A few months ago we were filling out paperwork to go overseas with TEAM missions. It is a lengthy process and the final steps are pretty grueling. In the midst of our final responsibilities before going before the approval committee we had to go through a pretty rough assessment. In that process God revealed some hefty sins within our marriage. Because of that we halted our application and we’ve been wrestling with it ever since.
I struggle so much with feeling so confident about a path or choice…only to have that path ripped out from under me. Then I wonder if I was ever on the right path to begin with? I am learning to distinguish between fear of the unknown and the fear and anxiety that comes from being out of God’s will. There truly is a difference. For the longest time I felt like God was giving us a choice. Not a wrong or right one, but really just two paths leading to two different places. Both places calling us to a level of dependence we’ve never known of Him. Both calling us out of our comfort zone and calling our family into a different way of life as we know it.
Then the bottom fell out and I began to think that we had stayed on the path to missions only to have God bring to the top these grievous sins. To bring on a redemption and renewal that I’ve been longing an praying for for years.
So I started moving towards path B. But in the midst of it all we’ve started wondering about the original way we were headed. Was it really just to expose that sin? Or did we jump off the path too quickly? While God is being proclaimed greatly through what is going on in our relationship…was it just a precurser to how greatly He will be proclaimed if we follow through?
We so often think that God only gives us one choice that is good. But so many times I wonder if He doesn’t give us a multitude that is good and we search too hard for the right one; consumed with worry that we won’t get it right? Are we, am I, searching too hard in my own strength for fear of failure, when all He wants me to do is just trust in Him? I think I’m trying to solve problems and find solutions that aren’t mine to find.
My verse all along has been Psalm 27
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
And I cling to the promise that no matter what choice I choose…I will see His goodness. Because He is always good.
Mondays are terrifically busy days for us. It’s a race from school to sitting in a crowded ballet studio to rushing home and trying to do a little homework, then dinner and then bedtime. It’s the day of the week that I feel like I’m standing on a lazy susan just spinning around and around and I don’t really stop until I hit the bed that night.
More often than not, I find myself with very little patience on Mondays. I try to spend at least 30 minutes before I start this little marathon in quiet. Trying to prep myself for the spinning that is about to start. And more often than not I find myself standing in the kitchen frustrated with the words I’ve screamed at my children, dinner boiling over on the stove and me thinking that this mothering thing just isn’t working out quite right.
But in the midst of all that what do I do? I do stand in the kitchen and want to give up. But what am I giving up too? God calls us to abandon ourselves to Him. And that should evoke a sense of great freedom in us. Oddly though, I don’t want to give up control during those dizzy days. I hate the spinning, but to let go of it all means that I’m not in control of where I spin next. Letting go and abandoning my day, my moments, my mothering to those fighting children in the backseat and my wifeing to the husband that wearily walked in the back door, is what He has called me to. I can’t do all those things and I can’t spend my life condemning myself either.
In those moments when the world is running quickly past me are the times that I realize how much I’ve built my life like a box with God on the outside. Like the stuffing that protects a fragile item. I don’t really want Him to be in the box with me; I just want Him protecting me from the outside. The inside is never going to be quiet if I don’t let Him be in the box…be the center of that box. If I don’t break down the walls and step outside. Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life describes a life of prayer as a life that isn’t less busy, but a heart that is less busy. When the outer busyness bustles around us, we have an inner quiet. And when we have that inner quiet we are able to love greater.
We are no longer captive to the spinning that is going on around us. Will I still harp on my kids? Will I still jump on my husband with life concerns when he walks in the door? Will I still be terrified when the Lord continues to squeeze me in directions I don’t want to go?
Yes. But when I realize that all of these contribute to the greater story He is writing, I can rest in Him. I can go to Him. I can find my center in Him and break down the walls of the box I’m hiding in.
By this we know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him;
for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and He knows everything.
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whenever we ask we receive from Him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment that we believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. ~ 1 John 3: 19-24
You know when you go to a swimming pool and you put your toe in the water and think, “man, that is going to be so cold!”? So then you decide to just creep in, thinking that if you just do it inch by inch that it won’t be as painful. More often than not you are surrounded by people who are urging you to just jump in. And more often than not, you refuse to believe that jumping in would be less painful that this creeping along.
What is it about us that makes us think that creeping along the path of life will make anything easier? Some decisions in our lives need much prayer and discernment, don’t get me wrong with that. But so often, we know where the Lord is leading us and instead of just jumping in we creep along.
“I just need some more time to pray and make sure; to be as discerned as I can possibly be.”
