Tel-apathy

by Joanie Butman

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As I put my photo book together, many more Israel moments return to me. The trip was so fast-paced, it’s a blur. It feels good to have the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the places I visited and the lessons I learned. Oddly, many of those lessons occurred on the bus. There was one in particular that resonated with me. We began each day in prayer as we embarked on our next adventure. It was about five days into the trip after we’d seen lots of ruins. The man chosen to lead us in prayer confessed that during the last site the thought , “Oh, just another pile of rocks,” popped into his mind uninvited. His prayer was that he never lose his sense of wonder for whatever God puts in his path.

Little did he know that the professor had a name for his malady. It’s called ‘tel-apathy.’ Let me explain. In Hebrew tel means mound or hill. Usually a hill with remnants or ruins covered inside its layers.* I’m sure Hank wasn’t the only person on the trip who had that intrusive thought at some point. I’ve got 500+ photos of mounds of rock I’m having trouble differentiating. Yet, each of them tells a story – God’s story unfolding through the ages.

Just the night before as my friends and I were discussing the day, we began grumbling about our seemingly slow progress. If I hadn’t felt so convicted for my lack of wonder, I would have laughed out loud. Here we were in the middle of the desert doing exactly the same thing the Israelites did centuries ago, complaining to Moses for leading them out of slavery into the desolation of the Negev getting nowhere fast. The trip promised to immerse us in the Bible, and here we were acting out a chapter of Exodus without even realizing it. Our guide may have been more eloquent than Moses, but wasn’t he challenging us to escape the slavery of modern life (albeit briefly) to embark on an adventure with God being open to wherever He leads- in His time not ours? So what if we didn’t hit every site on the agenda. I still saw more than I ever dared to imagine.

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Not only that, I wondered about my trip to Israel. Was I looking for a golden calf – something tangible to worship? Think about the Israelites. God was leading them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Yet they couldn’t ‘see’ or feel His presence so they built a golden calf. Were they so different wanting something tangible to believe in? Our idols may have changed, but human nature doesn’t. Sometimes we have to put aside our own agendas trusting that God has something better for us whether we can feel Him or not. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that God doesn’t necessarily give you what you want. He gives you what you need.

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Like I mentioned last week, I didn’t need to ‘look for’ Jesus. He’s been with me all along. I have a lifetime of His care and sovereignty (my own ‘tels’ that He’s helped me climb) that testify to His loving presence. I read recently that you can’t catch a butterfly by chasing it. You need to be still and let it land on you. And so it is with God. That’s not to say you can’t suffer from apathy in stillness. Had I become apathetic about the miracle of having access to God 24/7 or what Christ suffered on my behalf to provide that freedom? Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, I (and you) can enjoy the privilege of coming before God where, whenever, and as often we want. Please Lord, let me never lose my wonder towards that awesome honor or become numb to your presence.

When I returned to Bible study this week, I found myself moved to tears. I’d come full circle. It was through the women there that I found Christ. Perhaps my own tel-apathy for how He was working in my life led to my pilgrimage in Israel. The divine presence I searched for in vain throughout the Holy Land welcomed me home and bathed my soul with a love that goes beyond human understanding. I felt like Dorothy at the end of her journey to Oz when she shared what she learned, “The next time I go looking for my heart’s desire, I won't look any further than my own backyard; if it's not there, then I never really lost it to begin with.”

I’ll leave you with my thought for the day. The Holy Land is wherever God resides - including within you! May you choose to be still enough and aware enough to feel Him wherever you are.

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