In church this autumn we are doing a series on Encounters with God. Yesterday we had the story of Jacob wrestling with the stranger in the night, who he later realizes was somehow God himself. Before this, Jacob wrestles, unrelenting. He won’t let go, not until he receives a blessing.
But wait – it’s God Himself who wrestles with Jacob? Yup, God comes down to Jacob’s level. He puts up with Jacob’s wrestling all night, though with a touch he puts out his hip, and could easily have done much more. In the end, He gives in to Jacob’s demand for His blessing.
God not only humours engagement with Jacob, but seeks it out. He’s the one that starts the fight. And Jacob is rewarded for persevering and overcoming. He gets a name change, an identity conversion.
The events in my life this year have put fuel to some of the questions people face at various times in their lives. Are you really there, God? Are you really good? Can I trust you when it looks like the answer is ‘no’? Just to cite the most obvious.
I love that the Bible shows us that God not only allows, but promotes these sort of questions, when they are brought to him. David, who had all sorts of complaints (mostly pretty legitimate!), was called a man after God’s heart. God hears an awful lot from Job before He steps in with an answer.
The danger is that we take our questions and complaints elsewhere, or nowhere at all, where they fester and rot within us. I have been guilty of this for sure.
God, I want the courage to come to you. To say give me an answer, or show me yourself, anything – I just won’t let go until I have something more from you.
As we set off for Micah’s school in the morning, he often asks me, ‘Can I go on your shoulders?’ More often than not I carry him to school – it’s something we both enjoy.
These days I’m saying the same thing to God – can I go on your shoulders? Can you carry me for a bit? I don’t have the strength in myself right now. I can’t muster up the discipline in myself to spring out of bed, I find getting out of bed so hard. I feel at least mildly depressed. I can’t conjure up faith from myself that everything will work out brilliantly, I need God to provide the faith. I feel like the father in Mark 9 who said “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
I can’t pull myself out of this greyness, I know that only God can rescue, only He can restore hope, can make me live. He’s teaching me about grace right now.
Paul says in 2 Cor 12:9-10: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I can’t say I’m delighting in my weaknesses – I don’t like feeling weak, I grieve for the Paul before this happened who had a (seemingly) greater handle on the way things worked, a more stable view on God’s ways. This experience has shaken my view of myself and my place in the world. It’s also revealed how much I rely on myself, and don’t see God as a gracious Father.
A couple weeks ago a wise woman called Cathie said to me, God always acts towards us with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. He is always loving towards us, always kind. He is always patient towards us. He is always, always gentle. And He wants us to treat ourselves, and others, in the same way.
I don’t find it easy being patient with myself, nor to be gentle and kind. I have high expectations of myself. As I feel my weakness so acutely right now, I’m having to shed many expectations I place on myself, and to throw myself on the grace of God, calling out with more sincerity than ever before, ‘God, without you, I really am nothing!’
God, you are my saviour, my only hope. Without you I’m nothing – I cannot rescue myself. I cannot pull myself from this place. Shine your light on me. Fill me with your hope once again. Don’t let my pride keep me from experiencing the endless grace of your love. I bind myself to you Jesus, my saviour and my God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Roman’s 8:28
The events of the last two months has shaken my confidence, mostly in myself and my ability to discern reality and make good decisions. Because the drug affected my brain and confused my judgments of what was happening around me, I started questioning if I could trust what I was thinking and feeling. It was a very destabilizing place to be, from which I think I am still recovering. It’s also led me to question whether the above verse is true – how could this be for my good?
It’s made decision making very difficult as I’ve felt paralyzed for lack of knowing the consequences of my actions and fear of getting it wrong.
But this is wrong thinking based on a wrong idea of God. Is He a father who lets us make huge irreparable mistakes without warning us? No, and to be clear, nothing is irreparable with God. Or is he a father who condemns us for our mistakes and rubs our noses in it til we’ve learned our lesson? My actions sometimes betray such beliefs.
No! God is NOT out to punish, to bring down, to weaken. He describes himself as a good shepherd, tenderly looking after his sheep. Or a mother hen brooding over her chicks. Or the best father who knows how to give good gifts to his children. Condemnation does not come from Him. He does not want me to be confused and doubting but faith filled and of a sound mind! He is not out to make me less stable and able but more – in Him! He is more involved than I give Him credit for. If he allows me to go through testing and trying times it’s because He knows the end result and is committed to seeing me through it.
God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [or tested] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 cor 10:13
May my confusion be replaced with clarity, my doubt with faith, my fear with trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God. May my response in trial be that of this song, Trust you Jesus by Aaron Keyes (watch on YouTube)
For ultimately, though it’s comforting to be able to trust in one-self, my confidence is misplaced if it is not at root firmly placed in God the Father. His steadfast love is not shaken when I am. His resolve and commitment to me is unwavering though I doubt him. He is my Father, my dad whose love is unconditional, strong and pure, not based on my actions, abilities or faith. In fact there are NO conditions to it, whatsoever!
Thank you God of all the universe, who I can call my dad. Fill me with the knowledge of this love, so that I may be confident in You.
One of the first questions you have to answer when starting a blog is who it’s for. I first of all set ‘private’ – erring on being conservative is my default I suppose. As an introvert, I often have to make a conscious choice to let others in.
So I want to simply say: you’re welcome. Read much, read little, whoever you may be. I want to make choices, in the big and the small, whenever I can, to let others into my life, to see who I am. Let this be a step in that direction.
Choosing to be vulnerable is rarely easy. But as I have, I’ve discovered that the majority of people will not mock, make fun cruelly, but are actually for me. I’m certainly preaching to myself here; may I have the courage to be as open in my relationships as I am on here. May openness in one context inspire openness in all.
For the more we open ourselves to others the more our world expands.
Origins are an important thing – something’s beginning tells a lot about what it is, what it was made for.
After my ‘episode’ in Africa this April, my rather extreme reaction to larium, to be precise, Tim and Cath suggested that I do some writing to help me process, to ‘leave something special for your kids and friends’. Writing for my children seems an appropriate place to start, and I certainly won’t run out of material with such a subject!
To go further, this experience has faced me with my own human frailness, my mortality in a way I’ve not experienced before. In my confused, larium-toxified mental state I was under the impression that I only had weeks to live, that time is running out. It threw me into panics, which of course isn’t right. But the truth is that our time is running out. Only God knows how long we have here, and nothing we do can guarantee ourselves of any more of it. The best we can do is make the most of it – live well, love well, be present in each moment to whoever we’re with. So I want to pass on something of that to my kids too.
I don’t naturally stop very well; I don’t think many people do. Recovering from this episode has forced me to slow down. It’s my desire that this blog would help me develop a pattern of slowing down, of looking deeper, closer at life, and as a result to live more fully, more richly. In cramming lots in, in an effort to get the most out of life, I think we sometimes miss what’s right in front of us.
I can’t guarantee that this will be the best writing, in fact I suspect that trying to be clever will sabotage my desire to be honest, and real. That’s a trap I often fall into. Life’s too short to put on pretenses and pretend to be something we’re not, hey?
I am what I am, by the grace of God, no more no less, and I do not want to pretend to be anything different. Let that be the mantra of these writings.