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.