Archives For trust

I take a Puritanical view of holiness. Wrestling, fighting, warring, every method and every hope that what I long for will materialize if I am disciplined enough, good enough, kind enough. Isn’t there a little something of Jacob wrestling with God in all our stories?

This morning I am listening to Bon Iver’s cover of I Can’t Make You Love Me and I realize all this effort to prove my love for God is really just an effort to prove his love for me—and I can’t make him love me.

I can’t make him love me if he already doesn’t.

And I can’t make him love me if he already does.

For some that might seem a cruel joke, but it felt a brief comfort to me today. Maybe you are someone who is surrounded by those who love you and it is a continual proof and evidence of His love, but maybe you are like me, and fear every glimpse of favor is fleeting because it always has been.

I understand a bit of Jacob wrestling today: “I won’t let go,” he said. Never mind the blessing part, but first “I won’t let go.” There was something in Jacob that feared if he let go, God would too.

The truth is I cannot make Him love me and I cannot prove my love for him, no matter how puritanical, orthodox, measured, or full my expression is toward Him. He is love and therefore owns love, even my love.

“I was born fighting the status quo,” I told a friend earlier today. My parents have stories of my infant rebellion and it never really stopped, just grew quietly into a mistrust of authority, a silent questioning of every demand, and a bristling fear of boundaries.

I can mask the stubbornness and strong-will in many ways, namely by giving lip-service to whatever will cause the least amount of damage in the end. I am no masochist, I crave peace and mutual consent, but I protect my own opinion even if no other shares it. I care little for going with the flow, but I do because I care more about not making waves.

This propensity has been my nemesis long and hard. Outwardly I am kind and sweet, but inwardly I am mistrustful and suspect. I am positive everyone means harm to me in the long run and my kindness aims to keep that harm as far away as possible. Kill them with kindness, the saying goes.

Today, all day, I have felt the pressing of submission. It comes in the form of people wanting my time and energy. It comes in the form of demands I cannot satisfy. It comes by email, by text, and by face to face. Everyone around me demanding I bend my will and desires to their will and desires. At one point I asked the question: “Why must I bend here? Why can’t they bend here? Why can’t they, for once, see their sin for what it is and serve the greater good here?”

And then I think of Ephesians 5 and true submission.

Before Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives about loving and submitting, he gives instructions to all persons everywhere, ending with this: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

I have learned to submit, not out of reverence to Christ, but as a tool to secure my own safety. I want to keep the peace, not rock the boat, to be seen as docile and kind, for the good of others instead of myself. It is a twisted manipulation, but those are the best and most poison kind.

It is out of reverence for Christ, though, that Paul says we ought to submit.

When I think of revere, I don’t think of my friend Jesus, my brother, my Kinsman Redeemer, my wonderful counselor, or the prince of peace. I think of King Jesus, the one with a sword in his mouth and his face shining like the sun. The awe-inspiring, fear-inducing King Jesus, the one with whom you do not mess.

Submitting is not something we like or enjoy. A pastor friend of mine says, “Submission begins where agreement ends.” In other words, if we agree on this point, it is not mutual submission we are practicing, but common vision. But Paul wasn’t talking about common vision, he was saying, “In fear and awe of the King on His throne, submit to Him by submitting to others. Take the crown off of your head, the expectations out of your heart, and by doing so, you proclaim what you truly worship.” We preach the Kingship of Christ when we practice submission to one another.

Nothing in my day has gone according to plan and I confess, the frustration that was a mere simmer eight hours ago has steadily turned up higher and higher. I’m asking King Jesus to put a burning coal in my mouth, to rend me silent in my own defense, in my own will and preferences, to be sent and to go where He leads, pressed up against those “one anothers” with whom I will eternally worship our King.

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In the morning, when the sky is still blushed pink and the babes have just scattered to their lives, I sit in the corner chair and read, drink my coffee slowly and breathe. All of this month it has been the book of Isaiah and I can’t stop the tears when they come. The promise is overwhelming and I wonder what it was like to be the people who dwelt in darkness, deep darkness, waiting for their light to come.

You and I know what it is to long for, to wait, but I wonder whether we have ever felt the heaviness, the belly of anticipation, like Jonah who could not know whether he would be there for three days or three years.

I am gauging out a timeline for something and I can only promise one year, maybe two, but the truth is, I can’t see further ahead than one day, maybe two. Was this how Jonah felt while stomach acids corroded his hope? Making plans and feeling eaten away at all at the same time?

He must increase, I must decrease.

