Her voice was hard to miss. Lilting and sweet it cut through the bustle and din of the airport terminal like a cheerful, easy melody. I couldn’t help but overhear her as she spoke to someone on her cell phone.
“Oh honey, you have been just so thoughtful and kind. The celebration was absolutely beautiful. I can’t begin to thank you enough for everything. I’m just so overwhelmed by how good you are to me.”
Every word she spoke dripped with honey. The tone, inflection, and pitch to her voice brought cheer and delight to all of us within earshot.
“The flowers, the luncheon, everything… oh, it was just so beautiful.”
As she paused to listen to the words of her friend, her sincerity was still audible in her “oohs” and “ahhs.”
“Darling, everyone was just so wonderful to me. It will be a day I will never forget. I just thank you so much.”
Finally, my curiosity could wait no longer. I had to see from whom this sweet loving-kindness exuded.
There she was, standing near a row of chairs behind me, a matronly woman in her mid-sixties, I’d guess. Her crisp blue dress was neatly pressed, a large, red, patent leather belt intercepted her well-proportioned, symmetrical figure where her waistline had once been. Her matching shoes and handbag, along with her perfectly coiffed hair completed the ensemble. She was as adorable and charming as I had imagined, a perfect fit for her mellifluous voice.
Her conversation ended a few moments later, her good-byes as thoughtful and earnest as her thank yous had been. She took a seat not far from me, careful to smooth out her skirt to keep it from wrinkling. As I watched her interact with a few of our fellow passengers her sweetness and genuine affection continued.
I couldn’t help but speculate… a school teacher perhaps? – A music teacher, someone who shared her love for the piano with every student fortunate enough to share a bench with her. Someone, I imagined, whose complements and encouragement drove her students to reach their utmost potential. How many of her students had gone on to play in symphony orchestras? As for her own family, she had to be a grandmother, so tender and kind. The kind of grandmother who had a warm batch of cookies awaiting her grandchildren’s arrival without fail. My imagination ran wild.
That day began peaceful enough. The skies of New York were sunny and bright but there were rumblings of flight delays, rumors that a storm was rolling in fast from the East. None of us at the gate were alarmed. Our flight remained on schedule even as the clouds made their first appearance.
When the time came, we boarded safely. I was sitting nowhere near the kindly woman in the crisp blue dress, but I imagined she was befriending the fellow passengers on either side her. She would be a perfect “middle seat” kind of lady, accommodating, thoughtful, talkative but only to those who wished to converse, encouraging and loving to those who needed it. I imagined her ordering a cup of tea from the flight attendant and before it arrived pulling a small packet of honey from that smart red handbag.
The airplane taxied from the gate. Surely the rumors of a storm were just that – rumors. We’d be wheels-up in no time and on our way. The plane stopped on the runway. The light from the sun illuminated the contrasting grey smear of clouds in front of it. The pilots voice broke the ambient chatter. There were 14 planes ahead of us in line for take off and none of them were moving.
After two hours on the runway and with the first raindrops hitting the windows, the plane taxied back to the airport. By the time we reached one of the few remaining gates, the downpour had begun. A portable jet bridge was brought in so we could safely disembark – without the need for flotation devices. My fellow passengers and I made our way to the gate and waited to hear the fate of our travel plans. A group of passengers from another California-bound flight joined us.
People were restless and information was scarce. Minutes quickly turned into another hour as we watched the downpour continue outside. The gate agent was a saint. She delivered the news she had, both good and bad, with as much class and sympathy as she could, amidst the boos and disgruntled passengers demanding answers and action.
More time lapsed. Eventually, the passengers from the other California-bound flight were escorted back out to their plane. There was hope! But not long after, our poor gate agent delivered the final dose of bad news. After more than 5 hours of delays, our flight was cancelled and we were grounded until the following morning.
There was nothing we could do. I was entertained by the variety of attitudes visible in the passengers around me. Many, like me, took it in stride. It wasn’t the end of the world. It was a hassle, but complaining about it wasn’t going to change anything. Some were more animated, relieving their stress by reliving the story in vivid detail with loved ones over the phone. And then, I saw her.
She was making her way towards the main terminal. I stood near the base of the stairs that led there. As she moved across the waiting area in my direction I noticed her appearance had changed some. The crisply pressed dress had not traveled well. The once perfectly coiffed hair was now deflated and slightly askew. She was once again on the phone. I must admit I looked forward to hearing that beautifully cheerful voice again. It was what we all needed in the midst of our difficult and frustrating circumstance.
As she passed by me, the voice that had drawn me in so many hours earlier was once again audible. I listened carefully, eager to hear the sunshine and light she had exuded before the downpour began. But the weather wasn’t the only thing that changed suddenly that day. For that lovely, kindhearted, captivatingly-sweet, genuine, affectionate woman was in the midst of unleashing a tirade of four-letter words that would make a sailor blush. I cannot repeat what she said but let’s just say, our inconvenient circumstances had drastically changed this woman’s outlook on life. This delightful combination of Mrs. Doubtfire and Mr. Rodgers, this piano-teaching, symphony-orchestra-inspiring, cookie-baking grandmother had suddenly turned into a lyricist for any number of award-winning, gangster rap artists. As she brusquely made her way to the terminal the trail of anger-laced profanity lingered in her wake.
