Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Big Questions

When I first considered the idea of becoming a chaplain, I went, of course, to some of the people in my life who know me best. One guy that I used as a reference on my application said, "I think you'd be great at that. You're not afraid of the big questions." At the time, I took those words as a compliment. I didn't know how, 18 months later, those same words would bring me face-to-face with God.

Prior to attending last week's spiritual retreat/class, I was asked to prepare a case study of my life in reflection on one of the shaping factors in it. I, of course, jumped at the chance to write about conflict; it's something I know well. As I concluded the written portion of my case study, I ended with those words of that friend - not afraid of the big questions. With so much conflict in my life, how could I be afraid of the questions any more? I've literally been asking them for as long as I can remember. 

And I remember when I wrote those words at the end of that paper how I paused for a moment with an interested, "huh," indicating that I'd never really thought about that before. I hadn't. It was a link, a conclusion, that wasn't even on my radar. It was a moment that was...quiet. Affirming. Some sense of okayness washed over me as I considered words I had just written without considering, a conclusion that had somehow just poured out of me. Then I printed the paper, tucked it in my bag, and thought little of it until Wednesday night when it came time for me to present my case study to my peers.

I'm telling this story here, now, because I think this is one of those things we routinely get wrong in our Christian circles. We're far too interested in healing. We're far too concerned with washing over our insecurities, our infirmities, our wounds without being so interested in simply washing them. As I took a few minutes before telling my story, yet again, I thought about how none of this ever changes for me. I never get closer to this "healing" that God's supposed to provide, or at least, not close enough to feel like I'm making any significant movement on it. I thought about what it was going to mean to me to tell a story for the umpteenth time that I'm not afraid of, not ashamed of, but really...really tired of. Was this story going to haunt me forever? How many times do I have to stand on the side of the road before Jesus hears my crying out and has mercy on me? How many times must I play second fiddle to the blind man? To the deaf man? Even to the paralytic who had friends to carry him into the very house where Jesus was speaking? Where were my friends? Where were the people who were supposed to carry me to Jesus in such a way that He couldn't ignore my hurting any more? 

Amid all these frustrated thoughts was a bit of a whisper, that still, small voice that cannot be ignored. It kept saying, Not afraid of the big questions. Not afraid of the big questions. Then in a burst of painful truth, it finished the thought: Be great at that. You'll be great at that.

The truth is: I am. I am a great chaplain. I have heard that again and again since I began this work, an affirmation of my skills, abilities, and calling into this profession. In fact, every time I walk into a patient's sacred space, every insecurity I have about myself disappears. If only for those few minutes. I know this is where I'm supposed to be. 

But it was last week in that private room at that retreat center, clearly late for my presentation as I took this quiet moment with God, that I for the first time drew the lines. Well, I don't think I drew them. Dots were connected; the Spirit did the connecting. For the first time, I knew why. Or maybe how. I understood that my broken life was leading me here. I'd spent the past 18 months thinking that if I could just get past some of this, I would be a better chaplain. That if I could rid myself of these insecurities, these wounds, I would be more free for the use of God. I would truly do my best work. I was buying the lie that it's up to us to come to our brokenness in God for the sake of our healing. 

And that...that's crap. It's not that we come to our brokenness in God; we have to come to God in our brokenness. We have to bring our wounded selves to Him. Not for our healing, but for our redemption. Redemption is grace - we get what we do not deserve. Yesterday I said that mercy is for the man, and it is. But grace...grace is for God. Redemption is allowing ourselves - and our wounds - to be used by Him. Not because they are washed over but because they are washed clean. 

I was about to say these words to my peers - that I am a good chaplain, not afraid of the big questions because of my story, not in spite of it. I was about to say these words, but I hadn't even considered them. I hadn't taken the time to know what they meant to my heart. When they started to form on the tip of my tongue, they brought me to the edge of my faith. I can't even begin to describe what that moment is like. 

There was a knock on my door. One of my peers and a professor, wanting to know if I was okay. I was. I told them I'd be down in a few minutes. I took those few minutes in prayer, in conversation with God, unable to even form words but just aching out of this newly raw place within me that had just changed everything I know about me, about God, about faith, about woundedness, about brokenness, about ministry, about...about everything. Then I walked down the hall, propped myself against a corner of the couch, and started to tell my story in a way I'd never told it before. 

Again, I share this not so much because I want you to know my moment. This isn't about my moment; this is about your moment. This is about that thing inside of you that haunts you, that thing you keep crying out to Jesus about. That thing that He seems to be ignoring; that ache that He won't take away. It's making you great for something. It's making you ready for Him. You just have to give up fantasies of healing for the fantasticness of redemption. You have to be willing to stop coming to your brokenness in God and start coming to God in your brokenness and giving it away, offering it up as an aroma pleasing to Him. 

That doesn't mean God ordains your brokenness. It doesn't mean He likes it. But He's using it. He's using it right now to do big things. For His glory. 

I think that's the incredible gift of the blind man, whose eyes are opened just in time to see God's glory come through him. It's the gift of the deaf man, whose ears hear first the glory of God as revealed through him. It's the gift of the chaplain, who has spent her life asking the big questions and isn't afraid of them, but finds she has yet one more...and asks at just the moment that God's glory is come. 

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