And the only time that I can remember “running” towards a dad’s open arms was when I was about five or six. I was at the top of a slide that was in the water at the beach. And my step-dad was at the end of the slide, saying, “Slide down, Heather. Don’t worry; I’ll catch you.”
Monday, October 15, 2012
COM Ch 24: Sweetly Broken (and Afterword)
Chapter 24: Sweetly Broken
You know the scenes in shows where a little girl is running toward her dad, and she jumps into his open, waiting arms. And he scoops her up and hugs her and cuddles her, while they are both smiling. And they both look just so happy. I have no idea how that feels. I’ve never done that before. The most I’ve ever had was a slightly awkward, slightly uncomfortable hug from a dad.
And the only time that I can remember “running” towards a dad’s open arms was when I was about five or six. I was at the top of a slide that was in the water at the beach. And my step-dad was at the end of the slide, saying, “Slide down, Heather. Don’t worry; I’ll catch you.”
I was scared of going under the water, and so I asked again, “Are you sure you’ll catch me?”
“Yes, I’ll catch you.”
So I finally worked up enough courage, and I zoomed down the slide to his arms. And he . . . stepped back and let me go under the water. He quickly scooped me up with a good-natured laugh and a little teasing. But I didn’t want a laugh; I wanted to be caught. (Parents, if you say that you are going to catch your kids, catch them! If you say that you won't jump out and scare them when you are playing with them, don't scare them! If you say that you'll be there for some event of theirs, be there!)
As I was growing up, (as you well know by now) I went through several “dad” changes. At some point, one would move out of the picture and another one would move in. Knowing when to change from calling them “Dad” to calling them by their name was a little bit confusing. Particularly when it came to addressing them directly.
My biological father was always called that . . . “my biological father, Bill.” (Not when speaking to him, but when I referred to him in conversations.) He said that when he used to come visit when I was little, it hurt me so much when he left that he just stopped coming. So I never called him anything growing up, not until I was thirteen and got that first letter from him.
And when I would see him during trips to Grandma’s house, it felt a little odd at first calling him “Dad.” And so for a long time, I would try to get his attention without calling him anything. Basically just “Hey” to get him to look at me. But, eventually, it got a little easier just to say “Dad” when I would talk to him. Not totally natural feeling, but easier. But even now, when I’m talking to others, I refer to him as “my biological father, Bill.” It keeps things straight.
When my mom and second dad, Tom, divorced, I still referred to him as “Dad” for a little while, and I still visited. But at some point, he moved and we moved, and we just lost touch. No harm, no foul. Just time to move on, I guess. So now, he’s just “Sean’s dad, Tom.”
And the last time I talked to my next dad, Bob, he and my mom were divorcing, and he had moved to . . . I don’t even know where, but somewhere else. And he called one day to tell me that he had a long-overdue birthday present for Hunter. And I got a chance to tell him for the first time that I was pregnant (with Ryder). Five months pregnant.
“I’m a bad, bad grandpa,” he said.
I knew he was heartbroken over what was happening to the family, as was I. I told him that he could come by and drop off the present, that we’d still like to see him and be part of his life. That was several years ago. Hunter never got the present. Somewhere along the way, I stopped referring to him as “Dad” and started calling him “Bob.” It just made it easier.
And when my mom married Ron, well, I’m just too old for another “Dad.” I’ll just stick with names from now on. Even when I got married, I couldn’t even think of calling my father-in-law “Dad.” It was too awkward of a word. An uncomfortable word. One that just didn’t really mean anything. (Sad thing is, I know I’m not alone. There are so many people out there with their own stories of “Dad.” Or “Mom,” for that matter.)
Unfortunately, not having a close relationship with my earthly father hindered my ability to relate to God as my Father. Having many deep scars from my parents’ divorces kept me locked behind walls of self-preservation and fear. I couldn’t open up and trust. And I didn’t know how to get out from the prison of fears that I had built to protect myself. And so it was a long, slow, painful process as God walked me through it, helping me along as I stumbled and faltered.
This whole journey, God has been dredging up all of the old wounds and scars and fears that have prevented me from knowing Him as my Heavenly Father. I mean, I was good with Him being God in my life. God could guide. God could provide. God could wow my socks off with some amazing blessings and experiences.
But a Father, a Daddy? A Father loves and delights in His children, and He wants to be delightful to His children. A Father is trustworthy and faithful. He has open, waiting arms for His children to jump into when they need to be held, or some encouragement, or just because they want to be near Him. He doesn’t just care for His children; He wants connection, depth, transparency. A Father is always there.
I didn’t have an earthly example of that. I didn’t know how to open myself up to all of that. I had so many fears of being dependent, vulnerable, trusting, needy, helpless, abandoned, and unacceptable. I had to prove my worth, to be somehow more special than I was. Therefore, I was always working hard at impressing Him. Working hard and yet never feeling like I could do enough or do it right. Never feeling His love.
Most of us, I suspect, have too many layers around our hearts. Layers that keep God on the outside, looking in. And to get to the center of it all - to finally see the truth about how we see ourselves and how we see God - oftentimes takes more time and energy and pain than we want to put into it. And so we live with distance from Him.
Back in the Papua New Guinea days, faith came easy. I trusted God and loved God and served God. But I didn’t really know God. Oh, I did know Him, but I never knew Him the way that He should be known by His children. I didn’t know Him as a Father. And if I was ever to learn this, I had to be broken.
