Saturday, December 26, 2009

Longing for Light

For the past few weeks, I've been passing through the kitchen periodically and turning our Amaryllis pot a half turn. I didn't think much about it until recently. Every December we receive a bulb, and as it grows, the long stalks lean toward the sunlight coming through the windows. To compensate for the skewed growth, we simply rotate the pot regularly to keep the stems growing straight.

During this same time, I've been doing a lot of contemplative reading through the book "Shattered Dreams." Because the book relates so immediately to my struggles with faith, doubt, God's silence, and unanswered prayer, I have been letting each chapter settle in my mind before moving on to the next. I'm still not done with the book, but the premise behind it is that God sometimes allows our earthly dreams to die in order that we may discover our ultimate dream - to be in intimate relationship with Him.

It sounds like a nice idea, doesn't it? But it glosses over a lot of things - namely, why can't I keep my earthly dreams and have God too? Is it really necessary for faithful followers of God, who already desire to do his will, to be crushed with heartache and have their lives derailed? Is all this stuff about going deeper with God just made up to make us feel better or nobler about suffering - some sort of consolation prize?

I've wrestled with these thoughts as I have read, and to be honest, I have felt both uneasy and comforted with the bluntness that Larry Crabb uses to describe how unresponsive and silent God can be. Yes, I have experienced this, but no, I do not want to believe that God can allow us such pain and long periods of darkness into our lives. I want a God where (to cite the book), when I press the "call nurse" button, he shows up!

The problem is that God does not speak audibly or show up physically, and spiritually he can seem very slow, if not absent. He often refrains from changing circumstances right when we ask, opting for more subtle methods of communication, and it's tempting at times to think he's just not there - or if he is, that he somehow doesn't care.

"It's hard enough to develop a personal relationship with an invisible God, one whose voice I never hear the way I hear a friend's voice over the phone; it's even harder to feel close to an unresponsive God." - pg 21 Shattered Dreams

And when all the unresponsiveness of God hits my soul, where do I turn to get the immediate relief I'm looking for?

That's the question we all must answer at one time or another. When dreams I hold dear shatter devastatingly on this earth, what do I do to cope with the searing pain?

I have developed all kinds of coping mechanisms (some healthier than others), but primarily, I turn to relationships. I want different relationships now than I once did. So many shallow and superfluous things used to matter, but now I desperately want friends who will understand, listen, and comfort. I want to be around people who are good, wise, and kind. I seek people who will last with me loyally through the hard times and not bail because things get (and stay) difficult. And I find myself fiercely hungry for truth - for people to be honest, transparent, sincere. I'm hungry for right-ness and for justice - to see people treated with respect, blessings for good and punishment for evil, relief of suffering. I'm hungry for love - for protective, lasting, perfect love.

And when I realized last week that all these things, for which I'm now passionately longing, are the essence of God's character - lived out through Jesus Christ - it occurred to me that I'm hungrier than ever for the Son of God himself. Everywhere I see a hint of His likeness, I subconsciously flock to it. Because of my trials, I'm now leaning toward His light like an Amaryllis bending and craving the sun. And it just might be that this dark time of shattered dreams actually has unearthed a whole new dream in me after all...growing under the heat of adversity while I was unaware.

I looked up the word "phototropism" the other day, and by definition, it is the growing toward or away from the light. I think we all have this response when hard times hit. We have to grow. It's in our very nature. But which direction do we take? It's either to grow deep into bitterness, addictions, and pain, shunning God and blocking him out, or we stretch more longingly toward God, searching out ways to help others, ways to comfort and be comforted, straining toward any hint of light we can find.

