In the Cool of the Evening

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:3-4

Part 1: 2012

Midnight prayer walks are my favorite part of the summer. I was in high school when I initially began meandering around our neighborhood late at night and praying. Much to my parents chagrin, I’d slip out the front door as they were heading to bed, though when I informed them that I was praying not prowling, they were hard pressed to criticize. Kansas summer heat is tenacious; even at night, long after the passing of the sun, the ground exudes warmth. Still the shift in temperature makes evening ideal for such an activity. Lightly dressed and often barefoot, I’d pad through the darkness, skirting lamplight, seeing less but feeling more: the caress of a breeze, the gravel between skin and sidewalk, the brush of an ungainly insect.

Mornings have seldom held any appeal for me—to me, waking is like dying—while something about the end of day and human activity renews me. Though weary in body, my mind revives and creativity comes out to amuse anew. Emotions I haven’t had a chance to sift through drift to the surface, and thoughts, unfinished and unfettered, are reborn. From a young age, I was taught that God, while Creator, is also our friend. Accordingly during my late night ramblings it’s been perfectly natural for me to share my reflections with Him—at least normally.

Other times I feel the press of time. Maybe I haven’t been diligently spending time with God or I feel obligated not to squander divine time. In such cases, it’s easy for me to slip into a protracted monologue, flitting from request to request as I intercede for friends, family, and the future. The moments of silence leave me feeling inept, like I’m failing a job interview. The evening temperature becomes stifling.

I was recently plodding down the stairs with my niece, Bria, trying to match my gait to hers. She was grasping my fingers, because that was easier than trying to hold my hand, and she said to me, “I love you, but do you have candy.” Much as her comment entertained, it made me reflect.

I loath to admit that I can treat God like a parent, or an uncle, that sometimes I view him as a means to an end. Instead, I prefer another metaphor.  Since Paul described life as a war against dark powers and spiritual forces of evil, I prefer to paint myself as the soldier radioing for directions or supplies or artillery strikes, a vital cog in the conflict that will conclude when the seven-headed dragon and the rider on the white horse meet. Nonetheless, much as I like to accentuate the importance of my prayers, it remains that there’s supposed to be more to a relationship with God than obtaining an advantage or even attempting to be of divine use. Sometimes relationship is just about relationship, and I don’t need to feel guilty about wasting God’s time.

Some nights after I’m done wandering, I like to lie down on the trampoline in my backyard and dangle in the air. Static electricity tugs at the hairs on my arms and head and legs, the reminder of an eminent invisible force. I listen to the conversations between orchestras of crickets and cicadas. Residual heat seeps up from the earth and mingles with the breeze that swirls above and around and under me, wrapping me in a warm blanket.

At twenty-four, I only recently started drinking beer. Though the taste is still repugnant, I find the experience alluring because of the fellowship. My friends and I will lounge in a living room or around a campfire, sipping beers as darkness sets, and as conversations linger into the night nothing scripted ever occurs—there are no agendas or time frames. The distractions of existence—work, school, and the worries of life—fade into the background, leaving only the companionship of the moment.

A few nights ago, I took an Alaskan beer with me when I meandered to the backyard. After discovering that it’s rather cumbersome to drink from a bottle while on a trampoline, I nestled into the static and reflected on the stars, the same flaming orbs of gas God instruct Abraham to count thousands of years ago—admittedly, the airplane lights were a new addition. Tiny bubbles from the fermented beverage tickled the inside of my stomach, as the darkness deepened. My beer went unfinished. Evening drifted into early morning, neither of us saying much of anything, simply being.

Part 2: 2014

I remember with a deep nostalgic longing the days when I had so much time to spend with God. Some days it meant a walk late in the evening, and afterward I would lie in the grass and stare at the stars, hoping that my spiritual aura would keep the chiggers at bay. As a teenager and then a young adult, while I complained about being bored sometimes, there was more than enough time to go around. When I felt overwhelmed by life or people, I could simply step back, readjust, and get a little rest with God.

Life changes though. So many years after those moments, I have a full-time job, a wife, and a baby on the way. I’m involved with my church, and in my free time, I work on my writing and reminisce about the times when I actually followed an exercise routine. I used to play video games prolifically, but now when I do play, I feel the need to make better use of the time by listening to audio books or pod casts. In this new, time-starved point in life, getting time alone with God simply isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Even the quiet moments at the end of the day are different now. I used to pray aloud when I was lying in bed at night. That doesn’t really work, having an intimate conversation with God, when someone is lying right next to you. Some nights I go into the living room and sit on the couch just so I can clear my head and find some space, a place where the only pattern of breathing is mine.

As time goes on, I know that those little moments will get farther away and harder to achieve. In a few more months, there will be a new member of my fledgling family—helpless, needing almost constant care and attention. What then when the moments that bound me so clearly to my Creator seem distant? When necessity overrides want and the to-do list grows long, what then?

I think I may have found part of the answer. A few weeks ago, I could barely pull myself out of bed so I could go to my job as an assistant manager at a local Ace Hardware. The metaphorical ground was producing more than a few thorns and thistles. I spent the day before fighting fires—calming customers, undoing employee mistakes, trying to fix machinery—and the time left me drained. I woke discouraged, dreading another day of it. I could feel tears of frustration—more work, my sixth day of work in a row.

By the end of the workday, my dread felt validated. The second half of my shift was the same as the day before, and when I finally left it was almost an hour later than planned. Traffic, with the impending holiday, was a congested mess—an incessant switching between gas and brake mediated by a clutch. Finally I arrived home only to discover my young, pregnant bride worn with her thoughts likewise in the doldrums.

She was downstairs watching the children of the family we live with and making dinner for all of us. She didn’t have any idea that I don’t like potato soup, not that I was dumb enough to mention it. Before I headed upstairs to our little apartment, she whispered, “I’m sorry I didn’t get the dishes done.”

I dislike dirty dishes. I can stand them to a point, but eventually they start to grate on me. When I’m tired or stressed that dislike turns into a deep burning hatred. I can’t be at peace with dishes in the room, and our apartment is small enough that you can’t hide when there are dishes; a few dishes in the sink become a pile faster than you’d expect. Besides, something smelled a little bit.

In that moment, all I wanted was to stop, to escape somehow, to go back to lying in the grass and talking with God as I had so many years before. I longed for that escape, but I couldn’t abandon everything here. There was a need to be met, and if I didn’t address it, my pregnant wife would come up here after dinner and do them herself. No, the filthy, ceramic antagonists needed to be dealt with.

Somewhere in the quiet of the apartment, it was as if I heard a voice. It wasn’t bitter or angry or subtly manipulative. It was compassionate, and it said, “Do them with me.” It was an invitation.

I was in no mood to pray. I was angry and agitated; nothing I said would be pure, lovely, or admirable, so I knew the best thing was to leave my own words entirely. Instead, I grabbed my laptop, found an old playlist of worship songs, and turned my speakers up. For the next fifteen or twenty minutes, I scrubbed and sang.

As the time slipped by and the pile of dishes moved from dirty to clean, I felt the Creator there like before—willing just to be with me in the midst of the busyness. It was one of the moments I’ve felt most pursued by God, most humbled by His humility. There was no demand to leave my busy life before meeting Him, just a willingness to meet me where I am, in my need.

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