Oh, I was broken all right as I grew up! But in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways. But God has been slowly reversing that. He’s been working on healing the parts that never should have been broken, and on breaking that parts that need to be. Such as my need for control, my strong tendency to be self-sufficient, the fears that keep Him out, etc. And, boy, has it been a long road.
But once again, this life is about the journey, not about getting to the end. (Until eternity comes.) And so, the Holy Spirit brought up another doubt not too long ago. A doubt that made it hard to be really comfortable knowing Him as “Father.” And I didn’t even know this doubt was there . . . until a tiny, little eye-roll gave it away.
I was reading a passage about God being a good God, something about Him being a good Father who takes care of His children. And I felt the tiniest little eye-roll in my spirit. I didn’t mean to do it. I mean, I know God is a good God. Right? That’s what the Bible says. Of course, He’s a good God. I know that! But I still felt this little, tiny snicker in my spirit, this “Yeah, whatever” kind of eye-roll. (I hate to admit that, I really do! It sounds awful.)
And I wondered, What’s that about? But instead of just brushing this off, I stopped long enough to really consider it. Why would I do that? I know that God is a good, loving God. I know it in my head. Why roll my eyes about that?
To be honest, I didn’t really want to face that question. I knew that it would mean more mental work to get to the bottom of it. I knew that it would uncover unpleasant things that I would have to face and work through. Hadn’t I done enough work already? And I didn’t want to learn, after twenty-plus years of being a Christian, that I had doubts about God’s goodness and love. What kind of a horrible Christian would that make me?
But I couldn’t just let it go. I had been working so hard on honesty, transparency, and drawing near to God. And so if this was the next step, then this was the next step. I knew that if I was ever going to really get past it, I would have to honestly face this or it would become another wall between us.
And so I had one of those conversations that I have with myself sometimes; conversations where I follow a train of thought to the end, allowing the Holy Spirit to shine the light of truth into the darker recesses of my mind. And this conversation with myself and God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, went something like this: (And it’s not like I “heard” these responses from God, it’s more like this is how my thoughts developed, and how the Holy Spirit helped me to discover deeper truths about myself.)
Q: Why do I roll my eyes when I read about God being a good Father that gives good gifts to His children? I mean, I know that He’s a good God. So why do I do that?
A: You don’t really believe in God’s goodness, do you?
Q: Well, I never thought about it. But. . . I guess that I must be doubting His goodness. I don’t know why. I mean, I have a roof over my head and food on the table. Shouldn’t I just be happy with that? And yet, God says He gives abundant blessings to His children.
A: So . . . if He hasn’t blessed you abundantly, if He hasn’t answered your prayers when you sought Him about a house, then that must mean . . .?
Q: Well, that either He’s not good (which I know He is) or that I’m not worth His time or His answer.
A: So you don’t feel worthy?
Q: Yeah, I guess I don’t feel worthy.
Q: Huh . . . What?!?
A: You’re not worthy. Nothing in and of yourself is worthy of His blessings and His sacrifice for you. It’s not about you being worthy enough. It’s about you just accepting it. His gifts are unearned.
Q: But I’m nothing special. I’m just me.
A: Look at your children. What do they do to deserve your love?
Q: Nothing. They’re mine, and I love them just because they are mine.
Q: I know that He loves me. I know it in my head. But I don’t know how to feel it.
A: . . .
Q: Why do I feel like I don’t deserve to be loved?
A: Because you don’t deserve to be loved!
Q: Huh . . . What?!?
A: It’s not about “deserving” love. It’s not about you or anything you’ve done. It’s about Me and the kind of God that I am.
Q: . . .
A: . . .
Q: But I don’t know how to feel that?
A: And you won’t feel it until you just accept it, until you believe it and let Me into your heart completely. But you are blocking Me.
A: You are blocking Me by feeling like you have to earn My love. And if you feel like you have to earn it, then you don’t really understand it. And if you feel like you have to earn it, then you can’t really accept it.
All these years, I guess that I never really enjoyed His goodness and love because I couldn’t really believe that He was that kind of God. A good God that loves to give and who loves unconditionally. Sure, I believed that He could discipline and provide for our bare necessities. But giving abundant blessings? Desiring that we live life to the fullest? Loving us completely, just because He is that kind of God? Because it delighted Him? Seriously, who does that? We live in a much too self-centered world to understand that kind of love.
And so all this time, I never really experienced His abundant goodness and unconditional love. Because I only felt it if I earned it. I felt I had to wrestle things from Him, by pleading or earning or “doing it right.” And if I couldn’t really believe in His love and His goodness, then I didn’t really want to need Him. And if I hadn’t yet learned to need Him, I never had a chance to really trust Him. And if I hadn’t learned to trust Him, then it was all up to me. And if it was up to me, then I was doomed to fail. No wonder life was hard. And no wonder my relationship with Him wasn’t full of life and peace and joy.
But because He loved me more than I ever let Him, He allowed the pain and the trials that were necessary to break me. He exposed the old walls and fears that created distance, the lies that I believed, and the misconceptions that I lived by. He helped to break my reliance on other things, including myself, my prideful self-sufficiency, and my need for control. He exposed my wayward desires and the idols in my life so that I could learn to desire nothing more than Him. All so that I could know His incredible goodness and unconditional love. (Ironic sounding, isn’t it? That He had to “hurt” me to help me know His love?)