Just like table lamps for plants are a poor substitute for the sun, I often fall for the trap of mistaking people with positive traits or feel-good activities for the ultimate source of light. Trying to substitute for God has left me disappointed, frustrated, and unfulfilled. It's becoming clear that I cannot be fully satisfied by anyone other than Jesus, The Son himself - the one I was created to love and long for. I now recognize that every hint of light I see in people points me to Him. He is the true desire of my soul, and that desire is growing stronger every day of this long trial.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
Micah 7:8

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Better Plans than Mine

Even after learning my lesson about trusting the crochet pattern over my own faulty reasoning, I still found myself experiencing moments of intense doubt right up to the last day of making this. I worked just to the edge of the wing, and instead of telling me to finish it off, the pattern instructed me to divert and work on another section instead. "That makes absolutely no sense," I thought to myself. "Why would I leave the tip undone when I'm in the position to quickly and easily do it now?"

I continued to doubt the pattern-maker's unorthodox ways, which frequently ran contrary to my own plans, but the directions turned out to be valid and right each and every time. Many steps along the way seemed arbitrary, pointless, needless, or just plain wrong. But as you can see, the One who went before me and designed it all had a very good end in mind!

Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.

In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (Amp)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Pattern-Maker

Just last week, my mom and I ordered our Christmas tree. It's arriving today!

We used to have a lovely artificial tree from my childhood; however, my family and I lost our home and possessions to hidden water damage and toxic mold in 1998. Virtually everything (including the tree) was lost in that catastrophe. Since that time, we've struggled with losses of all shapes and sizes. It's not been an easy road to rebuild a life, to rebuild a home, to rebuild traditions, and most importantly to rebuild our damaged health, especially in the midst of subsequent trials and challenges.

The past several years, we've celebrated Christmas without a tree. I thought that this year we could use a new one to lift our spirits and to try to have some "normal" moments in the midst of abnormal circumstances.

In the process of ordering the new tree, I realized that we did not have an angel to go on top! One of my favorite memories from childhood was placing our little crocheted angel on top of our beautifully decorated tree to finish the job. It was the official start to Christmas.

Since I enjoy crocheting, I looked for a pattern I could use to make a special tree-topper. I found a picture of the perfect little angel on a website and purchased the pattern. The pattern was 8 pages long and the most complicated crochet project I'd ever attempted.

I started out one stitch at a time, and by last night, I had begun the intricate design on the skirt. Row after row of spacing and stitching revealed a lovely lace, but when I examined the picture of the finished product, it didn't look the same to me. A sinking feeling crept into my stomach. I started to doubt the pattern, thinking there must be some mistake. I checked and rechecked the rows, but the design still did not seem to match up to what I thought it should look like. I even considered making a modification myself or ripping out the hours of work I'd already done.

Finally, I had to make a decision to trust the pattern and just keep going. It was blind trust. I couldn't see how these rows would all come together to create my ideal angel. I ran the risk of losing more time and effort if I had to rip it out later. I simply had to decide that since the pattern-maker had seen this work from beginning to end, it must be the right path to follow.

A few rows later, it became clear. I saw the pattern forming right before my eyes!

Suddenly, the spiritual parallel hit me. The Bible is the pattern that God wrote for life. If I follow it line by line, book by book, my life will be woven into the best possible design. However, in the midst of following it, things can look confusing, even like there's been some big mistake. Sometimes I might think, "Lord, this doesn't look right. This doesn't look like the kind of life you promised!"

Taking it upon myself to deviate from the pattern of God's word will cause a lot of problems. Trying to correct God's pattern to fit society's ideals, my desires, and to please other people is the biggest mistake I can make. Compromising biblical truth will never give me God's best.

Trust comes when I make the choice to continue in faith step-by-step, stitch-by-stitch, according to God's pattern. Only then will the fabric of my life form and develop in a way pleasing to him. His instructions may sound wrong, or even impossible to follow. Do good to my enemies? Overcome evil with good? Deny myself? Take up my cross? Lay down my life? It's counter-intuitive to follow some of Christ's commands. But when I have faith to rely on The Pattern-Maker who has already seen my life from beginning to end, I don't have to worry. Each Biblical choice built on the next will create the final product I desire - a life that glorifies God.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:15-16

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2