Friday, May 2, 2014

Pure Agony

How many days in a row can you trust God? Can you trust God for your life? Hard questions. Important questions. Here's another one:

What do you do when your trust gets in the way?

It sounds odd to say that, but a firm faith and a confident belief can actually be stumbling blocks to a real relationship with God. In fact, it is belief, not doubt, that may be our greatest trouble when it comes to God.

Sometimes, life is hard. Our hearts just get filled up with all this pain, all these doubts, all these fears. They come to dictate our every thought. We try to put words to it all, try to find prayers. We go seeking after God, just to ask Him what He might say to our bleeding heart, and when we find Him...we remember that we believe. Maybe we even remember why we believe. And then for some reason, we don't want to ask any more. We don't say the things we ran to the throne of God to say.

But merely remembering that we believe in Him doesn't answer the ache. So we are left in a hard spot between faith and trouble, between what our hearts know and what they are feeling, and it seems inappropriate to do anything with that because it feels like to address the issues would be to deny faith. And, well, we just looked upon the face of God in excited anticipation and realized we already believe. What else is there to do?

It's a subtle word, perhaps, but perhaps it is the "in" that catches us. We remember we believe in God, but that's not what our hearts need right now. We need simply to believe God. And for that to happen, we need to hear Him speak. And to hear Him speak, we need to dare speak first. 

Have you been here?

It's that moment when you get halfway through a prayer and realize it doesn't seem any more like you should be praying about this at all. You don't know why it bothered you anyway, since you know you believe in God. Your energies are turned away from your aching heart and back toward God but not in a meaningful way. There's nothing between to bridge the gap. There's nothing in the empty space to connect you to the heart of the God you believe in, and without being heart-to-heart, He cannot help you.

The longer He cannot help you, the harder it is to believe Him. That is why people turn from the faith. What practical use is God? None at all if you merely believe in Him; you will stumble over your faith day after day until you can't stand any more. Then when you do, you will walk away. I've seen it happen. You've seen it happen. Maybe you've done it. You walk away saying you still believe in God, but you no longer know Him. And the distance only grows.

For any real relationship to exist, you have to talk to one another. We have to talk to God, even in the face of our belief. We need to finish that prayer when it strikes us that it doesn't seem like a big thing any more. We need to keep pouring our hearts out so that He can answer them. So that we don't have to settle for believing in God; we can believe Him. Because we have heard Him speak straight into our hollow spaces. 

It feels awkward. It feels wrong. You feel like you're contradicting yourself, like you're negating your faith. But you're not; you're trusting your God. You trust God more when you pour out your heart to Him than you ever can in neglecting your heart for the sake of your "faith." He wants you to come to Him. He wants you to talk with Him. He wants to hear your voice, and He wants you to hear His.

I had this thought recently, in the presence of God. In a moment of my own torn between pure agony of my spirit and a realization of my steady faith. I could physically feel the tension building inside of me, wanting to pour out my heart to God but holding back because in His presence, it just seems like such a little thing. I never figured it out in that moment. I couldn't resolve the tension, so I did nothing. I sat and ached and walked away hungry and hurting in the same fragile breath.

A few days' time has given me this reflection - there is a way to pray in such a moment that honors what we think is our faith and does not deny our hearts and invites us to a deeper trust and an empty space in which we can hear God's word. And that prayer goes something like this:

Lord, my heart is aching. It's been aching for quite awhile now, and I don't even know that I can tell you why. I'm not sure I know why; I just know it hurts. And I've wanted to come to you but every time I come, I know that I believe in you and that's supposed to make things better. Or at least, it makes things seem not so bad because you are so good. But that's not helping my hurt right now. That's no answer to my ache. I don't know what to do with this. I don't. So here I am, before you, both of us knowing I believe in you but both of us understanding that right now, that belief is not enough. I want to believe you, Lord, and for that to happen, I need to hear you speak. I know your truth. I know your promise. But I need to know your presence, Lord, and your deep love for me. So here I am with open arms, heart wide open. Speak to me and tell me what to do with this. Tell me what we do with this.

An acknowledgment of doubt does not negate faith. As I said two days ago, it strengthens it. An honest conversation with God does not reveal your weaknesses, it demonstrates your openness. Admitting there is a space opening up between you and God doesn't put up a barrier; it invites both of you to step into that space and draw closer. God is willing. Are you?

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