Post 3: May 15, 2015
All I wanted was a little white house with a white picket fence – my version of retirement. That didn’t seem to much to ask. After all, I had gone through several years of difficulty with our son, two years of watching my husband fight the dreaded “C”, and then slowly slip away from us. I had dealt with all of it well, I thought. My friends said I had. Hadn’t I “earned” a break from suffering? I certainly thought so!
After a time, however, I began to realize some of the consequences of my “retirement”. I was no longer as sensitive to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart. I was becoming more focused on temporary pleasures – a nice house, a nice bank account, vacations – than I was on spiritual things. Oh, I was still going to church every Sunday and having my almost daily Bible readings. I was still praying and trying to listen – but my growing desires for ease and comfort over whatever God might call me to was desensitizing me to the life and fellowship with Christ I had once known – the fellowship and relationship with Christ I had known during all those hard times. A relationship that was deep and beautiful.
God used a dating relationship and the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, to begin my journey back to him. It took seeing myself through someone else who was as I had become; and then seeing through the book what I had lost, to begin to bring me to my senses. It also took time, and reflection, and repentance (turning away from the path I was going, to a new path) to realize that my problem wasn’t the fact that I had suffered. The problem was that I had believed a lie – about life and about God.
I had come to believe that “suffering” was just a stint – a gig that I had to perform to earn my stripes. I didn’t see that the suffering I had gone through was the very thing that taught me about who God really is, and what his heart really looks like. I had failed to see that “the fellowship of suffering” as Paul calls it in Philippians was causing me to stick to Jesus like a soldier sticks to his comrad in arms in the fight – drawing each of them closer than brothers – each willing to give his life for the other. And in the subsequent months after, I also hadn’t noticed that rejecting that kind of fellowship was ripping that bond apart – not because Jesus chose it but because I was choosing it by running from any suffering we might go through together in the future.
God also used two other books to soften my heart and open my eyes to the truth:
“A Sacred Sorrow“, by Michael Card – an amazing book written shortly after 9/11. It was realized by leaders in the church in America after the 9/11 incidents that Christians don’t know how to grieve – or as the Bible would put it in the Old Testament – to lament. Over time, Christendom has come to believe that in order to please God we must always be “happy” and “praise him joyfully” – and therefore there is no place for sorrow in worshiping Jesus. But, sometimes, we aren’t able to do that because life throws us hard balls that knock us off our feet. This book taught me through this time that God is also pleased when we come to him with our anguish and our cries, drawing to him through our grief or lament – that he even sees our lament as a sweet form of worship! He uses examples from the Bible (Job, King David, the author of Lamentations, some of the prophets, and even Jesus himself) to show how God even blessed those who chose to lament to him, even when there words were not easy or flowery sweet. It changed how I see God and suffering.
“David – Seeking a Heart Like His“, by Beth Moore – a Bible Study that is “Seeking the Heart of God Through A Study of David” David was called by God “A man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). The study seeks to show how David over his lifetime was able to gain such a recommendation from God and how we too can have that kind of relationship with God. God used this Bible Study to show me that I really hadn’t known his heart for me at all. I also saw, as I studied the life of David, that I really wanted more than a “white house and a picket fence”. I wanted Jesus. I wanted to know him, and to have close relationship with him. I also began to realize that this type of relationship with Jesus was the only thing that would really satisfy me in this life, even if it meant suffering.
Did I come to this conclusion – surrendering my dream for Jesus’ dream for me – easily? No. I had surrendered my life to Jesus when I was a child and had tried to follow him faithfully since, but now I knew the horrendous cost of suffering. I had looked it in the eye face to face, and it was hideous to me. Yet, I didn’t want to try and exit from suffering at the greater cost I was now realizing I’d need to pay. I remember the day clearly that I surrendered my picket fence dream. I was in church and I sensed the Holy Spirit asking me to surrender it all and let him take my dream and give me his dream for me. As the service progressed, the urgency to surrender kept increasing within me – that feeling of “I MUST do this or else…” I knew that the only way I would be able to do it was to literally bend my knees. I don’t believe that surrendering to Jesus always requires this, but that day, for me, I knew I needed the physical to show what was going on inside. With a battle literally raging within me, I dropped to my knees quietly in the middle of church and I told Jesus that I was relinquishing my dream for his. When I did, a peace came that I hadn’t had in a very long time, and I realized that much of the inside fight was now over. Did that change everything instantly? No! I had to work it out every day – surrendering every day as circumstances caused me to have to choose – his dream or mine? But the hardest part – the beginning of surrender – was finished.
Has life been easy since? Nope. There have been some pretty tough struggles since, but I am learning that to know Jesus is worth everything. The peace that he brings when the fight is over inside is worth everything because neither relationship with him nor his peace can be bought at any price. I am also realizing that white houses with picket fences don’t provide anything worth living for if the house doesn’t include Jesus as the head of the family. For it is Jesus and relationship with him that makes the house a home – whether it is a little white house with a picket fence, or ….whatever it is.
“…and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10 NIV