As I reflect on this whole journey that I’ve been on and the many different things that God has used to break me, I think that I can boil the “lessons-from-the-furnace” down into two main truths - two main, overarching truths that ultimately humbled me and moved me from a self-sufficient, adult step-child to a child that learned how to rest in her Father’s embrace. Without these, I never would have really known Him as the good, loving Father that He is. And although I’ve already explored these in previous chapters, let me sum up the two, very crucial truths:
1. We need a proper understanding of His holiness, His glory.
2. We need a proper understanding of His love.
For years, I had faced life with a cocky presumptuousness. I was self-made, prideful, and independent. I lived as though I was really in control of my life and God was just my co-captain. He was just along for the ride, there when I needed Him. But for the most part, I could do it myself and I was doing a good job. I wanted Him; I just didn’t really need Him.
And so learning to be a humbled child was not an easy, natural thing. It went against every self-protective, self-reliant fiber of my being. And while being adult-like was important in many ways, it made me proud in my relationship with the Lord. It kept me from acknowledging my ultimate dependence on Him, and from letting Him have complete Lordship over my life. And since I stood on my own two feet and tried to do life in my own power and wisdom, I was unconsciously glorifying myself. And missing out on a proper, secure relationship with Him.
This was the self-sufficient, it’s-all-about-me, I-can-do-it-and-I’m doing-a-good-job part of my personality. And this is the part that needed to be humbled by, broken by, God’s holiness and glory. I was too big in my own eyes and God was too small. I needed to be brought down to the level that God sees me, and I needed to see Him for the huge, glorious, perfectly holy God that He is.
Compared to His greatness, I am a tiny ant. I am not in control of my life like I like to think I am. I am not all-knowing and all-powerful. I am not self-sufficient. I am a tiny, little ant that gets freaked out if my ant farm shakes a little too much. And I really did want a big, strong Father to take care of me. I was helpless without Him. And I needed Him desperately! Daily!
And so to break me of my self-sufficiency - my need to be on the throne over my life - God had to remove everything I ever relied on, outside of Him. He had to strip me of every sense of control I had. I had to get to the point where I realized that I couldn’t do it all on my own, that I couldn’t even stand on my own anymore. And that hurt. It really hurt.
(It’s funny, you know, but I asked for this. When I was planning my trip to Papua New Guinea, I told my mom that I wanted to be stripped of everything so that I could learn to rely on God alone. Well, over a decade later and He answered that prayer. Dangerous prayers, I tell ya. Dangerous prayers!)
My view of myself had to be shattered, shrunk, and broken before I could see His holiness and glory, before I could experience Him for the magnificent, capable, loving God that He is. And all these trials were necessary to do that. They threw me off of the throne and I landed at His feet. Well, in His arms, really.
In order to know God as He really is (and not just knowing Him out of our misconceptions), we have to learn who He is through His Word. The boring Old Testament and all. This is why I say that reading the Bible is so necessary. If we are not seeing Him for who He really is - who He says He is in His Word - we are viewing Him from our own ideas. And they are usually way off-base because of our broken pasts and broken hearts.
When I used to read the Old Testament, I only noticed His wrath and the punishments. And all I could think was How unfair! How harsh! How could He do that? And I could think that way only because I didn’t really see Him as He is. I was looking at Him through my fears, and so I only noticed the part of Him that I was afraid of: His justness and His wrath.
But when I dug deeply into the Word during my time in the furnace and I began to really find Him in the pages, I began to see how His holiness related to His justness, and His justness related to His love. Because He is so holy and great and pure, He can be just and wrathful about our disobedience, our pride, and when we sit on His throne. But even this is because He loves us and wants the best for us, which He knows is a deep, humbled relationship with Him. His holiness and love go together.
Here was a God whose voice could shake the mountains and terrify the people. And in His wrath, He could wipe out thousands of them. And yet, He loved them so much that when He cared for them, He cared for them completely and abundantly. When He brought the plagues, He shielded His people. When He led them through the Sea, He led them all to safety. When He provided, He did so in amazing ways: manna, water from a rock, clothes that didn’t wear out, fighting the wars for and with them. Even when He was angry, He was righteously angry. And having now seen a bit His holiness and glory, I began to realize that His punishments were right and good! (And even then, in His love, He would give chance after chance before He disciplined.) He is a holy, good God.
As I began to see Him for who He is, I began to see myself for who I really was. I wasn’t strong and capable and pleasing. I didn’t deserve preferential treatment. I couldn’t manipulate God and make Him do the things that I wanted Him to do. I couldn’t judge Him for His actions in my life. Who was I that I could dictate to God what should be? Who was I that I felt that I could earn my way with Him? I wasn’t “doing it all right.” I was forgetful like the Israelites. I grumbled and complained and doubted and shrunk God.
What happens when we come face to face with the kind of God that He really is, when we get a real glimpse of His glory, of His holiness and majesty? A real glimpse of ourselves? Here are a few examples:
Leviticus 9:23-24: “Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”
1 Kings 19: 12-13: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face . . .”
Isaiah 6:5: “‘Woe is me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’”
Ezekiel 1:28: “. . . This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, . . .”
