One of my dad’s favorite snacks are Fig Newtons. I never understood his love of them; I prefer the Newtons that are filled with apples or some other fruit. I never did “get” the taste of figs. Then again, I didn’t grow up in the Middle East. Jesus apparently liked figs, just like my dad.
There is one story about a fig tree that has always fascinated me because I never quite understood it. I know there’s a point to it somewhere, but so far it’s one of those elusive – maybe – God – will – tell – me – about -it – when – I -get – to – heaven stories.
Have you ever cursed a plant before? Last spring and summer I tried to grow vegetables. The garden was beautiful for a very short time…and then nasty beetles swarmed in and took up residence in the roots of my squash plants. I wanted to curse the beetles…but not the plants themselves!
Jesus cursed an actual fig tree. The very next day, it was dead.
The surprising thing about the story is that the disciples acted like they were surprised! Maybe they woke up every morning thinking that they had already seen every miracle that was possible. I also always wondered why Jesus cursed the tree to begin with. It turns out you have to know a little about fig trees to understand his frustration.
Usually, a fig tree’s fruit develops right along with the leaves. When the leaves are full and leafy green, the figs are ready to eat. But this tree was a facade. It was a sham tree. It was just pretending to be “all that.” Its leaves were full and promising, but there was no fruit in them. Its leaves were full before their time — it was too early in the season for figs, but since the leaves broadcasted their apparent presence, hungry Jesus went to look.
Jesus’ frustration was probably like mine when I have my mouth set on a cold bottle of water only to find that the Dasani cold drinks machine is sold out. Maybe it still has cokes and lemonades and sprites…but the water that it advertises so boldly on the outside? Missing.
That’s kind of how I am feeing about my faith lately. Like the fig tree, I feel like a sham.
I go to church. I smile and respond to people’s questions about me and make small talk. But on the inside, I am plastic. Hollow. Empty. My faith hasn’t gone anywhere, but I feel as if I have left my faith, if that makes any sense. My mind still knows the truth…but my heart just isn’t with it these days.
My mother-in-law’s father had open heart surgery today. Maybe it’s still going on — I haven’t heard. But she called me yesterday to ask me to pray. She seems to think that I have some kind of telephone line from me to God — once, when their house wouldn’t sell, she asked me to pray that it would sell. I prayed. It sold. Within two weeks. I tend to believe God allowed that to happen to increase her faith…not to show that I have any sort of higher chance of having my prayers answered. But I still prayed and am praying still for the surgery to go well…for the doctors to have wisdom…for his recovery to be amazing…for God’s glory to be displayed. I believe the Lord can do all these and more than we can even understand, if he so chooses…
Yet I’m frightened. What if…what if I am so separate from God right now that he turns his back on my prayers? Surely he wouldn’t do that, because he’s not a God of spite. And I have found I am in good company when it comes to feeling this way. In Psalm 38, David writes:
I am bent over and racked with pain.
All day long I walk around filled with grief.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
My groans come from an anguished heart.
You know what I long for, Lord;
you hear my every sigh.
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
and I am going blind.
Do not abandon me, O Lord.
Do not stand at a distance, my God.
Come quickly to help me,
O Lord my savior.
But I still have hope…and a glimmer of faith still lingers. God was faithful to David. He rescued him. And I know he will rescue me from this angst. He will fill me with peace. He will strengthen my faith…and I will have a stronger character for having gone through the fire. I do not know why I continue to be plagued with anxiety. I do not know why I continue to feel so empty inside or why I feel like becoming a recluse. But I know. I do know that one day I will be able to join David and say, as he did in Psalm 40:
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.
Today, I will wait for the new song he’s giving me to sing. I know it will come.