I can’t tell you who she was, I don’t remember her name or her face or anything about her. We could have been in the salon washing hair side by side or studying in the library at college. She might have been a friend, though given my shortage in those days, I doubt it. Maybe she spoke from behind the curved glass framed by the TV we bought at H.H. Gregg early in our marriage. In the end, it doesn’t really matter who she was.
I heard her talk for a few minutes about her faith, about being in love with Jesus and while I understood the words she spoke, the concept seemed almost incestuous to me. “In love with Jesus,” my stomach churned at the thought. If I believed what I claimed, I knew it was something I should feel at least primitively but I remember being repelled at the thought and then angry. This woman, whoever she was, had the audacity to talk about the God, the Creator of heaven and earth in a way so intimate, I recoiled at the thought.
This morning, I finished a book, Choose and Choose Again, by Kevin Butcher. In it, Kevin tells stories, incredible testimonies about how God’s Love can transform our lives and compel us to follow him. Whether you grew up surround by folks of faith or not, likely you’re familiar with the concept, but real life application can be complicated.
Every day, we have a choice to believe God loves us. I believe each of our daily lives, how we interact with our families, the activities we engage in, even the way we manage our finances reflect that choice.
It sounds easy enough doesn’t it?
Not so long ago, I had painful, white-knuckle faith. Though I would have told you otherwise, my choices and emotional responses to life reflected a disbelief in the goodness of God. Often, I felt stuck or worse, trapped by my circumstances. I compensated by controlling what I could, well-behaved children, a clean home, meeting all the needs, of everyone, that crossed my path, forever and ever, til death do us part, or I track you down in eternity, amen.
For the most part, I worked my faith by encouraging other women. IRemembering birthdays and anniversaries of loss, phone calls and lunches, and generally working to be what everyone around me needed, what I was really trying to do was prove my worth to God and the entire free world. I’d been told that if they saw Jesus in me, they’d be compelled to want more of what I had. Here’s the thing though, while Jesus was in me, nothing I possessed on the inside or was attempting to live out in my daily life, felt easy or grace-filled or full of relief as a result of knowing Jesus. I can say with certainty that no one would want the kind of faith I possessed at that time.
When I began to process challenging experiences in my life, my emotional resources were quickly depleted and I was unable to hold onto my faith quite so tightly. It was during this time, that I began to realize I desired a deeper faith and that my understanding of Jesus was basically intellectual.
My white-knuckled faith was keeping me disconnected from my heart, the place where Jesus wanted me to be most alive. I didn’t recognize my heart, I wondered why other people felt things I didn’t seem to feel, much less understand. Only my closest friends knew I was kind, but many others experienced the freeze from my frozen, protective shell, birthed out of a disconnection between what I believed and how I felt.
In 1998, I experienced a devastating miscarriage which marked the beginning of the end of my “work it Marcy” faith. Though I understood none of this at the time, that year, I began the journey to connect with my heart.
Excavating the heart can be some scary business. It’s mysterious. Sometimes she’s been buried so deep and hidden so carefully we can only recognize her physical nudges. She causes our hearts to race or and our thoughts to circle, sometimes she gives us pictures of her isolation through our dreams. Maybe she pricks our eyes unexpectedly with undefined tears. No matter how she speaks to us we can be certain of one thing. We have a choice to let her surface and begin sorting through her beautiful, complex menagerie or we can wipe the evidence of her away as we silence her opportunity to teach us hope and joy, often through the center of very broken places. While we have a choice to begin letting her have a voice or not, we muddle God’s redemptive story within us when we side-step our brokenness. The result is white-knuckle faith.
If I would have read Kevin’s book in 1998 I would have teared up through some of the heartbreaking stories he tells but told you that the only brokenness I’d experienced was the loss of my first child. I would have told you that any pain I might be experiencing was that of my own doing. I’d have spoken of stubbornness and unforgiveness in some difficult relationships and then I would have gone on to tell you there was nothing really hard about my childhood, I didn’t have one of those sad stories where Jesus heroed in and rescued me. You would have heard me say “I only need to…..If I would just…….I know that if I…..” and any number of things that we ‘good’ christian girls say. You would have heard me accept responsibility for every challenging aspect of my marriage and my work and with each word you could have looked down at my hands and seen my knuckles becoming whiter.
In many ways, it’s easier to be responsible for our own faith, or at least it was for me. It helped me make sense of him, feel like I had a handle on his choices. After all, if I can blame my disappointment or my “one thing” on myself, if I’m expected to hold up my end of the bargain, then it’s up to me to fix things. Do the right thing, say the right thing, pack up and move to the right place, Then God will hold up his end of the bargain. It keeps me powerful and God disposable.
If I’ve learned anything in the last decade, it’s that God is not who I thought he was. He’s more and he’s less, bigger and smaller, stronger and sweeter, faster and slower, in other words, he is to my right and my left, both above and below me, he hems me in behind and before, the darkness is not dark to him and the night is light as day. (My paraphrase Ps. 139) It is for those things today that I am thankful.
P.S. I can’t tell you how much i hope you run right over to Amazon and pick up Kevin’s book. Today it’s listed right around the bargain price of $8.00 and I popped in a link at the bottom. Kevin is a phenomenal story teller and if you ever have the opportunity to meet him? Ask him about the time I was a baby and he threw me up in the air. Let’s just say he was one tall teenager and neither the ceiling or my head fared too well. Good memories, right there!