Revelation 1:17: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. . . .”
If we haven’t been brought to our knees or our faces before God - if we haven’t become keenly, distressingly aware of our sinful natures - then we haven’t been humbled by God’s glory. As I saw more and more of just how magnificent He is, I became so, so tiny in comparison. I was trembling at the foot of the mountain with the Israelites as they experienced the immensity, the power, and the mystery of God.
And I learned that I needed a God like this in my life. One who was so much bigger than me and who was strong enough to handle what I couldn’t. One who, although I tried, could not be figured out like a formula or forced into something. I don’t want a God that I can shrink, a God that could be figured out or manipulated by me. He is much bigger and more mysterious and holy than that. And that’s good with me! I was humbled by - broken by - His holiness! His glory!
But there was another part of me - a deeper, more elusive part - that needed to be broken in a completely different way. This isn’t the part of me that was too big in my own eyes; it was the part of me that I believed was too small in God’s eyes. Hidden deep down behind my fortified walls was an insignificant, lonely girl who felt too low, too unworthy to ever really be loved by Him.
This is the part that didn’t need to see how small I was in comparison to God’s glory and holiness; it’s the part that needed to accept how much God loves me, despite who I am. The part that needed to be brought up off the worm-infested ground to the level that God sees me. I am a completely-loved child. Not some step-child who should be standing on the outside, looking in. This is the part of me that needed to be broken by His unconditional love.
I’ve known about His unconditional love in my head all my life, because the Bible tells me so. But my heart was too wounded to live in that love. As a step-child, I was concerned with earning favor. As a student, I had to earn good grades. In high school, I had to earn a spot on the cheerleading team. I had to earn my way into college and grad school. I had to earn my job and earn my money.
I think for most of us, life feels like one long line of earning our way and proving our worth. Some people get exhausted at that thought and give up. They stop caring about being “good enough.” They stop striving because they don’t really think His love is attainable, or worth the effort. They get comfortable parked on the side of the road. And they aimlessly, effortlessly, wander through this boring, old life, doing just enough to get by. Just whittling away their lifeless days with no sense of joy or purpose or wholeness. In their minds, no matter what they do, they could never do enough to earn His love, His generosity, or the abundant life that is available through Him. Or they just don’t think it’s worth it. They think, So, why bother?
And some people try so hard to do everything expected of them, being self-sufficient and striving for the next accomplishment or possession to prove how valuable they are. They want so bad to be complete and to experience abundant life and security and joy and love. But they can’t ever rest and just enjoy those things or an authentic relationship with God or others, because their days are spent doing “more” and being “better,” earning their way. They have no idea how to accept His love as a gift, so they never really experience it. In their minds, no matter what they do, they can never do enough to earn it. So they think, Try harder!
I had to learn through pain (ironically) that God loves me just because I am His. It’s not about me, or about earning it or not earning it. In fact, I will always sin! I will always let Him down! I need to just be up front with that and get it out of the way. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I should become comfortable with sinning because I can’t ever not be a sinner. This life should always be one of striving for holiness and righteousness, even though we know that we’ll never fully achieve it this side of eternity.
But it also doesn’t mean that I should let it keep me from believing Him when He says He loves me and forgives me. I shouldn’t let it stop me from delighting in Him and being delightful to Him, from enjoying His goodness and the security and joy of resting in His arms. I shouldn’t let it render me useless behind my walls.
I had children knowing that they would not be perfect, that they would let me down and that there would be times that they grieved me. But I still want a deep relationship with them. I want them to enjoy my presence and the things that I do for them and with them. I want them to trust me and have faith in me. And this shouldn’t be hard for them, because I have shown them how much I love them and that this love doesn’t hinge on how pleasing they are to me. I might be disappointed in them at times. I have to discipline at times. But even then, it’s because I love them.
And God made us knowing that we wouldn’t be capable of perfection, that we would sin and grieve Him. (I used to think, Way to go, Adam and Eve, for disobeying and bringing this all on mankind. And then, one day, I realized that any one of us, given enough time in the Garden of Eden, would have done the same thing. I mean, I can’t even make it through one day without violating one of God’s principles. So in all honesty, I’d have done the same thing as them. So I guess I can only be thankful that God didn’t make me as the first woman.)
He made us knowing that we would sin, and He loved us enough to find a way to remove our sins from His sight. Out of enormous love for us (in spite of our sins and because of them), Jesus came here to take the punishment for us so that we would not be eternally separated from our Heavenly Father. God loved us so much that He made a way for us to have a genuine relationship with Him.
And this is the theme of the whole Bible. This is the heart of the matter! God’s love made a way! God loves us, not based on what we deserve, but because of who He is. He is love. And His love is a gift. An unearnable gift, available to all of us. He loves us just because we are His. Unconditionally! And, I don’t know, but I wonder if the greatest act of humility is this: believing and accepting that Someone loves us!
[For many hurting people out there, it is a very hard thing to accept that He loves you just because you are His. Tell Him this. Tell Him your honest feelings and ask Him to help you see His love. He wants to answer that kind of prayer. He’s always trying to show you how much He loves you anyway. Ever notice how many plant and tree leaves are heart shaped? I have to wonder! But you won’t be able to see unless you want to. So ask Him to help you see how much He loves you. And then watch! Wait and watch!]