That woman in the airport came to mind as I have been reading the book of Job. In contrast to her, Job was a person who didn’t change so drastically in the midst of difficult circumstances.
We learn from the first two chapters of the book, that Job was a man of great character. Such great character in fact that when Satan enters the throne room of heaven after roaming the earth God said to him, “‘Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. A man who is blameless and upright who fears God and shuns evil.'” (Job 1:8)
Satan responds by challenging God. He essentially says, “Big deal, God. Job’s got everything a man could want. You take that away from him and your blameless and upright guy is going to curse you quicker than you can shake a stick at.”
So God takes up Satan’s challenge. He gives him permission to afflict Job, but He limits him. Satan is not allowed to harm Job physically.
Satan wastes no time. He wipes out all ten of Job’s children, his servants, oxen, donkeys sheep, and camels in a four-part monumental catastrophe. But Job does not respond the way Satan thought he would. He remains faithful to God. His faith, his character, and his integrity remain in tact even as his world has shattered.
But it doesn’t end there. Satan returns to God after inflicting this horrible devastation on Job, God says again, “‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one on earth like him—blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil. He still retains his integrity, even though you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.’” (Job 2:3)
This time Satan wants more. He asks God for permission to take from Job, essentially all he has left, his health. God grants Satan his request and soon after Job is afflicted from head to toe with painful sores which make him nearly unrecognizable to his friends. But again, Job remains faithful. He doesn’t respond as Satan had expected. Even Job’s wife says to him, “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9)
There is an expression that has become a part of our American vernacular that comes from this Biblical story. When someone is going through a hard time and seems to be handling it all in stride we may say, “They have the patience of Job.” I might have even said that about the woman in the airport, before I heard that second cell phone conversation. But as I read the book of Job I think patient is the wrong word to describe him. It seems to me that Job loses his patience more than once throughout this book. First, with his friends who show up to comfort him and instead, turn on him telling him that his troubles must be proportionate to the sin in his life, and second, with God. Job wants so much to plead his case before God and is frustrated when he can’t. He questions God’s justice and begs for an audience with the Almighty. I think if we were to adopt a new saying with regards to this story it would be “the integrity of Job.”
Integrity is what Job had and it is what he never lost regardless of his circumstances. It was his integrity that God noticed. It was his integrity that Satan tried to attack on every side imaginable. But Job didn’t budge. His moral character, the very core of his being could not be moved. He would not curse God and hope to end his misery once and for all. In fact his circumstances drove him to want God more. He wanted an audience with Him. He wanted a face-to-face meeting with him. He never once doubted God was there, that He was in the midst of his circumstance, that He had the power to change the circumstance Job was in.
How many of us believers are like that woman I saw in the airport? As long as things are going our way we can be the light of the world that Jesus calls us to be. But as soon as things go sideways our whole persona changes and our behavior is no different than those who don’t have a God to turn to. Those dark clouds roll into our life and we let them cover the very Source of Light that is within us. I know I’m guilty of it.
Oh to have the integrity of Job! But what was his secret? How did he keep that integrity in the worst circumstances?
Job chapter 28 is a beautiful highlight within this very dark story. Job talks about the human quest to find true wisdom. He describes how mankind can mine precious metals from the earth but we can’t find the most valuable treasure of all, wisdom and understanding. He ends the chapter by answering this profound mystery. He says,
“God alone understands the way to wisdom; he knows where it can be found, for he looks throughout the whole earth and sees everything under the heavens. He decided how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall. He made the laws for the rain and laid out a path for the lightning. Then he saw wisdom and evaluated it. He set it in place and examined it thoroughly. And this is what he says to all humanity: ‘The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding.'” Job 28:23-28
That’s what Job had… he feared the Lord and he forsook evil. That’s what God saw in him. That’s what God told Satan made Job different from all the others on the earth. Job knew of God’s ultimate control of the universe and although he was frustrated that he couldn’t change his circumstance and questioned what God was doing to him, it never changed his view of who God was. He never doubted God’s power and ability to do what He was doing. That was the secret to his integrity.
The book of Job ends with God finally making His appearance. He gives Job a series a rhetorical questions that no one, including Job, could ever answer. He asks, “Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct? Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods?” (Job 38:34-38) The Lord goes on for several chapters, demanding answers from Job.
Ultimately Job responds to the Lord. and he does so with great humility. “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:2-6)
Job was put in his place through this encounter with God, but it was a place he knew well, a familiar place where God was God and Job was not. That is how we can have the integrity of Job, by keeping God in His proper place in our lives, fearing Him, and forsaking evil. So the next time the storm rolls into your life, instead of letting the clouds cover His light inside of you consider the One who made those clouds, who shouts at them to make them rain and knows precisely where the lightning will strike. He’s in control. He’s in charge of your circumstance. He is God and you are not. Fear Him. Forsake the temptation to respond as the world responds. Instead, be a beacon of His light to others who need Him.
Lord, you are the one with the patience, patience for your children who are too often swayed by our circumstances. Thank you for that patience! Father, give us the integrity that Job had. Help us to be mindful of who you are even in our worst circumstances. May your light always shine in us regardless of the storms in life. Thank you for who you are. Help us to know you more. In Jesus name, amen.