I wonder sometimes whether we who understand the decrease, also understand that God is not against blessing us with every good thing under heaven?

Did his people understand this when Isaiah spoke? This is not it, he says over and over, there is more to come. I would have grumbled and shown him the timeline of my life, of my father’s life, and of his father’s. “What is the more?” I would have asked, and I do, every day.

. . .

Two weeks ago I stand by the synagogue where Jesus read from Isaiah, rolled the scroll, and said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your presence.” I think to myself, “I did not live in that today, but I live in this today and it has still been fulfilled in my presence.”

This Advent I am full of today. The punctual rising and intermittent falling, the motions and the movements. Today is what I have right now, I cannot hold tomorrow, I can barely see into tomorrow, and I cannot gather enough of anything to sustain tomorrow. I have this. Today he has fulfilled his word in my presence—and that miracle itself is enough and does sustain and will fill.

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So much of faith, for me, has been finding it again. Some have been given the gift of simple faith, easy, a natural bow into belief. That is not my story, nor my portion. All my faith has been wrestled for, won, lost, contended for, gained, slipped away, and shattered—again and again. Whenever I think I have found it, I find (most times) what I’ve found is myself and sometimes I am the greatest enemy of my faith.

I am not a fitful sleeper—sleep comes quickly to me and stays deep until morning most nights. But I slept fitfully last night, waking every hour. I was hot. I was cold. I was tense. I was afraid. I was contending.

Perfectionism is my vice and faith is its greatest gain. I set my sights on lesser things, sure, perfect thoughts, perfect writing, perfect design, perfect diet, perfect words, perfect image, perfect clothes, perfect home, perfect friendships. These elusive gains, for me, shadow the ever escaping faith I so desperately desire.

I ache for simple faith. I long for it. In the middle of the night I groan for it. I beg for it, pleading that he would so captivate my mind and heart, that I would be so fat on the feast He has provided in himself, that faith would slip into my heart and hands and stay for life.

But he has almost always withheld the gift of perfect faith.

. . .

For the past few weeks—at church, at small group, at our kitchen table—Hebrews 12:1-2 has been in our mouths.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It is nearly 4am and I have been lying there, in my twisted comforter and sheets for an hour, wrestling with the current capture of my mind. II Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ—but what about when the thoughts feel so enemy, you’re sure Christ won’t want them in his fold?

I stop on that thought: the idea that Christ wouldn’t want my rags, that his righteousness wouldn’t cover my wrestlings, that his goodness wouldn’t provide for my sin—and I remember “Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.”

Even my faith is not mine to perfect?

Everything in my life feels out of my ability to control, and faith is too?

. . .

Someone called me brave the other morning and I responded I have nothing to lose, but the truth is, I am brave because I am afraid of losing faith. The only way I know to keep it is to contend for it. But if Christ is the perfecter of my faith, then it is his to keep and hold—and contend for on my behalf.

I fall asleep in this truth: my faith belongs to Him, to grant to me in his time, his way, through his purposes, and for his goodness. It is his to perfect, not mine. And it is his to perfect in me—not mine to be wrestled for and won. The command for me in Hebrews 12 is to run with endurance. Faithfully asking for faith, obediently walking in obedience, gracious receiving grace. All his, perfecting in me the gift of faith.

I tell a friend yesterday that I miss liturgy, but the truth is I have never had it.

I was raised on the hard pews of a stucco church in southeastern Pennsylvania. Our only liturgy was the blessed quiet life we lived. My first communion was in a house-church when I was seven, the bread baked fresh, the grape juice drunk from small glass tumblers. This was before the Big Baptist church with its plastic cups and small, round, salty oyster crackers. There was a brief pass through an old Catholic sanctuary, our services were non-denominational though and we only rented the building. I have never forgotten the stained glass. In college I had a brief fascination with the Episcopalian church across from campus, mostly because when I left church, church didn’t leave me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the motions, the liturgy, the order, and the smallness of it all.

What I really mean when I say I miss liturgy, is that I miss the order. I have never had order, but I long for it.

A friend of mine has converted to the Orthodox church. He told me once the confession, prayer, and fasts remind him he is human and needs someone to expect more of him than he expects of himself.

But isn’t grace so much more beautiful? I want to balk. Wouldn’t it be better to see Christ as the fulfillment of those rules and boundaries, instead of something you still have to do? I think my friend would say to me that every time he presses against those boundaries, he is reminded again and again that Christ has fulfilled them. I think it’s a beautiful thought, but I am a recovering legalist and rules of any kind are my Jack Daniels and my pain pills, so I have to say no-thank-you, and move on.

