Unwilling

I am finding of late that I am having an unusual dilemma in the spiritual life. I’ve just been through a period of suffering during which time I did my best to cling to Jesus. Now, however, that I’m starting to feel better I’m hesitant to keep following God because I’m scared to ever go through it again. Looking back I don’t even know how I made it through and contribute it mostly to God’s grace, Him keeping me steady in the face of many storms. Yet instead of thanking God and trusting Him more deeply I am consumed with my personal desire of never suffering like that again and planning a life that will keep me comfortable in my comfort zone.

But the truth is I’m not in control and it’s foolish of me to think that with the right plan I could be. The truth is that God is in control. This normally gives me great comfort but this time, and I admit this with a degree of self-amusement, He doesn’t do what I want Him to do. I feel like a child whose parents feed her vegetables when she wants cake. I know it’s somehow good for me but I still don’t want it. I want what I want just because I want it. And while I had grand plans to offer so much to God I find that what He wants from me more than anything is my stubborn will. He’s found the one thing I cling to, the one thing that hurts to give up and I have to face the question of do I really love God enough to give up everything including my will and having things go my way? I may spend the rest of my life answering that question.

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A Can’t Do Attitude

For as long as I can remember I’ve been told all about the power of positive thinking summarized by many an older and wiser person telling me, “the trick is to have a can-do attitude” in order to achieve everything from my short-term goals to my deepest held dreams and desires.

The older I’m getting (I turn 27 in ONE MONTH) the more I’m discovering that this well-intentioned advice may have missed the mark. Or maybe it’s just that my goals have changed. Regardless of the reason, I’m finding at the forefront of my desires is a desire to love that far exceeds my actual capacity to love. In short, I want to love like God does, and I can’t.

I just can’t. It’s something I’ve lamented to my spiritual director to varying degrees over the course of last year and I’ve had about a million temptations to discouragement. Not the kind of discouragement that tempts me to stop altogether, the kind that tells me to lower my aim, shoot for the middle, keep my head down and be “normal” (never my forte I admit). Yet the desire persists.

And with the help of many, I am finally coming to understand that I have come to end of what I can do and it is time now to let God do everything for me. It’s time not for strength but for weakness, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness, it’s time not for success but for humility, a time of total surrender and not control, but most of all a time to empty myself totally to receive unconditional love so that I may give it as totally and as generously and mercifully as God gives it to me.

It sounds counterintuitive and it may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done after a lifetime of plans and project management, of selfishness and pride. But as I join Christians around the world in preparing for Advent I can’t help be full of joyful hope and a sincere desire to wait in confident expectation for the coming of my Lord. And I hope this can’t-do attitude remains with me as I grow in deeper trust. I hope you have a blessed season of Advent!

The Surrender

I confess I have a love-hate relationship with my desk at work. It’s very modern: thin, sleek and totally white (think “just had my teeth whitened” white). You can very much tell that it, like all our other office furniture, comes from Ikea.

The advantage is that it really brightens up my tiny office.

The disadvantage is it shows every speck of dirt and for a neat freak like me this is sometimes challenging.

And I realized the weird paradox that some days when I notice that the cleaning crew has neglected to actually clean (this happens a bit we are in the process of replacing them) I wish that my desk was black or gray or wood or some other darker, more standard looking office desk so that I could be blissfully unaware of the dirt because there is only so much I can do with a Clorox wipe (I am totally that person) and now that it’s older, purchased very near my start date almost two years ago,  it almost never looks totally clean to me.

As I’ve been in the midst of the season of Easter I was hoping to coast off the discipline of Lent into Easter joy. However, I’m finding that the same feeling of dogged perseverance as if I stumbled over rather than walked across the finish line continues, namely because my quest for holiness continues. Rather than coast in Easter joy, I’ve been fighting off the temptation of feeling like a lousy return on everything Jesus died to give me (completely overlooking His selflessness which demands no return in the process).

And with a wry and weary smile this afternoon as I was scrubbing the stains off my desk I realized that in a way I’m a lot like my desk because those sins and weaknesses that cling to my soul the way the smudges and other marks cling to my desk don’t blend in. It is clear that when the messiness of life happens both the desk and my soul ought to be restored to their original glory rather than conform to the imperfect state of uncleanliness simply by virtue of how they each were designed to be bright.

In my ongoing quest for holiness, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like the light of God’s love is so deep within that it’s actually casting out all my weaknesses and making me new. It’s not that this love is transforming me into an unrecognizable person but rather that the more I accept God’s love the more I feel like myself and the more I experience a greater freedom to love the way I desire to love. As hard as this stretching process can be, as much as it sometimes feels like I’m fighting against my own habits and personality, as much as in my impatience I get tempted to rely on my willpower rather than God’s grace I feel like the greatest growth in the spiritual life, at least for me, comes not just from success but in learning how to successfully fail.

Because it is from failing so frequently that I must practice how to gracefully surrender (which is the antithesis of my natural personality in case that wasn’t clear).

I have to surrender my sin and weakness to the mercy and love of God which is humbling, I have to surrender what I can’t control to God’s providence which is hope, I have to surrender my own understanding which is faith, I have to surrender my aspirations and my past in order to live in the present moment which is communion with God.

As much as I sometimes want the challenges that necessitate this surrender to go away, I realize without them there wouldn’t be the same opportunity to surrender to God in order to know His love better, to decrease that He might increase, that I’m trying to embrace it which I admit feels like the strangest, most counter-cultural thing I’ve ever done (and I’m a pretty strange person).

So just like you can tell that my desk comes from Ikea I hope you see from my life, even if it’s just from the struggles and my failures and my poorly titled blog posts about them, that my home is in Heaven and that’s where I hope to return someday.

Until then pray for me!