When reason runs out

Fragments.jpgSince my move from New York a few months ago, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  Big surprise to those who know me, I know…  I won’t go into all the details, but in summation, my pondering has dwelt mostly on trying to make sense of my present–and failing–so instead, thinking of my future and what I want it to look like.  Yes, I’ve prayed for God to have his will in these hopes and dreams.  However, that’s just a part of the good familiar Proverb.  Ironically (or rather, sovereignly), as of late, Proverbs 3:5-6 as well as other verses are echoing in my head, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight,” “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,” “Take up your cross and follow me,” and my grandma’s favorite, “But the Lord knows the way that I take and when he has tried me I shall come forth as gold.”* Together these verses have grounded me and reproofed me.  Perhaps, not always tied together, let me explain the dialogue these verses are making in my heart.

I am all too good at trusting in my own understanding.  Folks, that’s what getting good grades enables—self-assurance in my own ability to reason, analyze, and process through things.  Yes, sometimes my interpretations prove right, but when it comes to much of life, the reasoning is beyond my grasp.  This move for instance: I felt God’s direction in going, but I haven’t fully been able to see the reason for it.  So much of it screams, “why?”

In struggling to make sense of the present purpose, I switch to making plans for the future, the next chapter.  My way.  This move I did God’s way.  It doesn’t make sense to me, but thinking of a “better” alternative “my way” fails to follow that exhortation in Proverbs.  The proverb doesn’t claim that by forsaking my understanding, I will get God’s.  No, it just says, “trust” and watch.  God will guide step by step.  The Word guides as a lamp, little illuminations in the present, not floodlights to the future.

Living in the present is living in the unknown with acceptance but trust in the One who knows and who is supremely good.

I am called to trust and follow Jesus in His way.  His way wasn’t easy; it was filled with pain, isolation, rejection, loss, and ultimately, a cross.  But his way is also filled with restoration, healing, hope, new life, and ultimately, salvation.  What temporally is inexplicable and nonsensical—just ask Peter—is the eternal best for all humankind.  I will go through the fire in this life, but I will come out as gold—pure and holy.

God’s way is in the today.  It’s in the daily routine and unexpected interruptions to our plans.  It’s when and where he works to refine us and bring about the working of salvation.  Living in the present is living in the unknown with acceptance but trust in the One who knows and who is supremely good.  We’re just people—creatures—our knowing is nothing next to God’s.  Let’s trust him and let go of needing to know. (That’s what got us in this mess anyway–right, Adam and Eve?)

 *These verses are my memorized paraphrase of actual translations, not verbatim.

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Giving and Receiving

Have you ever wanted something for years–that you have prayed for, cried for, begged God for?  I have.

I attempt to live seeking God’s purpose for my life in the right now, but underneath there is still an anguish asking, “Why such a long wait?”  “Will you ever say ‘yes’ to my prayer? Or will you give me a settling peace to know it will never be mine? Please just don’t keep me in this desperate place of longing!”

I know I am not alone in this experience, if only because of Hannah.  In 1 Samuel you can read the account of her deep desire for a son which was unmet for years.  She had to watch her sister-wife have child after child–taunted.  Even though she had great favor from her husband it could not fill the depths of her longing; peace evaded her.

Finally in desperation, she poured her heart out to God at the temple.  She was so visibly distressed that the priest believed her drunk.  In her anguished prayer that day, she prayed for a son if only to dedicate him wholly back to God.  God answered that prayer and gave her Samuel.  She kept her promise, and once Samuel was weaned, she brought him to the temple to live and serve God.   That boy grew up to be one of the greatest prophets in Israel’s history.

Was Hannah’s waiting in vain?  No, for in her waiting, she released her greatest desire back to God as a sacrifice–and God used it mightily, in ways far exceeding Hannah’s imagination.  Today, thousands of years later, we still read of her and her son!  However, God did not use Hannah only to serve his purpose–he also blessed her with five other children.

I take comfort knowing that my waiting is not a sign that God has forgotten me.  Instead, this waiting may bring about greater works than I can imagine.  I take hope that the waiting will not be forever, and that like Hannah, once God’s purpose is fulfilled, my heart’s desire may be met.

