Saturday, April 12, 2014

I Still Believe

            There have been so many disappointments in my life.  (Not only my life, but life in general on this earth.)  So many things that make me feel discouraged . . . make me feel bad about myself . . . make me wonder if I’m doing anything worthwhile or right, or wonder if I matter. 

            Just yesterday, I took a walk with my two sons and we had just made it back home.  But about 100 feet away, I saw an elderly neighbor walking our way during her daily walk.  I have made it a point to reach out to this lady because she has no family at home anymore.  I smile, ask about her, and invite her to come sit on our lawn swing for a little chat.  I thought I was maybe adding a little bit of joy to her life. 
            As she headed our way, I decided to linger a bit in the front yard till she reached us so I could say “Hi.”  I know she saw me, and it didn’t seem right to not take a moment to chat when we were just feet apart.  So I walked around and made it look like I was checking on the flowers for a moment.  But when I glanced up again, she had apparently made an abrupt 180-degree spin and was headed back the way she came. 
            Of course, it could be that she just remembered she left the stove on and had to run home quickly.  But for some reason, that really hurt me.  It almost felt like a deliberate snub.  And it came moments after another rather new neighbor (with a new baby) basically ran to her house when I was passing by.  I was going to congratulate her on the new baby, but she didn’t even give me a chance. 
            What am I supposed to make of this?  Am I toxic?  Why do I turn people off?  Well, this got me thinking about all the other people who seemed to have left me in my life.  All the other failures and unmet expectations.  The lack of joy in my life, the unanswered prayers, and the feeling that God is very far away right now.  Things just feel so wrong right now in so many areas.  And I have been desperately trying to get through these feelings, usually by digging for hidden blessings, the little daily things to be thankful about.  But the good feelings just don’t last.  The joy comes and goes.  I think the only thing that I really look forward to lately is Jesus coming back again.  Getting out of this place. 
            Of course, there are many things to be thankful for in my relatively comfortable, blessed life.  But I think what I really long for is ultimate healing, rest, and peace.  I’m tired of the “rat race” of life.  And I’m in a very “Ecclesiastes” mood right now.  “Meaningless, meaningless.  Everything’s meaningless!”  But for now, here I am.  And I have a job to do.  Children to love and raise.  A husband to cherish and care for.  A house to clean every day.  Meals to make.  A God to serve and reflect to others. 
            And I don’t mind that my life’s work isn’t more “glamorous.”  I just wish that I could feel good about myself, that I could be happy with my contribution to life instead of always feeling like I’ll never do enough, never do good enough, and never really matter.
            Anyway, I’m not writing this post to whine or complain.  But I’m writing it to help myself figure out what I need to do about all this.  I need to find a way to be more content with life.  To be more joyful despite all the disappointments.  Of course, I believe in naming the blessings that God gives me.  That does help.  But I need to do more than that.  I need to redefine the disappointments in life and see them in a different light.
            I think it honors God when we release our lives into His care.  When we trust in His providence.  When we admit that He is God and we are not.  When we willingly accept what He allows into our lives instead of demanding what we want.  And for me, part of this is letting go of my expectations and my dreams of how things “should” be (as I already wrote in a previous post.)  I really, really want to be okay with prayers not being answered my way.  I want to be content with things not being what I want them to be.  I want to be able to say, “Whatever You do in my life, Lord, I still believe in Your love and goodness.” 
            I think it takes a lot of faith to believe that God can do what we are asking Him to do and that He’ll use us greatly for His glory.  But I think it takes even more faith to see our dreams get shattered, our prayers go unanswered, our efforts fall flat, and to be benched on the sidelines, and yet still say, “Lord, I still believe in You.  And I will praise You regardless.” 
            This is where our faith gets tested the most, where our spiritual lives get refined and pruned.  This is where we find out not only what we are really made of, but also what He is made of.  Because once we come to the end of ourselves and our efforts and our desires – once all the impurities are burned away and the idols are trimmed from our lives – then we come to see Him and ourselves more clearly.  And we begin to see how much we have made our lives about ourselves instead of about Him, how much we have pursued our desires instead of His desires for us, and how content we can be with so much less than we thought we “needed.”    
            That’s where I am in life right now.  For the last several years actually.  I’m slowly learning to let go of my goals and expectations.  I’m learning to open up my clenched fist and release to God all of the dreams I have for myself.  I’m learning to see who I really am in Him alone, as opposed to my own ideas of who I am and what I am capable of.  And I’m learning to let Him be enough for me as I am being stripped of friendships, comforting self-views, lofty goals, and impressive accomplishments. 
            I’ll be honest, it’s not fun and it’s not easy.  It’s heartbreaking actually to come face to face with failures and losses and neighbors who walk away from you.  But I remembered today that one of my greatest fears as a Christian was that I would become too comfortable with this life, and then become too focused on it and useless for the Kingdom of God.  I always feared becoming so enamored with the trappings of earth that I might end up chasing temporary idols and delights instead of chasing God. 
            But it dawned on my today what a blessing all of these heartaches and disappointments have been.  If anything, they keep me from loving this world too much or becoming too comfortable with it.  They keep me running after the only thing that really matters and that really satisfies: God and His Kingdom.  Nothing else can provide that kind of real, solid, lasting hope.  Nothing else can comfort me as deeply and securely as knowing that the best is yet to come and that all things will be made new and right when we meet God in eternity. 
            And I would rather have a life full of disappointments that keeps me seeking after God and that spiritually refines me than a life of comfort where the only things I am concerned about are my newest pair of shoes, getting the bigger TV, and taking a luxury vacation.  And so today, I genuinely thanked God that my life has been what it has: disappointments, struggles, heartbreaks and all.  And I really mean that. 
            “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”  (James 1:2-4)