As long as I kept trying to earn something that was already mine, I was not free to experience it. I had to learn to accept His love for what it was - unconditional! I didn’t have to be worthy of it, I just had to accept it. In fact, I could never be worthy of His love. And so I had to humbly accept it as unconditional or I would never experience it.
1 John 4:15-18: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
I had lived in fear for so long that I never really knew His love. Sure, I had read all about it in the Bible, but it wasn’t until I had my own children that I could really understand it. Just as I delight in my children and in providing for them and experiencing life with them, God delights in being a good, generous Father . . . because His love is so great that just “providing for our basic needs” wouldn’t satisfy Him. He has to go over and above in His shower of goodness because His love is so great – great enough to hold Jesus on the cross in our place. And if we can’t feel that love and goodness, it’s because our own sense of unworthiness won’t let it through.
As I said way at the beginning of this book, once I realized (after returning from PNG) that I could face life without Jason, I was suddenly free to enjoy his love. I wasn’t trapped by my fear of losing him anymore. Well, it’s kind of similar here. It was in learning to accept my unworthiness that I was free from my fear of being unworthy. I wasn’t trapped by it anymore, trapped into earning His love. I was free to just accept it.
My fears of not being good enough or worthy enough are actually. . . truths. I am not good enough or worthy enough. I never will “deserve” His love. (And He knows me better than I know myself. So He knows that I am even more wretched and unworthy than I think I am.) I am insufficient in myself. I am needy, helpless, and dependent.
In fact, the only reason that I can come to the Father at all is not by my own merits, but by the blood of Jesus. It is because of Jesus’ sacrificial death that I have access to the Father. On my own, I am too full of sin, too unworthy. But He loves me anyway. And because of this great un-earnable love, He wants me near Him. So He made a way. He is a good Father, indeed.
But if Satan can keep us distracted by focusing on how unlovable or unworthy we are, we will spend our days trying to “earn” God’s love, trying to “do it right.” (Or we’ll just give up altogether.) We will be focused on us and our performance and efforts. And when our focus is on us and what we are doing (or not doing), our focus on Him is blurred. And we will remain hurting, ineffectual Christians.
Satan knows that if we were to let God’s unconditional love fill our hearts and heal our pain, we would learn to “Be still, and know that [He] is God.” (Psalm 46:10) We would be able to rest in His arms and His care and His wisdom. We would be able to trust Him with the unknown, and spend our time seeking Him and glorifying Him, instead of trying to manage and control the future. Things that aren’t ours to control anyway.
We would be so awed and humbled by His great love for us that we would “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” (Psalm 100:4) No matter the circumstances.
His love would fill us up so much with peace and joy and gratitude that it would spill out to others. We would look at the people around us through His eyes. And we would desire to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than [ourselves].” And we would “look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Out of amazing thankfulness for the mercy and grace and love that God has given us, we would begin to see others not as nuisances or bothers, but as people who need to know God’s mercy and grace and love, too. We would put aside our petty differences and judgmental attitudes, because we would want them to experience Christ’s love through us. We would become more careful that we “Love our neighbor as [ourselves].” (Matthew 22:29) So that they might come to know our good, loving Father, too.
We would not let “any unwholesome talk come out of [our] mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) We would be more concerned about the eternal souls of those around us than with our own “nice, little life.” If we do not know this kind of love for others, it’s because we haven’t fully grasped the Father’s love for us.
To really “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) would make us so hungry and thirsty for Him that we would diligently search for Him - with all that is within us - through prayer and His Word. We would find that our “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law [we would meditate] day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) If we do not know this kind of hunger and thirst for Him, it’s because we haven’t fully grasped the Father’s love for us.
We would be free - free to trust, free to exercise faith, free to love Him, to love others, to love ourselves, and free to let Him and others love us. And as we followed Him boldly into the future, fully confident in His goodness and love, amazing things could be possible. Life would become so much more than we ever thought it could be, nestled safe in His arms. If only!
Satan knows this. And so he does what he can to keep us in bondage to the lie that God is not really good and that we have to earn His love, in bondage to our fears that we are not good enough or worthy enough to be loved as we are. This keeps us busy with our performance, and never really able to experience the love that we work so hard for. The Love that is already there!
Or maybe, on the flip side, we are kept in bondage to the lie that we have earned His love and His pleasure. There are those who feel that they are so lovable, special, and holy that they have earned His love and His extra-special favor. Maybe you went on a mission’s trip or serve at church? Maybe you’ve “done it better” than your mom or others? Maybe you wrote a book about your experiences?
And to you I say, whose glory are you working for? Is there any part of you swelling with pride because of the glory and praise that you are stealing from God? Do you desperately need God or do you live like He desperately needs you? It might be time to dig deep into the Word and tremble before God’s holiness and glory.
I say, again, it’s not about you. It’s about God and His gift of eternal love, available to the lowest of the low as much as anyone else. I think sometimes it might be easier for God’s love and holiness to get through to someone who has fallen “lower” and has been “forgiven more,” because they recognize their lowliness compared to God and they appreciate His gifts of love and forgiveness more. The rest of the “high and mighty, righteous church people” who give so generously of themselves to help those “lowly” others might just be missing out on the kind of genuine, deeply-touching, deeply-thankful relationship with God that the “lowly” experience. Just a thought.
