Monday, March 29, 2010

Blessed Frustration

Life these days has me more than a little frustrated and a lot scared. It’s been hard to wrap my head around why these things are, but as days pass, I get a clearer and clearer picture.

Everything is changing, but it is the million tiny changes each day that are making the biggest difference. The new space I’ve created in my life by simply living in discipline and obedience is astounding. No longer do I shield my heart by keeping the external bustling, busy, and loud. I live by day in the light of the sun, whether bright and beautiful or covered in clouds. I’m content to shut off the television, log off the computer, and simply sit and listen to the ticking of the clock. These quiet moments sill my heart. They enable me to know where my life is working and where it still needs work, where things are going well and where they should well get going already!

It’s freaky, though, and tough to swallow when I notice the changes. The new space creates a void – or does it? That void has always been there; that’s why I kept my world so packed with stuff, so that I wouldn’t have to notice or deal with the very real ache in my heart.

A couple of weeks ago, God focused my mind on my strength, on the places in my life where power prevails. I never really got the sense that it was just my power. There is something supernatural about the source of all that, but I couldn’t help but smile at the way it shows itself in my life. It is the step of faith that steps back and watches my body heal itself before my very eyes, something I could not have dreamed of in recent years. It is the sudden realization that I am thinking before I speak, calming myself before I fly off the handle, re-thinking that curse word in favor of gentleness, and acting in love. Not as a pushover, lovey-dovey, and blinded by grace, but as one who can speak assertively without aggression, without excuse, and in true love. With true concern for others, which surprises me because so many of them, I hardly know.

It is only God’s mercy that gives me this strength, and I repeatedly find myself in awe of it.

Then, He focused my mind on love and on the effects of this strength. I noticed relationships truly changing, morphing into those I’d always dreamed of. Oh, how my heart longs for that connection with people where we speak to each other in love, know more of one another than a simple greeting, care deeply about each other’s hearts, and enter into this sacred kinship where one life bonds into another in the way God always intended. My relationships, finally, are getting there. It’s the smile from someone who used to scare me or who I always thought never liked me. It’s the greeting from someone who has never talked to me before (or who I have never risked talking to). It’s the arm around the shoulder, half-hug, encouragement of someone I respect. Yes, God says, people notice the change in me, and they are nurturing it just as He is.

In this area, I am not complete. I long for that completion! There are still too many times I feel like there’s no one to talk to, not really talk. The weight of the world rests on my shoulders, and it is in these times that I look around and find no one to turn to, no one who truly knows me well enough to be there, to be strong. This, I believe, will come in time as I trust more and step outside of my own comfort level – long-established by the ways of darkness and the bondage of the past. Right now, I reflect on those everyday encounters that elicit this love from me, stir my spirit, and prod me to tears. Yes, I have cried more than a few as I have noticed these small changes. They are tears of both hope fulfilled (or becoming fulfilled) and yearning stirred.

It is only by God’s redemption that I am able to experience this beauty.

Beauty and wisdom, these too are coming to me in new ways. Down to the minutiae of the universe. Did you know that if you took a single atom and blew it up so you could see it, so that the nucleus was the size of an orange, the nearest electron would be over four miles away? That’s astonishing! What fills that four miles? It isn’t air; air is something, made of molecules and atoms itself. It must be wisdom. THAT is the beauty of God in this world.

Mercy. Redemption. Wisdom. Beauty. You’re seeing that; so where is the fear and frustration?

The fear is what holds my heart through all of this. The problem is not that the voices in my head are wrong; it is that they are right. They just don’t know the whole story. Why is all this stuff new to me? Why am I taken by the strength He’s put within me? Why do I cry at His hints of love? Why do His beauty and wisdom take my breath away?

Because they are foreign. These were not the stories of my old heart, my old life, my old ways. The voices in my head remind me that this is what creation was, this is precisely what I was made for – until I already had that chance and put my life in my own hands and destroyed all of that. And these voices are right. I have always gotten in God’s way. Not just in my own life, I fear, but in my community.

So I fear this may be unsustainable. I fear it might be too late or too impossible to truly change my heart. My head screams “No, it is obviously possible. This is God’s plan!” but my heart wavers. Is it within me to let go forever, to give up whatever control I thought I had or tried to take by force over my own life and live in this new way eternally?

I really want to believe it is. And if God is Who He says He Is, and if I am who He has created me to be, then absolutely! It most certainly is. To be honest, I am often surprised at how easy it all is, and that is what makes it so difficult.

Should we believe holiness, sanctity, discipline should be so simple? We’re taught by our parents, lectured in our schools, and preached to from the pulpit (in many, but not all churches) that a righteous, God-centered life is somehow harder than the way we already do it. We’re taught that if we’re not on our toes, constantly fighting the battle second-by-second, we will lose and fall victim to our own flesh.

I can’t buy that any more, not after the change in my heart that is not yet complete but is astounding. Righteous, holy living is not harder. It is not a challenge. It is not a constant fight. For me, at least, it is the simple letting go and the end of the fight. By instinct, by nature, perhaps by wisdom, my heart reaches out in the right ways, does the right things, thinks the right thoughts. When I notice a fight brewing in my Spirit, that is not the Light fighting against the darkness; it is darkness coming against the light. It is darkness that puts the pressure on me, that makes life harder than it needs to be, that pushes me out of my instinct into the realm of conscious choice that then makes my mind waver between flesh and Spirit.

