Friday, January 10, 2014

The Blessings of Giving Up

            “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  (Matthew 6:27)
            “We live by faith, not by sight.”  (2 Cor. 5:7)

            What do you do when life falls down around you?  When you find leaky pipes in your basement and need to get your front yard dug up to replace the old lead pipes coming into your house as soon as you can?  For several thousand dollars?  When, try as you might, you can’t get ahead in life because caring for a family of six on one income is very difficult?  When your house has been in “construction mode” for years because you don’t have the money to fix it up and you have to rely on the gracious, free help that you get now and then?  When your family has all moved away, leaving you to feel a little like an orphan?  When they find a brain tumor in your mother-in-law a few days before Thanksgiving . . . and the prognosis doesn’t sound good?  
            What do you do?  I think after years of perfecting my ability to worry, I might have finally found a different answer. 

            “Give up!” 
            When we found the leaky pipe, I was tempted to panic.  But after years of doing this, I am tired of being anxious.  I have been anxious for years.  About our health, about our finances, about homeschooling, about everything.  But I! AM! TIRED!  I am tired of feeling like everything rests on me, like I have to know what to do.  Because I don’t.  In fact, as I get older, I feel less and less confident in my ability to handle anything.  And so when we found the leak, I did the only thing I could think of.  I prayed about it.
            “Lord, I can’t be anxious about anything else.  I am too exhausted.  And it doesn’t do any good to worry anyway.  It seems that no matter what we do, we can’t get ahead.  So I am going to have to accept that this is our place in life.  Help me to accept it graciously.  Take this worry from me and replace it with Your peace.  I can’t think about it.  I don’t know what to do.  But You do.  So with this pipe problem, please guide us and provide for us.  And You do the worrying for me.”
            And you know what, I feel better.  I really do.  I’ve come to find out recently that a really effective prayer is when I tell God what I am feeling honestly, and I ask Him to take it from me and to replace it with His peace or wisdom or contentment or whatever.  He answers this prayer.  But for so long, I never thought to ask it.  I lived like I had to accept and deal with those kinds of feelings: the anxiety, the fear, the heartache, the discontent.  But I am learning.
            And so this year, as part of my New Year’s resolution, I am going to give up worrying.  (Yeah, we’ll see how long this lasts.  But for today, I feel at peace.)  Worrying really is just an attempt to grab control, to hold onto power over our lives and circumstances.  And, oddly enough, we don’t even really have the control or the power anyway.  We just like to convince ourselves that we do.  And so we struggle and worry and try to force things.  But “giving up” is sometimes the best way to acknowledge God’s right to be God in our lives.
            And honestly . . . it’s terrifying sometimes.  Because it goes against our human tendencies of self-preservation, self- protection, and self-sufficiency.  We don’t like to be at the mercy of anyone else, to have to rely on others.  Even God.  Because we’ve been let down before.  We don’t like to not have the answers up front.  We want God to run things past us first. We want veto-power.  We don’t like to live on meager resources because it makes us feel vulnerable, like we are living on thin ice, ready to break through and drown at any moment.        
            But living a humbled life of faith means that we do not often get answers in advance or the resources before we need them.  He does not ask us for permission or run His ideas past us.  We don’t get to know what the next step is until He lights the way.  When we live life His way, we get what we need as we walk forward with Him in obedience.  We get what we need when it’s in His time and in His way.  And we learn what our real needs are when we lay them down before the Lord and give Him the right to alter them or rearrange them.      
            How many times are our “needs” really just great, big wants?  We want an easy life.  Perfect health.  A big house.  A giant flat-screen television.  We want enough money to live in comfort.  We want to be free of constant problems, of leaky pipes, of cavities in our teeth.  We want God to bless us the way we want to be blessed.  We want guarantees, and answers up front, and to know why God does what He does. 
            But this is not the way it works.  And we don’t really need these things.  What we need is to learn to walk in faith, to be obedient no matter what, to trust that God is a good, loving Father, and to learn contentment.  And these things are only learned through the hard lessons.  I think being too comfortable and too in-control is the enemy of true contentment.    
            But when we give up our rights – the right to have things our way, to control life, to get what we want, to know what’s going on – we finally begin to live life on God’s terms.  We give Him the room to work and we find out what He is capable of.  We see doors open that we didn’t even know were there.  Our priorities get straightened out.  We learn that we can live with a lot less than we thought.  We learn to listen to that “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit.  And we learn what “living by faith” really means.  We begin to follow instead of lead.  We begin to see God as the mysterious, wild Being that He is.  He cannot be contained in our little boxes.  He cannot be completely understood.  He cannot be manipulated.  He’s not our errand boy.  And He does not operate on our terms.
            Every problem we face presents us with a choice – the choice of demanding our rights, demanding that God does things our way.  Or the choice to fall down at His feet and proclaim that He is God and we are not, to trust and obey, no matter how He chooses to answer our prayers. 
            Our job is to pray.  His job is to answer.  Our job is to follow in obedience.  His is to lead.  And when we don’t know what to do, our job is to wait patiently for clarity and to continue to abide in Him until He opens and closes doors.  This is not as clear-cut as we wish it would be.  We do not get to sit in the driver’s seat.  We do not get the road map and directions ahead of time.  But it wouldn’t be called “faith” if we did.