Salvation, forgiveness, grace, mercy, faith, His Word, blessings, life, and abundant love . . . these are all gifts from God, among many others. Gifts that are meant to bring us closer to Him, to give us a meaningful, abundant, God-glorifying, God-centered life. We can’t earn them, and we can’t be complete without them. But it’s not about being (or not being) good enough or worthy enough. It’s all about our amazingly gracious, merciful, and loving Father, and His choice to make these gifts available to all, in spite of who we are and what we “deserve.”
It takes a humble heart to simply accept a gift in genuine thankfulness. Ever notice how adults can’t just accept gifts without feeling like they have to give one back, like they have to remain on an even level with the gift-giver? But children - humble children - can just accept the gift and be thankful for it, honoring the giver with genuine gratitude for a gift they didn’t earn.
We all need to be broken before God if we want to be used by Him, to glorify Him, to experience all of His gifts, to know His love, and to have the closest, most secure relationship with Him possible. We need to be broken because we get in the way of all this. Our accomplishments, our efforts, our wills, our fears, our desires, etc. All of these things can stunt us, keep us from living life to the fullest as God intends.
And so, we need to be broken. Not broken like a vase gets smashed or a broken heart. He doesn’t break us to destroy us or crush us. He breaks us so He can rebuild us better, stronger, healed. He breaks us so that we learn to be obedient and can be used by Him. He breaks us from our slavery to self so that we can be fully filled with Him, fully used by Him, fully glorify Him, and feel fully loved by Him. And this is why they call it being sweetly broken!
To me, to be able to trust God in our worst times and with our biggest hurts is a true picture of what it means to really know Him as a Father. But we can only get to that point when we have become humbled and broken before Him. I want to look one more time at the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because in Him, I see the ultimate picture of what it means to be broken. Humbly broken.
If you read the passage in Matthew 26, you’ll see that Jesus was sorrowful and troubled as He was getting ready to face the cross. He was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (And in this, He illustrated the importance of leaning on others by reaching out to His disciples for support and comfort, asking them to keep watch with Him.) In His flesh, He didn’t want to go to the cross. But He didn’t hide these feelings from God. He poured them out honestly. (I already went into this a little, but it’s worth repeating.)
“Going a little farther, he fell on his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 39) Can you imagine how difficult that “job” must have been to bring Jesus to His knees, actually . . . to His face?
He was torn up inside. Yet, He didn’t do what I am always tempted to do when I face difficulties; He didn’t put on a brave face and act like He was a super-spiritual giant who could handle it and didn’t need anyone. Instead, He poured out His anguish. He admitted the uncomfortable feelings and that He didn’t like what God was asking Him to do. He begged to have the plans changed. (Yet, He knew that He wouldn’t actually walk away from the cross. Because as He said, He could have called down the angels in a moment. And He never did.)
But it wasn’t about getting out from under the cross He was asked to bear. It was that He knew the importance of all-out honesty and transparency with the Father. And He illustrated this for us. I never really understood that. I was so concerned with “doing it right” and with being pleasing that I couldn’t be transparent. I didn’t know how to (or even that it was okay to) express unpleasant feelings or deep desires that seemed to question what God was doing in my life.
But Jesus did. He knew that honesty and transparency was crucial to a close, trusting relationship with the Father. It is a necessary part of humility. Anything less is just trying to deceive God. Any kind of covering-up or lies or self-deception puts up a wall between us and the Lord. As Jesus showed us, we can be full of pain and anguish and disappointment and still draw near to God.
Matthew 26:42: “He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When I look at this verse, I am struck by the humanity of Jesus coming through here. He didn’t just plead with the Father once and then accept the cross. He went back a second and a third time, saying the same thing.
I get hard on myself when I struggle too long with giving an issue over to God. I feel like a weakling, like a failure, like I am displeasing for not handling it righteously. So many times, I bring an issue to God and leave it in His hands, only to take it back again and wrestle with it some more. And then I wonder what kind of pathetic Christian I am and how little my faith and trust is. Surely, if I had more faith, I would leave it in His hands once and accept His Will bravely, right?
But even Jesus, in striking vulnerability, wrestled with accepting God’s Will. He knew that He wanted to do God’s Will above all, but He still had to wrestle with His feelings and His own will to submit them to what God wanted. So maybe I’m not such a horrible Christian, after all? Maybe it’s just a part of the process.
And something that really strikes me is that despite His deep anguish and incredible desire to live, Jesus could still call God “Father.” I think this is amazingly beautiful. Jesus’ human side didn’t want to do what He was being asked to do. He was in torment over it. But He still knew and loved God enough - and knew God’s love well enough - to call Him “Father.” He trusted Him enough to say in the end, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” More than getting what He wanted, He desired to see God glorified by His obedience. His goal in life was to glorify God and please Him because He lived in a relationship based on love.
This, to me, is the pinnacle of brokenness. To live our lives in God’s love, not in our fears. We don’t have to like what we are being asked to do or to “feel like it” in order to glorify Him with our obedience. But when we have seen ourselves as we really are - tiny, but fully loved by our amazing Father - we would desire not so much that our wishes are granted but that He is glorified in and with our lives. We would want to please Him, not out of fear but because of love - our love for Him and His love for us.
