me a rash!

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