Accepting, not Negotiating

It’s January, and we are all thinking about the New Year and all the things we want to accomplish.  What do we want our lives to look like by the end of the year?  But sometimes there are things in our lives we cannot change, and that can cause bitterness…but it should not.  How can we better handle it?

My thoughts turn back to Advent, to Mary.  I wonder at her willingness for the Lord to use her however he wanted.  She consented to becoming a single mother–something with the potential to ruin all her dreams for the future.  She did not caveat her obedience and faith on any conditions–like that she would no have embarrassment or that everyone would believe the miracle immediately or that her image would not be ruined or that her life would be easy.  She just accepted it.

I struggle with questioning the lot God gave me in life: “Why me”, “If I have to do this, why didn’t you give me ____ to make it more bearable?”  Looking at Mary, I cringe–nothing in my life has really made a huge impact on my future compared to having a baby sooner than I anticipated.  She is an encouragement to me to accept the struggles in life God gives me and trust that he will provide for me.  In the end, God did make sure Mary had a husband with which to walk through the unexpected.  He protected her and Jesus from Herod.  He provided her with a caretaker when Jesus died.  Likewise, God will provide support for me too. However, it is up to me to accept the challenges he sends me in life and trust him always.

Living through Loss

Loss comes in different strains, but it is a common malady to all people.  Every change brings some element of loss—a loss of what was—what can never be.  It brings grief.  A common response to loss is to question why it happened.  If God is powerful and good, why did he not stop the course of events which led to the loss?

Right now I am walking through my own grieving process as I recover and move forward from the loss of a very close relationship.  I have had an assortment of thoughts and feelings that osculate from sorrow to pain to wonder to despair to denial to hope to frustration to questions to peace and joy to sorrow again.  Through my life I have endured enough other types of loss to know one thing to be very true and very important—turning away from God in bitterness and resentment for allowing the loss to happen is not the solution!  Rather the only comfort comes from burrowing my heart into God, drawing closer to him, seeking him.  It is not my natural instinct.  Initially it is somewhat satisfying to “punish” God by blaming him and ignoring him rather than going to him.  However, the choice of remembering God’s great love for me—he died for me and there is no greater love than that—is far more beneficial.  So the first part of comfort I have found in coping with loss is choosing to trust God and letting him ooze his peace and comfort into the depths of my pain.  This is the past lesson I have learned that bears truth into my present struggle, but now I turn to John 11 where I have been discovering a new comfort in this season of loss.

John 11 recounts the events and conversations that transpired with regard to the death of Lazarus.  John writes that Jesus learned of Lazarus’ fatal illness but waits until Lazarus passes before leaving for Bethany.  This is troubling from a human perspective, for the reader’s thoughts echo that which Martha professes, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” and what the other mourners consider “‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”  Truly, Jesus could have avoided this great loss of life if he had come in a timely fashion to Bethany—he had demonstrated in the past his ability to heal sickness.  Yet, John gives a powerful insight into this situation that reveals the true motivation of Jesus—he quotes Jesus, “‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”  In verse 14, Jesus also purposes it to give the disciples belief.  John also makes the effort to communicate Jesus love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus and express Jesus’ grief for the loss.  Although God allowed the pain and death to occur in order for his glory to be expressed and the faith of his followers to grow, his love and compassion are real and congruous with these purposes.  Now as the account continues, John presents the amazing resurrection of Lazarus to life—restoring to Martha and Mary the one they loved and had lost.

In my life, God may or may not restore this relationship to me.  That may not be his greatest good for me.  However, I can trust as Mary and Martha did while in the full throng of their sorrow that God is still capable of all things.  I also can choose to have hope even in a hopeless situation that God will work it out to a greater good through ways unimaginable to me now.  Best of all, I can know fully that God is at work to bring his glory about through this situation and that concurrently he is empathizing with my pain.

I am reminded as well of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.  He knew that God had promised him many descendants through his son, yet he still offered up his most precious gift to God with full faith in God’s integrity.  Although, I have no promise from God that my future will include this relationship within it again as Abraham did, I do have a promise from God of a “hope and a future.”  Therefore, though he is asking me to lay down on the altar the relationship I thought would give me a wonderful and good future, I can have faith that somehow he will bring about a wonderful future despite my current loss.

“The Lord gives  and takes away, but still I will say, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord'” Thanks be to God!