And when we have gotten a glimpse of Him as He really is - His holiness, His glory, His love, His goodness, and His trustworthiness, then we would be able to genuinely rest in Him, even though the storm rages around us. We would be able to say, “Not my will, but Yours be done. I will cling to You.” No matter what comes our way!
And even if the journey is long and the path is dark, we would believe that He is there with us, even in the silence. Because that is what kind of a God He is. This is the amazing security that comes with being humbled, the joy and peace of being sweetly broken. It’s knowing that we can just be still, because He is God. But more than that, this glorious, holy, magnificent God is our good, loving Father!
[I want to say this here so that it’s known, because I can’t say it when it’s too late. When my time on this earth is up - which I am not planning on anytime soon - I want these songs played at my funeral: Manifesto by The City Harmonic, Blessed Be Your Name and Hallelujah (the one from the Adoration album) by Newsboys, and, of course, my all-time favorite, Sweetly Broken by Jeremy Riddle. What a way to go!]
Well, this takes me to the end of my story. Well, the end of this chapter of life, at least. And it has been my privilege to share it with you. While it has been a rough road, I have learned so much over these past years with God’s gentle, loving help. Through His silence and the pain, through long stretches of waiting (still waiting), through His Word and through His children - the Israelites - and through having my own children.
And I’d like to leave you with one more story, from the small devotional book, Our Daily Bread. It’s about one more little child that helped teach me about what it means to be a child of God. In fact, if I could sum up my whole journey to brokenness in one little example (besides Jesus’ ultimate example of brokenness in Gethsemane), it would be this. So, let me leave you with this short story written by Dave Egner about a little boy named Max.
Two year old Max was securely buckled in his seat in Grandpa’s pickup truck. He was waiting for Dad and Grandpa to stop talking so he could go for a ride. His mother poked her head in the truck and said, “Where are you going, Max?”
“Not Know, “ he replied, raising his little arms.
“What are going to do?” she asked. “Not know,” came the answer again.
“Well,” she asked, “do you want to come back in the house with me?”
“No!” came the quick reply as he settled himself more firmly, waiting to begin his adventure.
“That little boy taught me a lesson I needed right then,” his mother Sheryl told me later. She was soon to give birth to another baby, and she had reason to be unsure of what was ahead. “He didn’t know where he was going or what he was going to do, but he trusted Grandpa completely. Max’s confidence in Grandpa is the kind of trust I need in my Heavenly Father.”
If you are in one of those periods of life when you don’t know what lies ahead, or you don’t know what to do about some critical issue, it might help to think about it that way. God wants you to have the confidence in Him to say “I will trust and not be afraid” (Isaiah 12:2). We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.
(Dave Egner, Our Daily Bread, Copyright 2006 by RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.)
Little Max didn’t know where he was going or what he was going to do. But he loved and trusted his Grandpa enough to go with him anywhere. And maybe that’s the point of this whole “life journey.” It’s not about the destination or knowing where you’re going. It’s about strapping yourself in and saying, “I’m going wherever You’re going, God. I trust You!” But for the longest time, I was too afraid to even get in the car with God, unless I was in the driver’s seat. I would rather just wait it out, standing on the side of the road until I knew more (and frankly, sometimes I still do that). But I’m learning.
Faith came easy back in the days of PNG. But it was a surface faith, an untested, weak-stemmed faith. But years of stormy, windy trials - years of bending it to the point of nearly breaking - have strengthened it. And it has caused me to put down deeper roots in the only thing that I can really rely on, my Heavenly Father. And I am so thrilled that I can actually call Him that and mean it now. He is my Father! A good, loving Father with open, waiting arms, who is always there, loving me . . . for me!
Oh, and I finally learned what it means when the Bible says that God “remembers” someone. It doesn’t mean that He ever forgot them. It just means that the time had come for Him to act in their lives, to give them the answer to their prayers. So, I’m not forgotten. I’m just waiting for the day that He “remembers” me. But now, I am waiting in His arms.
I know that I don’t always have the kind of faith that Max has, but I want it. I want to be able trust in His love and goodness so much that even when the path is dark, I can say to Him, “I don’t know where You’re taking me. But if You want me there and You’re going to be with me on the journey, then I want to go, too.”
So what is my next step on this journey? What does He have in store for us? Will He answer my prayers and get us out of here soon? I can only think of one way to answer this, one way that can put my anxious heart at ease . . . “Not know! But my Father does.”
Take care and God bless!
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (And the glory, I might add.) (1 Peter 5:6-11)
Since the time I began writing my story, it has been over three years. And God has “remembered” my family. He has brought the answer to our prayers for a house. And I want to share His answer, but I don’t want to focus on it too much. And I’ll tell you why.
As I said earlier, when we were supposed to get the first house that we made an offer on, I thought that I had my book ending. I was going to write all about God’s loving providence, all about His goodness in how He answered us. But in the process of writing this book, I realized that it was never about the answer, about the ending. It was always about the journey! What’s more important than reaching any “ending” is learning to find God’s tender, loving care - His mercy, grace, providence, goodness, and love - in the journey, in the “not yet.” Because that’s what this life is: The Great Not Yet!
There will always be another trial, another time of waiting, and another heartache during our time on this earth. And if we set our eyes on the “end” - if we live like, It’ll all be okay when God answers - then we will miss out on the deep, abiding joy and peace that come with resting in His goodness and love during the journey, during the pain.
