My kids and I started our new homeschooling year this week. And so we are back to work, and I will be busy with them and with just keeping up with the house and the cooking. (Ugh!) I also have plans to finally paint all the rooms for which we bought paint four years ago. Ah, so goes life. Anyway, because of school starting and life just being busy, these may be my last posts. I know I’ve said it before, but I mean it this time. (So, we’ll see, huh?) So for my last nine posts, I wanted to summarize what I think are the nine hardest spiritual lessons to learn.I have dealt in-depth with all of these throughout my two blogs (and many of them over-lap). And what I really want others to know is that struggling with learning these hard lessons is normal, and it doesn’t mean that you are some sort of “bad Christian” or “failure.” These are normal, typical (often painful) lessons that we will all eventually struggle with if we continue to walk with God and to chase after a deeper relationship with Him. (And I know that there are more than I have listed here.)
And so, here are some of the hardest lessons I have had to learn over the years (in no particular order) and some verses to go with them. I’ll try to be brief.
1. Let Go or Hold on?
At many points in our Christian walk, we come upon a time of decision that is crucial to our spiritual growth where we are forced to choose what to let go of and what to hold onto. We are forced to choose self-sufficiency or reliance on God . . . trying to maintain control or giving the control over to Him . . . our dreams and goals for ourselves or His plans and paths for us . . . our self-protective, “safe” ways or radical, “irrational” obedience to Him . . . having what we call our “needs” met by others or letting God re-mold those needs and meet them the way He sees fit . . . hiding old wounds and the broken parts of ourselves or handing them over to Him so that He can heal them and make us whole.
We may be (will be!) asked to face the soul-scarring moments of our pasts and to fully put them in the Lord’s hands so that He can heal them, turn them into something beautiful, and use them for His glory. We may be (will be!) asked to let go of the negative self-views that keep us stunted and handicapped in our spiritual and earthly relationships. We may be asked to let go of many hopes and desires and “needs,” to accept “less than” what we always wanted, and to learn to live with God’s “No” when we really wanted (or thought we needed) His “Yes.”
As you can probably tell, I have a bit of a problem with how we define “needs.” I think many of our “needs” are simply great, big wants. Real, desperate, good wants. But not needs. Financial security, appreciation, more friends, a more significant role, fulfillment in earthly things, more influence or power or attention, a spouse who listens better or pampers us more, a better job, health, a bigger home, a fancier phone, freedom to pursue selfish pursuits, etc.
The problem is that when we call them “needs,” we turn them into something that we are entitled to, that we passionately pursue, and that we are unfulfilled without. These needs can become idols. We are not entitled to any certain blessing; everything we have is a gift from God. And God should be what we passionately pursue. He should be where we find our fulfillment. And we have to get to the point where we can learn to praise Him, be content in Him, and glorify Him, even when those needs are unmet. (Later post.)
When I defined my desire to be appreciated at home as a “need,” I was miserable because I wasn’t getting something I thought I had to have to be joyful and content. But when I redefined it as a “want,” I was able to hold it loosely, to give it over to God so He could do what He wants with it, and to allow God to be enough for me, regardless of if I was appreciated at home or not.
We have to start calling our “needs” what they are: great, big wants that we need to put into God’s hands if we want to be truly fulfilled in the best way possible.
I have a theory. All of us who decide to passionately pursue God (and not everyone chooses to do this, many just coast in their relationship with Him) will eventually find ourselves in a painful struggle with our deepest fears and “needs.” We may be struggling with an illness, a wayward child, a difficult or drifting spouse, an unfulfilling role. Or maybe it’s our fears about being insignificant, unappreciated, unloved, alone, about pain, about loss, about death.
Somewhere along the path to a whole, humble, genuine, trusting relationship with Him, all serious God-seekers will be forced to face and struggle with “our issue” until we make a decision: hold onto the fear/”need”/desire/resentment/difficult situation (etc.) and try to maintain control over it, or place it fully into God’s hands and grab onto Him instead.
He will not allow us to hold onto both. We cannot hold onto control and fear and “our right to have our needs met” and resentment and selfish desires (etc.) and yet still hold onto Him, too. He knows that it’s not best for us to carry those burdens ourselves. We have to decide who gets to carry them, manage them, and make the final decision about them.
These “decision times” are usually incredibly hard and painful because they often hit upon the scars and wounds and broken parts of our hearts and souls that we have tried to keep wrapped up, hidden, and safe for so long. And they often involve learning to be vulnerable and to trust God, whereas we prefer self-preservation and having control.
But God is after complete healing and growth and wholeness for us, and so we are asked to eventually face, work through, and let go of the self-reliant, self-protective, self-focused thoughts and behaviors that hinder our relationship with Him, with ourselves, and with others.
And to correct a common misconception: You don’t have to “be happy about” or to “feel like” being obedient, handing things over to God, giving up “needs,” and living with heartache and longing in order to do it. Even if you are still heart-sick and sad and internally-resistant, you can still humbly submit your life to the Lord and accept His Will for you.
Just look at Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He went to the Father in passionate, heart-broken prayer, pleading with Him to change the plans if possible. And He had to do this three times with tears and crying and sweating blood before He could get to the point of saying, “Not My Will, but Yours be done.” He didn’t want to go to the cross. He wasn’t happy about it. But He did it anyway.
Humble submission is an act of the will, not of emotions. And it’s normal to go through times of extreme heart-ache and crying and internal struggle before you are able to hand your concern fully over to God, to put your will aside, and to say, “Your Will be done.” You might not feel like it at first, but as you submit to and trust the Lord, your feelings will eventually get in line. But usually, obedience and humble submission come first, before the acceptance, peace, joy, and contentment (even though there may still be a lot of pain).
When you find yourself in a time of decision (hint: it’s usually when you’ve got internal struggles that hit you deeply, and you may not quite know what’s bothering you or why), ask God what it is that He is trying to tell you. And take the time to listen. Explore the Word for guidance about what He wants you to let go of and what He wants you to grab on to. If you choose rightly, you will find wholeness and healing in Him and greater spiritual growth. If you choose wrongly, you will find yourself in confusion, internal restlessness, and eventually facing the same issues again.
Psalm 4:4: “. . . when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”
Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Philippians 2:13: “. . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
2 Cor. 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Deuteronomy 4:29: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Matthew 22:37: “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”
Phil. 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”