. . .

What I miss most about liturgy is the community of it. Community means to “Gift together,” and I miss the gift of gifting together. Gifting to one another, to God, and, in some ways, to ourselves. We are saying words, rote and memorized perhaps, but the same words forming on our tongues. We are asking the Lord to hear our prayer—not just my prayer, but our prayer, because if only my prayers are answered and never yours, what have we gained, any of us?

. . .

In my church we read the same bible version, and if we don’t have a bible, we use the one in the seat-back in front of us, which is our gift to you if you don’t have one. (These words are said every weekend at every service because Baptists have liturgy too.) We collectively open to the passage, read together, and then listen. Sometimes we are reading from a passage in the lower right hand part of the bible and something beautiful happens, I hold my breath and wait for it:

A thousand people turning their pages at the same time.

I forget to turn my page sometimes because I love the sound so much. That is the sound of my people. We do not have the liturgy of confession and repentance built into our service, but we do have the liturgy of turning pages. The collective confession that we are literally on the same page and going in the same direction. These are my people, and I am theirs, I say in my head. This is what it means to gift together, to community.

This is our liturgy.

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Last week I rounded a corner in a Nashville convention center and came to face to face with three elders from my local church. One hugged me and I nearly cried. I haven’t been home in three weeks, and was only home about two weeks before that, and will only be home a few weeks before I leave again, this time for overseas and then other states.

I don’t know where home is right now.

Tonight I sat on the far left side of the sanctuary, where I always sit when I’m home, and I hardly recognized anyone sitting around me. We are a big church, but a small service, and I still felt the ache of everyone moving forward but me.

I told someone tonight I feel like I’m a kid with a pile of treasures, none of them making sense, all of them seeming valuable, but no idea where they belong or when.

I thought I would grow out of this.

Does everyone feel like this?

Like life is one series of mountains and molehills and ebbs and flows and you’re always waking up wondering where time went and if you’re too far behind to catch up, or too far ahead to stop now?

I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want to waste it and I’m terrified of wasting it.

Faithfulness seems so mundane in a world ripe with success and achievements. I want to live a minimalist’s life, but I do it loudly, punctuated with images of what I’m doing and quotes of what I’m reading, hoping my simplicity will stick—if to no one else, at least to me.

But I do want to live a quiet life, and sometimes I resent the Lord for not allowing me the wallowing permitted to those who live behind closed doors and high fences. I dream of a house on a mountainside or an ocean inlet surrounded by pines. I dream of poetry and a fire in the fireplace and dinner on the table, a husband-partner, and children too. I have always dreamed of those things, unwaveringly since I knew how to dream. And those things have always been withheld because He knows those treasures are not what is best for me today.

Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” but the questions I’m always asking are, “Where is my deep gladness? And what are you hungering for, world?”

The world’s hunger, as best as I can see, is to behold His beauty, and this I find is my deep hunger too. And if my gladness is found in his temple, his Holy place, then it turns out the pile of treasures in my pocket are not many, but one. Just one thing: to dwell in His house, to behold His beauty, to meditate in His holy place. This is the one thing I need and the one thing for which the world hungers. This is the unwasted life.

I was born cute—came squalling out of the womb with a head of dark hair and blue eyes. The hair turned blond before my first birthday and the eyes turned bluer. We were all small babies, petite and small-boned. I was born cute and stayed that way until I hit my teens.

Something happened in middle school; I remember the moments exactly, imprinted on my mind and heart. You never forget a trusted adult calling you homely or pinching the flesh on your strong thigh, saying, “If you can pinch it, you’re too fat.” I killed cute in middle school and claimed ugly instead.

Continue reading at Christianity Today. 

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I’ve written here, more than a decade’s worth of doubts, fears, concerns, questions, deaths, heartbreak, joy, moving, lessons, and learnings. In many ways this place is the very public working out of my salvation. Were you to peruse the archives you would find much poor theology and even more narcissism. This page has been my heart splayed out for anyone to read and I’ve bled myself dry for it.

Last night I said to a friend: sometimes silence is the best sanctification, and I numbered all the things happening in my life right now that I can’t talk about publicly. At least not this publicly.

There’s so much of the blogosphere that lauds transparency and authenticity, but even that is rife with trophy stories and humble brags and I am strangled by the fear that I will join their ranks if I so much as whisper the words aloud. The truth is that even good things bring with them deep breaths and open palms. I do not know how this or that will turn out and I can’t even guess. And I don’t want to give you the opportunity to guess. Because I am selfish? Perhaps. Because I am fearful? For sure. But also because some things are best worked out in quiet, gentle, and still ways. Sometimes our rest is found there, in the stillness, in the peace.

