Monday, July 5, 2010

Excruciating God

This God of mine, of ours, is an excruciating God. The more He reveals of Himself to us – or perhaps, the more we are open to understanding about Him and come to experience of His goodness – the deeper grows the ache and the yearning in our hearts for something more.

As I’ve worked to empty myself of the hollow, Godless things that too long failed at filling me, I’m coming to find a couple of things. First, God tears at my heart by being absolutely everything I’ve always wanted (and often more), that I’ve never deserved, and that it pains me to not find on this earth. And second, this world would be much better off if we could all be a little more selfless, working our ways toward completely selfless. Let me explain that in a minute and how my views have changed.

God is everything I’ve ever wanted, even the things I never knew how to put words to. There are many people in my life who hold this or that thing against me. In some cases, they are absolutely right. I have fallen short, failed people, hurt friends and family and even strangers. Where’s it’s appropriate or even possible, I have apologized. Apologies without excuses go a long way. But in some hearts, you will never be more than they’ve already judged you, and that’s tough. It is hard to look into the eyes of someone you love and who professes to love you, knowing they hold a grudge and that you will never be even a shadow of yourself in their eyes because their bitterness refuses to let them see you any other way than they’ve prejudged. This is especially painful in those cases where they are just dead wrong, where they have you playing a role in their mind that is necessary for their world to make sense. You know you could revolutionize their paradigm through your witness – even a silent witness – but they are blind and hard-hearted and may never hear. It’s only been recently that I’ve recognized this as unforgiveness. In both cases. These individuals hold against me things that either I’ve done or that I’ve only done as a figment of their imagination, and this coldness and distance I feel between us is their unforgiveness. I’m sure you have individuals like this in your life, too.

God is forgiveness. He answers that ache that so painfully pushes me away from some relationships I long to restore, and the dichotomy between His mercy and the hardened heart is so powerful that I cannot help but weep and wonder how God came to be so good when I am so…not.

He is redemption and beauty and love and dialogue and gentleness. Oh, how my God is gentleness. This is the other area where I sense Him strongly as that quiet opposition to the nature that often tries to overtake me. The world is harsh; that is no secret to any of us, is it? I am harsh. I can be loud, abrasive, demanding. I take too many things out on myself. I seek and hoard control and attention at times, then curse myself for these things that even as I do them, I know they are not in my heart. They are far from who God has made me to be, and yet – it’s tough. Gentleness, especially with oneself, is very tough. You feel like if you cut yourself too much slack, you’ll grow aloof and be worthless or worse…ditzy. You feel like if you offer yourself forgiveness, you’re somehow denying God the privilege of convicting you. Indeed, you might be. We can be so forgiving of ourselves that we actually inhibit our growth; we need to learn to see and judge ourselves in truth so that we can continue growing and developing in righteousness without falling into the trap of dwelling on our shortcomings or beating ourselves up. You feel like if you speak softly, you’ll never be heard. If you walk slowly, you’ll never get anywhere. If you offer your assistance, the world will take advantage of you. If you give up anything you want, the world will walk all over you and you’ll never have anything.

That is the world’s definition of selflessness. It is…invisibility, a vanishing act that puts you dead last in a subjective, submissive position, meekly asking permission of the world for anything. That is not, as I am coming to understand, Godly selflessness.

Godly selflessness would go a long way in this world.

Godly selflessness is not defeated. It is not loser-ville. And it is not passive. It does not mean giving up everything you are or ever were in favor of serving others and making sure the rest of the world gets to be happy. It is…capturing your strengths, holding strong your own heart, and picking your battles.

Selflessness is what lets us create harmony where there’s opportunity for something less. You notice that your routine is about to overlap, just for a morning, with someone else’s in the house who maybe got a late start or had a change of plans, so you quietly change what you would normally do to accommodate and not disrupt their day because you understand that you’ve got it in your heart to adapt and accept that – without losing any of yourself or feeling relegated to lesser status.

You learn to let people make mistakes because it’s not important to prove you are better, smarter, wiser, stronger, whatever than them; it is more important to recognize the importance that what they are doing has for them, to encourage them to finish and feel accomplished.

You stop arguing because you are strong enough within yourself to know it doesn’t matter who is right or who gets declared the winner; the relationship is what matters. Even if you know in your own heart you’re right, you let it go and don’t hold arrogantly onto it or start to feel smug because there are bigger gains here than losses.

You don’t gossip, even though you might know all the juiciest dirt. Gossip is just social status – putting yourself above because you know and someone else below because you can’t believe they did that. You might not even mention it. Or maybe you’ll step out and quietly, to the side, offer some help when you know you’ve got something legitimate to lend to the situation.

These are just a few examples of true selflessness. It is not defeat. It is not an exercise in superiority, inferiority, or victimology. It is simply a recognition of the honest assessment of any given situation. What is worth what? And why? And to whom? And for how long? And what good does it really do? When you start to live in sweet surrender, giving your spirit truly over to the One Who created you, you start to understand that so much of what used to matter simply doesn’t.

And you find new ways to live that promote peace, enable harmony, create strength…without the horrible feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness, isolation, or whatever the world tells you you should have. You are not destroying yourself. You are not letting anyone or anything else trample you down. You are not under anyone’s feet, not being walked on or taken advantage of. You’ve got this firm grasp of yourself that allows you, with honor and integrity and strength and absolute assuredness, to sacrifice yourself.

It is the true meaning of Christ’s commission to lay down your life.

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