Have you ever asked your parents how to spell a word? We all know the classic response…”Go look it up!” And in traditional youth retort the annoyed comeback goes something like, “How can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” Sometimes I’m not sure if my parents just didn’t know how to spell it or if they were really trying to teach me some veiled life lesson through a strange exchange of alphabetical strategy. Either way, it left me in a high school imbroglio (yeah, had to look that one up. My parents would be so proud).
Well, high school has long disappeared in my rear view mirror but the state of confusion I found myself in then is still alive and well and haunts me when it comes to finding God when I need Him the most.
See, I’m not your church chick flunky if you know what I mean. I’m pretty sure that if there was like a church “lingo-off” I would win a ribbon or something. I’m just saying, I can fill in some pretty important theology without even having to look it up in the Bible, like, “God is good ____…and all the time ___.” “Cleanliness is next to ______.” “Can I get a ____?” Sheesh, I was practically born in a pew. But what good does all this knowledge do when in my loneliest moments, the darkest times of my awareness…I can’t find God for myself? So I ask, “How do I find God in the times when I feel like I am searching for Him but it doesn’t seem like He is showing up?”
The most common response I hear in the church world goes something like, “You just have to wait on Him.” Or, “He is there. You just have to find Him. He desperately wants to be close to You.” Now, all humor aside, I believe these solutions to be true to my very core but when I am looking for direction these responses serve as peripheral revelations not practical guidance and I have recently found myself saying in my high school dictionary tone, “If I knew how to find God I wouldn’t be floundering around looking for Him!” Can I get a witness?!
In my deepest moments of struggle and sorrow I am introduced to a new part of me that I’m not sure I should befriend or lock in the basement and throw away the key. I have only recently invited myself to my own awakening. Even now, my existentialism is freaking me out so I’m going to back this drama train up and break it down in simpler terms.
When I meet the parts of me that question God or question myself (sometimes I can’t tell the difference), I even scare myself. I mean there is crazy and then there’s “just wave to the nice lady and don’t’ look her in the eyes children”crazy. I want to feel “normal” again but know something isn’t right in this broken soul of mine and I am forced to peek under the curtain of my own beliefs and challenge everything I know about the One, true God and that’s just plain scary.
I am flooded with more doubts and questions than I am with security and answers and this is not the little church girl I am all too well acquainted with. “How do I find God?” my soul cries out. How do I look up a word I can’t spell? How do I lead myself and find answers when I feel blind and weak, and yet, am exceedingly aware that I’m entrusted with my own spiritual welfare? You will just have to read my next blog to see what I have discovered. Just kidding.
In the words of Helen Keller, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” In the words of God, “Where there is no vision, the people will perish” (Proverbs 29:18). I realized (after a ridiculous amount of emotional thrashing about) that I didn’t have a game plan. I woke up everyday in my disorientation and waited patiently (for at least 5 minutes at a time which is like a record if you have attention issues like myself) for God to show up and do what He does…whatever that is exactly. And when I could not find Him in my search for Him I had no choice but to move on with my day. Why would God do that? Why, when I want Him so bad, would He veil His presence from me? Well, these were some of the many questions I asked myself after a long bout of being annoyed at everything and everyone (including the dishwasher for not getting the dishes clean enough, my kids for being kids, and my husband for trying to talk to me when I was frustrated…or at all for that matter).
I started to become very aware in my constant state of frustration and confusion that I was indeed searching but had no idea what I was searching for. I cried everyday but I wasn’t crying out everyday. It was easier to live in my emotions (even though they were ridiculously hard) than it was to set them aside and listen for God’s voice and be on vigilant watch for His presence. So, here’s the take away.
Emotions are designed by God, birthed in the heart of every man as a beautiful piece of divine DNA. They are intended to point us to Him and His nature. Emotions are not in and of themselves “character” but rather characteristic road maps to the Creator of them. Ok, that in itself is a life-long love dare but things get more complicated from there.
I felt like I was dying, like literally dying. Dying to what…I couldn’t tell you. But everyday hurt. Every hour I was aware that I was losing myself and I could not distinguish if that was a good thing or not. I would pray, journal, read my Bible, read books about the Bible but not much was changing. I would literally say when asked, “I am doing all that I know to do but nothing feels like it is changing in me.”
And then, I heard a friend tell me a simple concept they had learned from a sermon and it moved me. Everything began to change. So, I hope it helps…even just a little.
In the book of John we hear a story of 3 siblings (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) and their relationship with Jesus. Any relationship with Jesus would have been pretty awesome but we know that they were actually kind of tight with Him and hung out with Him (Luke 10) and loved each other very much. And, then, the most devastating tragedy that life can courier falls upon this trio; Lazarus is dying. Mary and Martha are so sad…so full of sorrow and petition Jesus to come to their town and miraculously heal their brother. Jesus hears of Lazarus and not only doesn’t come to see him in his final hours but actually waits 2 extra days to come and Lazarus dies in the interim. Wow! That just seems so strange at first blush.