Sometimes writing in this place has been the best sanctification for me. But today silence might be my best sanctification.

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Isaiah 30:15

When the sands beneath my feet shift and I fumble for nonexistent footing, when in every direction there is another soul to disappoint, another person to fail, another fear to face, this is when I need the unchangeableness of God.

I am no stranger to failure and no one sets the bar higher for me than I. My name means victor, or crowned with laurel, but I know the wreath will never set on my head. I’ve kicked it out of the way, refused to beat my body and bring it to submission, to run the race with endurance. I am a loser because I lost before I began.

This is my great sin. I give up. Give over. Give in.

I read in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction a few days ago,

The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us.

And in Somewhere More Holy this,

It’s a subtle poison that seeped into her skin, as it does many children. It’s acidic, etching into your mind: these good things are not yours to have. If anyone tells you what a fine job you’ve done, think instead on your failings. When someone gets angry at you, instinctively assume he is right to do so. If someone offers you love, remember that he doesn’t really know you. Maybe that’s what keeps so many of us running from God–His awful claim to know us, as he peers out from beneath his blood-stained brow, whisper with thirst-swollen tongue that he loves us even now, even as He hangs on his man-fashioned cross. We run away shaking our heads and bitterly chuckling, thinking nobody in his right mind can look into the black hearts we secretly carry in our chests and still love us that way, that we can be lovable only so long as nobody really knows us.

My pastor says it this way:

The enemy is telling you the truth about your sin, but you tell him the truth about your God.

Tonight I read in the book of Hebrews, a truth not about me—because all the things I believe about me fail me time and time again. Tonight I read of his unchangeableness:

In the same way God,
desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise
the unchangeableness of His purpose,
interposed with an oath,
so that by two unchangeable things
in which it is impossible for God to lie,
we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement
to take hold of the hope set before us.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul,
a hope both sure and steadfast
and one which enters within the veil,
where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.
Hebrews 6:17-20

This is a race I gladly lose, a forerunner I gladly fall behind, and an anchor amidst the shifting sand.

“We are bidden to “put on Christ,” to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little. 

Yet perhaps even this view falls short of the truth. It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature’s nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George MacDonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men “You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you.” That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally.” 

—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain: Divine Goodness

A friend and I have been talking about the little moments, the decisions we make with each movement, namely that necessary organ we generally consider the seat of our emotions: the heart. He quoted Paul Tripp the other day: “The character of your life won’t be established in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments,” and I couldn’t help but think of the 9,999 little moments in my life and day that seem to careen me completely opposite from where I want to go.

I read a quote from William Blake last night, “If you would do good, you must do it in Minute Particulars.” I’ve already quoted it here so forgive me the vain repetition; but perhaps it will not be so vain after all.

Ruth is the heroine I fancy not for marriage advice (who wants to encourage girls to lay at the bed of their desires?) nor for life advice (who of us would be content with the leftovers from anything?), but for these words: “Where you go, I’ll go.”

It is the minute particulars, the 10,000 little moments, the one foot in front of another, the going that makes the difference in our lives. I have been learning, or letting God do the difficult work in me, of the little things, the small life, the life that may make no noticeable difference whatsoever. The life that may only be a hand on top of a roommate’s head, to let her know I am here and I love her, the life that may make the same two eggs and pile of spinach every morning, the life that wouldn’t be missed if it was gone because it pointed to the One who never leaves. The small life.

The small life is made of counting those moments, going where He goes, and this is the life to which I am not predisposed. I feel lost in details, confused, self-shaming and God-doubting. Give me the mountain top and let me run free of cares and commitments and I will shine. But in the valley there are rivers to navigate and trees to see around and torrential rains and hills blocking my view of the light. In the valley the small details matter because there is no way up but around them.

Richard Wilbur used the words, “The punctual rape of every blessed day,” and it catches me every time. Such vulgarity to describe such meniality. But isn’t that what it is? A thousand times a day we feel the scraping of world against flesh and flesh against spirit. We know what it is to be taken advantage of and shamed in every direction. How then do we live? How do we see past the minute particulars?

We, like Ruth, say,” Where you go, I’ll go,” and then we do it. One foot in front of another, one painful lift of atrophied muscles after another, one stalwart look after another, 10,000 times until we have arrived on eternity’s shores and look into the blessed face of our Kinsman Redeemer.

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My theology does not allow for a God who changes his mind regarding my salvation, and I pray yours does not either.