This life is about the journey that we take with Him. It’s about what effect we let the trials and the pain, the blessing and the answers, have on our relationship with our Heavenly Father. All of these should drive us closer to Him. All of these are opportunities to praise His name and to glorify Him. And all of these times - the good and the bad, the answers and the “not yet” - should be witnesses to others about what a good, loving God we serve.
And so this book is not about the end. It’s about the journey. But since God has finally remembered us and you have taken this journey with me, I will share this much about His answer: It has totally blown my mind! It has humbled me even more and made me kneel down at His feet and say, “I am so unworthy for such goodness and blessing! But Thank You!”
When He brought the answer to us – when He opened the door – He did so clearly and completely. His answer was so obvious that I realized that I could have saved myself so much headache and grief if I had just waited prayerfully, patiently, and with my eyes open, instead of being consumed with fear that He wasn’t listening or that I might miss His sign.
It’s really neat how it all happened, too. We had our eye on this one place for a little while, but it was way out of our price range. Yet we couldn’t get it out of our minds. We had driven past it several times, but we wouldn’t go in to see it because there was no way we could even afford to look. Well, one day, we drove past and the sign was down. It must be sold, we thought. And we put it out of our minds.
But one morning a few weeks later, I woke up from a deep sleep at about 5:00 a.m. with the burning desire to know for sure if it was sold or not. I had to know, even though it was too expensive for us to even consider anyway. And so I went to the moldy back room, jumped on the computer and looked it up on-line.
And I just about fell out of my seat. Because not only was it NOT sold, but the price had just been dropped twenty thousand dollars the day before (or that very morning, I can’t remember which). And so I quickly sent an email to my realtor asking to look at that house that day. And after I hit “send,” I found an email from him already in my in-box that said, “Check out this house!” And it was the one that I was already looking at.
Well, we set up a visit for that day. And after walking through the house, we felt very confident about trying to pursue it. (But it was still about twenty thousand more than we could afford.) And we realized that the sign out front wasn’t gone; it had blown down and was lying on the ground. And we noticed that this happened several times as we drove past to look at it. (Hmm? I wonder what – or Who – caused that?)
Well, as we drove away from the showing, my head was spinning and I was confused about the whole house-buying process. So I called my mom to see if she could meet us at the house, if the realtor was able to come back and open it up again.
And it just so happened that my mom (who is usually incredibly busy or who could easily be at work an hour away or in Florida for an impromptu trip) was just minutes away from the house and was available to meet us. And then when she called Ron, he was in town, too. So I called the realtor and he turned right around and came back.
And when my mom saw it, she said, “Make an offer now!” I didn’t even realize that we could make an offer at the showing (that’s how little experience I have with buying houses). And so we did! We made an offer for twenty thousand less than the asking price. It was the day before Easter!
And just a few days later, we got word that they accepted our offer. It was as though God said, “You know the other house that you were supposed to get? I can do much better than that.” And He did. He took our wish list and added an extra bedroom and a tiny “den” and a much bigger, nicer yard. And it was only a mile or two from where we were renting. And it was a mile from our friends with the eight kids.
And over the course of however-long-it-was, He closed a forty thousand dollar gap (well, actually, an eighty thousand dollar gap because it was initially listed for a lot more) which brought the house down to exactly the same price that we had offered on the other house - the price that we had prayerfully chosen in the first place. Oh, yes! He is a good, faithful God!
And so, so gracious and merciful! Despite my incredible ability to despair and gripe. Because even after all that I had learned and even after I had seen how clearly He makes His answer known, I still managed to find plenty to panic about as we waited for this short sale to go through. When it took too long and when we faced twists and turns, I managed to freak out all over again and to lose all hope in His ability to work it out.
Thank You, Lord, that I didn’t get what I deserved! Thank You that I got what I didn’t deserve! And thank You that’s it’s not about what we “deserve” or earn; it’s about You and Your unconditional goodness and love. Seriously, about the only thing I did right during that wait was to not run out and buy a different house. And that’s just because we had no ability to! So thank You that You forced us to wait, or else we would have really missed out on Your blessings!
[And I have to take a moment here to say thanks to our friend, Randi. I know that God used you to help us get the home and the mortgage. Thanks for all you’ve done. And also, congratulations to you and Leigh on the birth of your fourth son. (Hee-hee-hee!) A houseful of boys . . . boy, are you in for it! (Ha-ha-ha) Oh, and are you going to go for the girl? (Ha-ha, totally kidding!) No, it’s great. It really is. Just start praying now, Lord, protect them from themselves! Congrats again. That’s awesome!]
I am so humbled to have seen how faithful He is and what He is capable of, if I wait on Him and obey when He reveals the next step. (Even though I failed so horribly bad in waiting with a godly spirit.) It has increased my desire to know Him more and to draw ever closer. And it has challenged me to try to live more deliberately and conscientiously with Him and for Him, to glorify Him with my life. He has so captured my heart and my attention that all I can do is say, “He is a good, loving Father, indeed.”
Egner, Dave. Week Four: Tuesday: “Not Know!” Our Daily Bread: The Joy of New Life (Special Edition), 2006.
K., Jennifer, personal e-mail.
Page, Robert, Sermon, God Says It- I Do It. Illinois, January 10, 2010.