An Interview with Burke Sperling
As we conclude our “For Such a Time as This” series, we will be interviewing Burke Sperling, about how Jesus has been working in his life and in the lives of those around him through this time of pandemic. Each week we have interviewed someone new, based on the reflection questions provided by our teaching team in the previous blogpost. You can read all the past interviews from this series here. Thanks, Burke, for sharing with us this week!
Tell us about yourself, Burke.
Who am I? I am a father of two wonderful adult children, I am a high school English teacher, and I enjoy cycling (both road and mountain), running, camping and so many other activities, but I guess these are some of the things I do… Who am I? – I am inspired by acts of creation and redemption: I love to work with my hands, whether it be wood working, restoring a vintage espresso machine, rebuilding a car, renovating, or simply cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Friendship is very important to me, and mentoring and coaching in my men’s group has been an encouragement and part of my own growth. When we do our own inner work, God has a way of using it to spill over and impact those around us.
How has God challenge and convicted you?
My experience with Covid has been different to that of many. Because I live alone, spending more time with myself hasn’t been a problem. My larger family has been healthy, and I still have a job, although it looks very different than it did a couple of months ago! So, other than the inconveniences that have come with this health crisis and missing the intimacy of spending time with friends, I’ve largely been unaffected. However, this is where God has challenged me.
My students’ world has been turned upside down. They are scared. They are depressed. Their graduation has been cancelled. Their future is uncertain; frankly, they are in mourning. And this is the experience of many around me as anxiety builds, home life has been disrupted, jobs have been lost, and loved ones have passed.
God has challenged me to remember.
How has God been present?
God has challenged me to remember. Three years ago I went through the most difficult experience of my life. I say went through rather than walked through because much of the time I was carried; carried by family, friends, colleagues and most importantly, I was carried by my heavenly Father. He stayed with me through my loneliness and pain. He stayed with me when I didn’t want to stay with myself.
I can’t begin to thank those who prayed, reached out, or took the time to simply say ‘hi’. There is a poem by Rabia of Basra (c717-801) that says: “When God said, ’My hands are yours,’ I saw I could heal any creature in the world”. God has allowed us to be His hands – you bring healing when you reach out to those who are suffering! Thank you.
What has God taught you through this experience?
God has taught me that He will never leave me. I may run, hide or forget, but He is always present, patiently waiting for me to allow Him to wrap His arms around me and enfold me in His love. To be honest, I am not a fan of the Refiner’s fire. It is excruciating, but God has taught me many things that I am thankful for, and the one I want to focus on here is empathy for others. I can easily become focused on my little world and develop a scarcity mentality. There is never enough. When I have more (fill in the blank), I will (fill in the blank). It is so easy to go through life with this poverty mindset. Rabia goes on to say that “Until we know that God lives in us and we can see Him there, a great poverty we suffer”. My journey has made my heart tender. I have so much more compassion for those who also suffer. When we realize that the God of creation lives within us and each person we come in contact with is a child of God, the abundance of this miracle overflows our hearts into the lives of those around us– what a beautiful experience to be His hands!
Ebenezer stones: The importance of remembering
Back to His challenge for me. I could only nod in agreement when Mel talked about being forgetful. Ashamedly, I must admit how quickly I forget the grace, comfort and love that the Father has bestowed on me. When we get out of the ‘fire’ how easy it is to get back to the poverty mindset. I loved Mel’s suggestion to build metaphorical altars as the Israelites did when they got out of the wilderness. For me, my Ebenezer stones are my journals. Although I am not much for journaling, when I am going through difficult times, I find the process useful and it becomes a way of reminding myself of where I’ve been. I have a tendency to forget about the bad – although this can be convenient – I also forget the tenderness of heart and the things my Father has taught me. Reflecting on my journey has rekindled my compassion for others. As much as I hate pain, it is my pain that allows me to see and come along others in their pain – God allows me to be His hands as I reach out to my students, friends and those He brings into my life. I am thankful for this.
Please feel free to encourage Burke or share your own reflections on these questions in the comments below. Read the blogpost or watch the teaching that these questions were taken from here. Stayed tuned for some new additions next week as we move back into our teaching series on the book of Matthew.