Instinct is easy. And holy. And righteous. And good. Why do we still believe it is the other way around? What does it say about what we believe about God that we still think this way, talk this way, live this way?

My fear is unfounded. I know in the depth of my spirit that this is the only way I will ever be able to live again. My mind, too, knows that. But sometimes, those weird little voices get the better of me, and I have to figure it all out again. And again. And again.

But in this void, this new space, this new heart, this life I am building, there is also frustration. Frustration that the little things are changing, but not the big ones. That this work is not complete. In a sense, this is holy frustration.

It is the idea that my relationships are changing, which is enough to torment my heart with its goodness, but they are not all transformed yet. And they are not completely transformed. They are….growing. It’s like watching paint dry. Blah.

It is feeling my body heal itself and rejoicing in strength, only to have something completely unexpected knock me off course and question the power of healing. Like yesterday. I was completely fine, but I have been fighting some kind of weird something in my body. It was cool as I sat back and watched my body take care of itself. Then, without notice, a sharp pain shot through my neck that brought me to my knees, flushing me hot with nausea, and disorienting me with dizziness. Right in the middle of serving communion, on the first Sunday that communion finally meant something to me.

Could my body heal this? I was doubtful. By the time I drove my car the few miles home, I could barely stand and spent the rest of the day crying in pain and falling down. That pain in my neck, I cannot shake. It gets worse by the passing hour, and there is no known cause for it, no treatment to improve it. So in this moment, does my new heart prevail…or my old one? Do I trust God to strengthen my body for this fight, or do I give in to something so small as a single nerve and let that be the crack that crumbles my cornerstone? Both are equally tempting. But oddly, the former is most natural.

It is the recognition that I am surrounded by old wineskin, by people, places, even material possessions that just the mere thought of them makes my body heavy. In the past several weeks, I have given many items away to charity, packed many more into boxes (which in itself is a mistake because that only creates room for the old heart to reclaim them), but there is so much more.

Yet, the more I pray and yearn and cry and hope and pray some more for the big things to change, for opportunities to step out and live anew, the more God moves others forward and rather than lifting me to new life, He takes them for a journey and strips them away from me. How in the world is that fair?

The big thing right now, of course, is my job situation. I have been looking for two years with very little interest from employers. They don’t even contact me back, let alone ask for an interview. A few days ago, after becoming very excited about a couple of different opportunities, all but a handful of jobs I’ve applied for this year were re-posted in that single day. There’s no feeling in the world quite like being rejected en masse…by employers who don’t even have the guts to tell you they are rejecting you, but instead pretend you don’t exist.

Granted, the handful of jobs still open and available, a few of whom have contacted me with updates, are the ones I am most excited about, the ones that will best use my gifts and my heart. That buffers the rejection a little bit.

Just a little. No matter the circumstances, nobody really likes rejection.

All this frustration really is mis-defined. It is not frustration so much as pained yearning – for that completion that God says is coming, for His promise to be fulfilled. It is longing for the day when He stops saying, “I’m working on it” and instead says, “I did this for you,” though I know that even the waiting is His gift.

I’m just not all that great with patience.

My impatience, coupled with the pained longing in my heart, the pain of which grows deeper every day, has me honestly on the brink of despair. And watching Him as He has blessed and gifted others to move away from me, instead of blessing me to move forward, has only intensified this. I spend too many nights (and mornings and afternoons and evenings) crying at the ache in my heart, questioning my faith, begging God to show me what I’ve done that offends Him, what I’ve neglected that is holding me back.

There is nothing. Nothing that He’s shown me anyway. He is not going to answer my prayers or fulfill my hope if I pray harder, go to church more, volunteer more, give all my stuff away, live in a cardboard box, or kill myself. (At one point or another, I’ve thought of all those things…and more.) I am not going to earn His favor by shouting in His ear, by making myself loud, by becoming the troubled disciple who requires “special attention.” That’s not how God works.

Nor how I would want Him to work.

But it would be so nice if He would hear me. Funny, I was going to say “answer me,” but it just didn’t feel right. Isn’t that the way it goes, though? We long for an answer for so long until we realize that we don’t even feel like God hears us any more.

Does all this mean I am unhappy with my life? Quite the opposite. I have never been happier in my life. I have never been more centered, more at peace, more full of faith, nor more sure of my path than I have been in recent months.

God wakes me up too many mornings already laughing before the day has begun for me to truly despair. He keeps me giggling and sometimes, when the world gets the darkest, He does something so awkwardly ridiculous that I can’t help but laugh. And when I laugh at God (or with Him, since He responds to my joy), I feel all of that heaviness melt away from my heart once more, and I can relax. Just relax. Just sit. Just be.

I may not have all the gifts I want right now, but I am not poor. He has blessed me over and over again – with the healing of my body, the restoration of my heart, the redemption of my life, and all the millions of little things that make me smile. This fear and frustration? They seem overwhelming; I cannot deny that. But when I look honestly into my heart, they are but a speck. Small shadows in the realms of pure joy, faith, hope, and trust. These four pour forth (and are returned to me) in great love. And that’s awesome.

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