The love they had for each other was special and affectionate and Jesus appears to be unmoved by His friend dying, and yet, when He arrives four days after Lazarus has been in the tomb we read that Jesus wept (Jn 11:35). However, we know from this story that Jesus had a much bigger plan (a far grander purpose) than any of His friends (and enemies) surrounding Him could see. They were all trapped in the tragedy of momentary death and Jesus knew it…and He wept. John Eldredge writes in The Journey of Desire, “Jesus weeps for Martha and Mary, and for all of us who suffer loss, but also for our inability to see beyond it. Dare I say, sometimes our refusal to see beyond it?”
The story ends with Jesus raising Lazarus back to life and showing the world that life is more than the temporary (11:25), that Jesus is the Son of God (11:27) and that every season of life (even death) is designed ultimately for the glory of God (11:4). If Jesus would have healed Lazarus in his sickness, the miracle could have been so easily overridden and rationalized away. Like maybe Lazarus was just freakishly sleepy, or maybe he ate a bad olive oil flatbread, or maybe his immune system finally kicked in. But in the death and resurrection of a very dead man, the world could not deny that God was among them (Jn 11:45).
At this point, I’m still flailing about like a fish on dry land, searching for God in my darkest hours and can’t seem to get ahold of His intimate invitation to do life with Him. But it was in this story that I realized it really is in the death of me that the offer of life abundantly lays at the doorstep of my heart.
The main characters in the story told in John 11 are all consumed with the pain of death (and understandably so). They lost so much of what they knew; death had stripped them of a great love in their hearts and the pain of that was all-consuming along with the apparent realization that Jesus (God)…didn’t show up. Mary and Martha looked for Him, called for Him, and God was late. Well, that is, if you consider their timing superior. God says, “My ways are not your ways” (Isa 55:8). His plans far exceed anything we can imagine, institute, or hijack.
And that’s exactly what I was doing. I was emotionally hijacking God’s big picture plan for my life because it wasn’t in my timing (or my understanding really). Every day was hard. Everyday felt like no change was being made. Everyday I was dying and it seemed like God wasn’t showing up. I couldn’t see beyond my own pain. I called for Him, petitioned Him and God was late.
That’s because God was waiting; He wasn’t late at all. He was waiting: to be found, to be loved, to be trusted, to be noticed, to be accepted, to be wanted, to be needed in ways I had not given myself to Him fully. God was waiting to show up to save my life…not just save the day. It took the extra waiting period (the “2 days” after He was well aware of my dying) for me to see that I was dead. In His waiting, I had to wait. And in my waiting, I was dying. I was dying to: what I thought was a proper response time from God, my emotions reigning instead of directing, passively demanding God’s ways to be my ways.
I was consumed with the pain of loss (and understandably so). I was stripped of earthly fulfillment, happiness, and friendship. It hurt. And I was looking for God and didn’t think I was finding Him because nothing “felt like it was changing.” But everyday I surrendered to the truth of who God is, trusting but not seeing any results, doubting but being obedient in the ways I knew how, and God was…waiting. He was giving me time to die. He was giving me time to develop. He was giving me time to surrender my lordship for His. And it took everyday to make that happen. Things were changing but I could not see how. Because I didn’t have a game plan.
My game plan now looks a lot like what I was doing (on the outside in anyways). I was seeking and waiting. But now I know who I am seeking (a 4-day big picture Planner) and what I am waiting for (the beauty of God to win the day in my life) and how to wait for it—everyday searching for Him knowing that each day is one piece of the puzzle that will someday be revealed as a portrait of glory for the One, true God.
And now when adversity and true sorrow strike at my inner being I know God has a grander plan that takes time. Not wasted time. Not useless time. But time to transform slowly into His image. Time to understand the miracle is bigger than a healing from a sickness of pain that anyone can overcome with a little time and rationalization. Time to heal me from death that I wouldn’t recognize unless I actually saw a very dead man…which takes time.
I am so glad God didn’t reveal the whole plan the first day I cried. Because what I didn’t know then was that I wasn’t crying out (not enough). I was sick. I wasn’t dying. I certainly wasn’t dead. He showed up everyday, with subtlety, as I faced genuine pain and longed for the healing beyond my own doing. He gave me time to do both. He gave me time to get to know Him and get to know me. One hurt. The other motivated.
I wanted to live. God wanted me to live abundantly (Jn 10:10). That takes time and time used to be my nemesis. Minutes passed like hours. And sometimes they still do when I hurt. But I am starting to realize that time is my agent of healing and patience is more than just waiting. It’s waiting with hope. Hope—being assured of something that has not yet shown itself. God is my hope. He always has been. But now, whether He reveals Himself in parts or in a knee-bending galvanizing glimpse of glory, I know He is waiting for me to learn, love, grow into His likeness and live for Him and with Him and because of Him.
It was in the dying (pain) that Lazarus’ life was in need of a Savior. It was in the waiting that all eyes were on the Savior. It was in the death of Lazarus that the Savior took preeminence. May He be seen in every portion of our lives for His glory. And be assured, He is waiting to be seen by you and me that we may truly live!