Panim. The word hits my Anglo-saxon ears strangely, yet the concept it conveys continues to change the way I live.
Hebrew words, in far shorter supply than ubiquitous English words, capture my attention. They have spacious, broad meanings; they convey concepts that are large enough to walk around in and explore.
My soul has been tromping around in the Hebrew word panim of late, which literally means face yet also conveys the concept of one being before the face of, in the presence of someone or something.
Lately I have felt foggy and half-awake. Even the colorful Christmas lights and our busy holiday social schedule, usually enough to wake even the most comatose parts of me, have not been able to shake me out of the monotony. I have been praying to have God’s perspective, to be able to see the incredible beauty and deeply hidden purposes of carlines and coloring with my toddler, of laundry and trips to the library. I know that I am living as I have been called, but my stubborn, sluggish heart doesn’t always get on board.
Enter the power of panim: living before the face of God. His face, His presence has the power to transform any and everything. I know this, as I have experienced it countless times, but I am still shocked each time the reality of His presence with me hits me afresh.
A sick and sad little toddler who desperately needed a nap instead of a trip to the YMCA left me at home, unable to evade the bathroom’s desperate need to be thoroughly scrubbed. After spending some time praying and writing, things my soul loves, I sighed as I headed to the closet for the cleaning supplies, things my soul does not love.
Panim. I can scrub our tub in the presence of, before the face of God the Father, through the Spirit His Son sent.
Outwardly, nothing changed. I was still at home, cleaning and playing the role of doctor to a score of stuffed animals who had various life-threatening illnesses, as diagnosed by my creative toddler. Yet, inwardly I felt tiny bubbles of joy and hope and purpose percolating.
My work, though common and monotonous, matters deeply to my Father, who chooses to be in my presence, who invites me to do all things panim, before His face.
Yes, He invites me to share in His life, but He also chooses to share in mine. He chooses to scrub toilets and fold laundry, to correct homework and pack lunches with me. What the tasks lack in excitement and stimulation can be compensated with the proud presence of the Father.
Unfortunately, I don’t consciously live the power of panim all the time. While my mind recognizes this powerful theological reality, my heart does not always allow its correlative existential reality. This is nothing new, as Romans 7 clearly indicates.
Oh, how I long for God to increase the power of panim in my ordinary life, in my chore to chore, task to task, day to day living. Praying the Psalms which often have a particular focus on this panim living, teaches me how to wrestle and fight for panim living in the midst of distressing or dull circumstances.
Panim is laced throughout Psalm 31 in which David fights to live in God’s presence despite distressing circumstances.
David prays, “Make your face to shine upon Your servant; save me in your lovingkindness (v16).” He also reminds himself, “You hide them in the secret place of your presence from the conspiracies of man (v 21).” He laments, “As for me, I said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from before your eyes,’ nevertheless, you heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to you (v22).
The little bursts of the power of panim in my life are appetizers to the feast that will be when theological reality and existential reality completely line up, when I will truly be face to face with the One for whom my soul was made.