I had breakfast/brunch/lunch (well, we began at 10am and didn’t finish until nearly 4pm, so what am I to call it?) with a friend yesterday and we talk for a moment about how the fear of losing our salvation gripped us for years before the gospel—and all its branches—rooted itself in our hearts.

Last night I read these words: “The Hebrew word for “salvation” means literally “to make wide,” or “to make sufficient.” I have not learned Hebrew for myself but I will trust here the editors did their due diligence and this translation is correct.

This morning I woke thinking of all the ways I have failed, all those I have failed, and all the failures yet to come. How could a holy God condescend to me? How could he fit his goodness as a cloak on me? Surely I have toed the line of arrogance and fear and anxiety and lust and envy and all kinds of sin, enough that I have gone out the bounds of his demands.

But if Salvation is to “make wide” or to “make sufficient,” then the salvific act was one that spread wide around the boundaries of every one of my days and sins and weakness and proclivities and covers them all.

This astounds me when I think of the minute sins, the every day, the strains of gossip, the nibs of fear, the ebb of doubt, and the flow of envy that wreak themselves through my heart and life. He made wide to fit me in. He spread out, to the ends of the earth, east to the west, a never ending, never failing cloak of righteousness through the death of his Son. To fit me into salvation’s plan.

When I begin to question my salvation, or, more articulately, to question his choice to save me, I want to remember that cloak of righteousness, whose edges would astound us if we could see them at all.

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It isn’t so much that I feel he will let go of me, but that I will let go of him. That I will grow so discouraged with repetitive mistakes and ambles into sin, that I will lose sight of the Most Glorious and fix my eyes on the lesser things. It creeps in inopportune ways and places, times and moments. It snags itself on my heart and won’t let go, a constricting weakness—an oxymoron if there ever was one. I know I am certain and sure in him, but only because I know HE is certain and sure in himself.

It is comfort, then, that it was Jesus himself who prayed for Simon Peter, that his faith would not fail. Jesus knew what waited for Peter on the other side of things and it was not a life without sacrifice. Jesus warred for Peter on his behalf that his faith would not fail.

I am of little faith. From the outside looking in, you see strength and consistency, but the inside of this heart is rotted with the stink of faithlessness and fear, doubt and condemnation, discouragement and self-pity. But Christ wars for me? He holds me fast? He cannot deny himself? This singular note is my only praise:

You will hold me fast. 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,
a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain
Hebrews 6:19

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few weeks ago someone tweeted a link to a song called He Will Hold Me Fast and I have been listening to it on repeat. Listen here.

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold;
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Saviour loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight,
Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight,
He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost;
His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost,
He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died,
Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied;
He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life,
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight,
When He comes at last!

I can’t shake the heaviness. It’s been there for weeks, months, a year. A funeral shroud. “Where, oh death, is your sting?” Oh, it’s here. All here.

I’ve been thinking of Mary in the garden these days, weeping by the tomb, the empty tomb. Standing by the evidence that her Lord had risen and she didn’t even recognize the man who asked, “Why are you crying? And whom do you seek?”

But he knew.

And that’s what I’m stumbling around all these days. He knew and he still asked. She sought him dead in a tomb and found him raised in newness of life, and still mourned. Couldn’t help but mourn because what she wanted most in the world was gone.

Foresight is the luxury of the hopeful.

Tonight one of my pastors said the same word for steadfastness in Titus 2 is the word for hope. How often is my steadfastness directed toward lesser hopes though? I set my face like steel, my heart like stone, and will accept nothing less (or more) than my savior exactly where I saw Him last.

Why are you crying and whom do you seek?

And then:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

When I look at the sprawl of this past year, the death of hopes and dreams and plans, every thwarted hope, I’m trying to sort through all the loss and find one living thing. One shred of life among the dead. Like Lot’s wife, I take one more longing look at the loss. Hoping for what? Steadfastly searching tombs for a savior who will always be seven steps ahead of me?

Where are you and why aren’t you where I saw you last?

Today I read, “In the new age of the resurrection, the Lord’s first words to an individual person were to ask, ‘Why are you crying?'” And then I wept. Because all I have felt like is faithless Mary at the empty tomb for weeks, months, a year. Begging my eyes to be playing tricks on me. But never have I noticed the first words Christ spoke were words of acknowledgement, “Why are you crying?”

Because he sees.

It was Mary who did not see and it is me who does not see. But he sees. His steadfast (hope-filled) love endures forever. And he sees.

And then he calls her name: Mary.