This season in my life has been really taxing on my heart. There are some days as soon as I’m conscious enough to turn off my alarm, this immediate sadness seeps deep into my bones. While we’re resilient creatures hardwired for struggle, I’m not exempt from that small corner of my heart, that if I slow my life down enough, it feels like I can’t get enough oxygen to it. It’s hard to accept that you’ll never always be perfectly happy and that all your relationships, however wonderful, are still pretty broken. One of the oldest stories told goes like this: the Creator dwelled on earth with all the beasts of the earth and sky, among beautiful, untainted nature and he was pleased. But it pleased him even more to draw out from dust Adam, and from Adam’s rib, Eve. And the Creator loved them above all his other works. He lived with them and gave them responsibility over the land. The Creator who could choose to dwell among the galaxies, among his angels, in the depths of the sea, or seated in the grandest of palaces, desired to walk in the cool of the evening among his creation. Mankind lacked nothing. And yet Eve doubted, when she was alone with the serpent, that the Creator withheld a single good thing from her. In that moment, the world became broken.
This story is as old as time and as a kid that grew up hearing this story before I could even comprehend it’s meanings for my humanness and the necessity for redemption, it’s still easy to allow this story become a fanciful child’s introductory to God. As a highly educated society, this story gets put on the back burner because maybe we believe faith and science cannot intersect or maybe we do but are too nervous to explore. I don’t know how exactly it all shook out, but reading this book several times over the last couple of weeks, one thing that stands out as particularly true in my life is this: When Eve began to doubt that the Creator withheld a good thing from her, she chose sin to try to prove him a liar, and instead her whole existence became broken beyond self-repair and her life was just a shadow of what once was. Oh, how I see this pattern in my life! And it hurts to realize that I see my choices are no different from Eve’s. My greatest struggle in my humanness is that I believe deeply that I know what is best for me better than my Creator. And that when He asks me to cease striving, planning, fixing, dreaming, that I dig my heels deep in the ground below and keep him at arm’s length, expecting harsh words and terrible fallout. And yet, as I see through the fabric of His story, all He is waiting for in the perfection of his time, it to hold me tightly, binding up all my sadness and pain and we will be taken up to be with Him while he restores Earth. It’s always been his plan for us to return together, to work among a perfected land with our hands, all of my relationships restored to a common desire to walk again with God in the cool of the evening, laughing because there’s no reason not to, and worshipping a Creator who has and always will desire to be in close proximity with his children.
In the wake of all the persecution and executions of so many Christians in northern Syria, it serves to remind me of the magnitude of suffering millions of Christians withstand worldwide to give me perspective on struggle. I’m baffled and yet grateful for the promise of Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, or that Christ bids us to follow him, to come and die. Everything in the Creator’s kingdom is upside-down as it seeks to reconcile God to man. And yet, even in the midst of others’ extreme suffering, the Lord cares and is working out the detail in my struggle! So when my white, middle class culture around me says that if I just got that better job or simplified my life or invest in my community, and I do and it’s good, safe, and yet unsatisfying, I have to remember that sometimes obeying God means he leads us into unemployment, or relational chaos, or seasons of solitude, and yet, if He is there, where else have we to go but to Him? Sometimes he calls us like Peter in John 21 “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to Peter, “Follow me!” and Peter did! I am beginning to grasp that when He leads you where you do not wish to go, that is where healing takes place and my communion with him is sweetest –rawest, but sweetest. And when I let go of my desires, my flesh, the things I was never promised, I stand in solidarity with those who would lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel in oppressed countries and bear witness that their love is not misplaced, that their hope is indeed “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” When we become the woman in Hosea 2 that Christ allures, leads into the wilderness and speaks tenderly to, He makes our valley a door of hope. Oh, that our church would let go of the notions that we will get it right this side of heaven, that suffering should not be a part of our lives, and that our spiritual dispositions be sterile and self-righteous! I pray that we would wake up every day willing to go where we do not wish to, that our affections be only for the Creator and that our trust be so sure that rain or shine, blessing or hardship, weak or strong, satisfied or in need, in oppressed third world countries or suburbia USA, we can lay our heads down every night and say “Hallelujah, our God reigns!”
So when I wake up in the morning, unable to reach for the thing the Creator has taken from me, I choose to remember that I have “God in my soul and Christ in my flesh” and commune with One my humanness tries to suffocate in the expanses of my soul. Last night I sat on a worn dorm couch with three women of varying ages, education, backgrounds, and paths to faith in Christ, my heart was so heavy I didn’t even want to show up. I didn’t want to talk about Genesis because it would remind me why my day was horrible –that I am sinful and that my world is not is as it should. Instead I was reminded over and over that God is working all things to be reunited with us, that He desires our closeness as much as I desire His, and that which He has taken from me does not prove Him to be a liar, but rather that His thoughts are not my thoughts nor His ways my ways. My friend Tamika, a married woman of two adorable kids, confessed to the girls at Lincoln yesterday, “I’m more aware at thirty-three than I was in my twenties of God’s presence in my life. And when I don’t feel his presence I choose to, otherwise I will succumb to loneliness.”
The Creator withholds no good thing from his children. My flesh bites back at this but in the quiet, in the tears, the Spirit replies, “my grace is enough for you–my power is perfected in weakness”. May we all choose to trust in His presence and work in our lives, even when our flesh rises up and squelches the truths we learned from the beginning. May we not succumb to a loneliness that lies to us that our struggle is for naught. He works all things to our reconciliation and reunion to himself, which is far better than anything we could ever ask for or imagine.
“I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” -Hosea 2:23