“I just want to have a few more days to sit with this choice”
“I’m not ready, God. There is so much I need to do to prepare for a.b.or c.”
All along the Lord is like our friends prodding us to stop moving inch by inch.
Sure the water is going to be a shock to us no matter how warm it is. (I mean getting in a hot tub takes your breath away too if you think about it.)
But even if you go inch by inch, eventually you are going to have to be all in.
That is what it is to say “yes” to God. To open up your hands to whatever He might put in them or lead you too. And obedience to His plan is us jumping in. Not creeping by trying to make it happen in our time. Eventually we have to get wet.
I have to be honest that the end of Much-Afraid’s journey didn’t have as much of an impact on me as the process. When I came towards the end of her story, I was excited for her and glad to see her restoration but it didn’t resonate with me. Perhaps it is because I’m not quite there in my journey yet.
Much-Afraid climbs again and as she is climbing up this huge mountain all of her enemies run past her. They are screaming for her to turn back because of a great storm that is coming. Much-Afraid and her companions stay put and find themselves in a cave. The storm rages on and while in the cave she goes through her bag of stones. She remembers each place and each part of her will that was sacrificed as she goes through these stones. Her bag of gifts. Each stone represents a promise of the Shepherd.
The storms stops and the three of them pick up their climb and they reach a chasm. Much-Afraid realizes they must go into it and at the point she realizes this is the end of her journey. Every step of the way she has given more and more of herself; more of her human will and desires. At each point she thought that it was enough. But it isn’t enough. The Shepherd didn’t want just part of her will, he wanted all of it. She knows now that this place will be the place of her last offering…and the end of Much-Afraid.
She sees an alter and she tries with all her might to wrestle her will out of her. She can’t do it. She pulls and pulls and while it aches and pains her, she hasn’t the strength. A priest comes forward and offers to do it for her. He binds her to the alter and he pulls it all out of her himself. She has come into total abandonment and a death to herself.
She wakes up and sees a stream in front of her. As she climbs into the stream she begins to see that her feet that were all cobbled are not straight. She washes her face and it becomes soft and beautiful.
Then the Shepherd appears and her gives her a new name. Grace and Glory.
Her companions are given new names also. Joy and Peace.
There is much more to the end of the story, but this is where my part ends. I’m still processing through what this means for me and my walk with the Great Shepherd. He has given me a new name and he has restored me. Yet I keep looking for other ways to make myself perfect. I keep trying to find my own healing stream. But like Much-Afraid trying to wrestle her will out of herself, it can’t be done. I keep trying to rename myself.
And that’s the whole point of this story. We can’t do it ourselves. We can keep on trying to make the journey fit the way we think it should go, but in the end it won’t get us anywhere.
Faith isn’t blind. Faith is opening our eyes and trusting the path in front of us…no matter if it leads us into the desert, into the valley or up into the greatest peaks.
After riding the chairs to the precipice, Much-Afraid is almost to the end of her journey. While outwardly she hasn’t changed much, inwardly she is not the same little Much-Afraid that began this journey. As Paul declared in his letters, there is so much less of her and more of the Shepherd. Every step of the way she has had to build an alter to sacrifice more and more of her will and human desire. And every stop of the way she has become more and more at peace with the direction the Shepherd leads her.
They arrive at the top to see the beginning of the great waterfall. The Shepherd asks her to just sit and watch the water. Have you ever sat and watched water fall? And then have you ever seen a waterfall that is forced to move upward? When we were at Disney World a few weeks ago there was this water feature that was squirting up. It was fascinating to watch it, but it looked so forced. You knew that the water was going against it’s nature. Especially when you would walk to another part of the park and see a fountain that was falling down. Water is intended to flow down. To cast itself forward and over. Self-giving.
This is what the Shepherd says to Much-Afraid:
At first sight perhaps the leap does look terrible, but as you can see, the water finds no terror in it, no moment of hesitation or shrinking, only joy unspeakable, and full of glory, because it is the movement natural to it. Self-giving is its life. It has only one desire, to go down and down and give itself with no reserve or holding back of any kind. You can see that as it obeys that glorious urge the obstacles which look so terrifying are perfectly harmless and indeed only add to the joy and glory of the movement.
This water flowing is a reminder of what flows through us. This love of God which He desires to be an outpouring.
Hannah Hurnard writes that this love, this outpouring, this giving happens through
humility: pouring oneself down lower and lower
giving: the poured out life gives life and power to others. The more love it gives, the more it fulfills itself
and service: waterfalls serve beyond anything we can imagine. The can make power happen. They can supply water to places that would die without it.
This is love. This is service. This is the divine calling that our Great Shepherd has called us to.