Friday, May 15, 2015
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
In life, if you're lucky, God will pursue you as a child. He'll place you in a family of believers. He'll give you a teachable spirit, a humble heart, a happy home, and a sound church. That was not my road. I grew up as a Christian, but it was a social identity, not faith, and the older I got, the further and further away I fell. A lot of that stemmed from my parents' divorce. Those were dark times in our house, and everything that we knew was suddenly sinking sand.
But I wasn't going to sink. Because you can't make me do what I don't want to do. That's what I thought the secret to life was.
By middle school, I was often praised for my stubbornness, and therefore, I came to believe that impertinence was a virtue. That prideful bossiness made me valuable because I wasn't weak.
By high school, I had a series of boyfriends, some good and some less than such. And I never stopped for a break from relationships because if I didn't have a boy interested in me it meant that I wasn't valuable.
I drank and smoked and drove fast and played rough and worked hard and basically did everything I could think of to prove to anyone I met that I. Was. Valuable. I was a tough girl who didn't care what others thought of me, or said of me, or heard of me.
Now, despite this behavior, I believed in God...kind of. I believed in "a God," as in the way that people do when they say it apologetically or defensively, with the "I mean, I'm sure that there is a creative "force" out there that guides us and sets karma into action, etc...but as for which god is the right god, I mean, does that even really matter? Cause we all basically believe the same stuff anyway - don't lie, don't steal, don't murder people. Geez, it's not like I'm Hitler!" attitude.
And this went on and on, through college, and through meeting and dating my future husband, and through our engagement.
And through the death of my grandmother that nearly broke me in every way a person can be broken.
And through a year and a half of unbelievably painful, full-body joint inflammation that pulled me into the deepest pit of depression I have ever known.
And through drug treatments that left me suicidal.
And through a pregnancy that should have ended a hundred times over, and by the grace of God, did not.
And through a second pregnancy, so soon after the first that it seemed as if the first never stopped.
And through two solid years without a single full night of sleep.
And through a young marriage so overwhelmed with babies and medical bills and mortgages that divorce was on the table.
Through all that, I refused to be humbled. "Because you can't make me do what I don't want to do. And I don't care if you are God. I am the master of my own destiny. I will take my life up by its scruff and tame it into submission. I. Am. IN. CONTROL."
Except I felt totally out of control. And I knew that I was out of control, that my life was out of control. So I searched. I spent about five months trying to figure out how to fix my life. More adventure. Less responsibility. A change in diet. A new haircut. A new plan for managing household chores and expenses. Nightly alone time, away from each other. More wine. A lot more wine.
For a while, I really thought it was working. It was working. But it wasn't changing anything. I didn't get any happier; I just got my way. I didn't get any closer to my husband; we just didn't fight every day. I didn't love my children or my life any better. It was a tourniquet of sorts. The bleeding stopped, but the wound was still there.
And then, out of the blue, I began to team plan with another teacher in my department. It was a strange relationship to begin with because I don't "team" anything. And we had basically nothing in common...except that she also has a husband named Adam, a young daughter, and a younger son. We became friends, and really for absolutely no reason at all, I asked her one day where she went to church. So, she invited us.
I went. And it was a completely foreign experience the first time. It was a Wednesday night, and part of the time was spent in corporate prayer before the sermon. I had no idea what to do or say, so I just listened and hoped that I wouldn't have to say anything out loud.
But, despite my awkward discomfort, there was this feeling of honest worship that radiated from this body of believers that really appealed to me. It's strange to try and explain, but I could feel that no one was there out of family obligation or social ladder climbing. They were there to learn, to sing, and to pray. It was the most honest display of Christianity I had ever seen.
So, we went back. And on my first Sunday, the pastor preached from Matthew 14 - the recounting of Christ walking on water. I was familiar with the storyline, so I was somewhat surprised when the pastor didn't focus on Jesus's ability to walk on water. I mean, I thought that was the point?
But it wasn't the point. The point was that Peter, despite seeing Jesus standing there in front of him, didn't want to get out of the boat because he was afraid of drowning. Afraid of making the wrong choice. He had all the rational reason in the world to trust Christ. Jesus was standing in front of him, holding out his hand and asking Peter to get out of the boat, but still, Peter was afraid.
And I realized that my whole life, God had been asking me to get out of the boat. To just trust Him, to take His hand, and walk with Him. But I was afraid. I was afraid that if I made the wrong choice - if I chose the Christian God and that turned out to be wrong, I was afraid that I would sink.
But then again, I thought, I'm already drowning.
So we stayed on, and about 10 months later, I heard something that would radically change the way I saw my life and all my trials.
This time we were in Matthew 26 at the last supper, and Jesus was telling Peter that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny him three times. Well, of course, Peter refused to accept that, and he told Jesus, quite insistently, that he would never deny him. Peter, of course, was wrong.
But that wasn't the point. The frailty and fallibility of man isn't something that needs to be demonstrated to be understood. The point was that, despite Peter outright denying that he was a follower of Christ, Christ still pursued him. In the moments after Peter denied Jesus for a third time, Luke wrote in 22:61 that the Lord turned and looked at him. He didn't turn away from Peter. He didn't shut him out or cut him off. He pursued him in his shame, and Peter was broken.
I was broken by that. It never occurred to me that all of the trials in my life were actually blessings. God pursued me in all my sin and shame and active rebellion and denial of Him. In all of those moments when I felt as if I was choking on the dark water of my life, on death and sickness and fear and hate and guilt, God had been leading me to this single thought:
I can't do anything in my own power. You are my God. You love and value me more than I love and value myself. I am not the master of my own destiny.
I am not in control.
"And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus."
(Matthew 14:28-29 ESV)
If you are in a dark place right now, a place where everything keeps getting darker, and where everything that you imagined your life to be is crumbling, and hopelessness is settling in, and you feel like you are drowning, know this:
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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
I've been there.
God's power is made perfect in your weakness.
His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.
And you will find rest for your soul.