But I . . .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have never cared about holiness. When I read Scripture, sang songs, or heard conversations about God’s holiness, I felt wholly unmoved. It would probably be a stretch to characterize my reaction as unimpressed, but there was probably a little bit of the Makalyla Maroney face inside of me when I’d contemplate the concept of holiness.

Over the years, my reaction bothered me. Why did other Christians feel so awed, moved, and inspired by God’s holiness–while I felt nothing at all?

My personality type typically leads to a more analytical, critical approach to everything, including spirituality. So I tried not to hammer myself too harshly for my lack of sentiment. But regarding other aspects of God, and in other areas of my relationship with God, I experienced plenty of light bulb moments, ahas, and spiritual awakenings. I wanted to understand this holiness thing, too.

This year I decided to embark on a journey to “get it.” I studied root words in Greek and Hebrew. I devoured Scripture related to holiness and specific stories in the Bible which grabbed my attention. I also started reading A.W. Tozer again, an author I’d tried out in early adulthood but hadn’t found captivating at that point in life. I had too much drama swirling in my life at that point pulling my attention away from what really mattered. 15 years later, I’m able to concentrate. And I guess what they say is true–when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This time, God has shown Himself to me through Tozer in spades.

I’m finally grasping that the power of understanding anything about Who God Is lies in contrast. When I see who I really am, and compare who I am to Who He Is, then I understand the value in Who He Is.

This sounds simple, but it’s not easy for those of us who’ve struggled with playing God. Trusting God is difficult, particularly for those of us who’ve experienced trauma that  seems to demonstrate that God is not there for us, that God does not come through for us when the rubber hits the road, and that we must rely on our ourselves or be thrown to the wolves. We begin to develop our own plans, a sturdy sense of self-reliance, and an ego akin to a tumor whose mass increases at an alarming rate.

Therein lies tension.

But all is never lost when God’s in the mix. The beautiful thing is that while it’s true that what we’ve been through is often beyond horrific–and many of you reading this will not relate, and that’s okay, because many of you will, and you will find hot tears falling down your face as you read this just as mine are sliding into my coffee as I write this–it’s ALSO true that what we have been through is not who we are. Let me say that again so you can whisper it to yourself.

What you have been through is not who you are.

We often allow what we have been through to define us. That’s called spiritual warfare.

If we’re not what we’ve been through, then who are we? Ah, the journey really starts here. For some of us, we never knew who we were to begin with. For others, it’s a return to a better place.

Regardless, when I honestly and objectively look at who I am today, even on my best days and after years of diligent spiritual work, I can guarantee a few things. I’m broken. I’m incapable of total consistency to principles, excellent decision-making, perfection, or any other concept or spiritual practice/discipline. As much as I want to be, I’m not self-sufficient. I need help–I need God, and I need other people (mentors and accountability partners). I’m not going to last forever–I’m going to die. I wish I could say I know everything, but I don’t; I’m not that wise, and without Google and the library, I’d be pretty lost. And admittedly, I try my best to love others, but I don’t like several people. I attempt to be kind, gracious, and generous, but there are many times when I’m just going through the motions (and if you knew what was going through my head, you’d give me coal in my stocking next year for Christmas).

That’s just the honest truth about me. And it’s the honest truth about you, too, because we are people. If you believe those things are not the truth about you, you are likely incapable of being honest with yourself, and that’s another problem entirely (and another blog post for another time).

And here is the honest truth about God.

He does not need us, but He wants us. He is fully self-sufficient, but He loves to see/hear us serving and loving–doing God-like things which honor Him. God lasts forever, and God just IS–time as we know it isn’t the way God operates. God is not malleable; He doesn’t change, so He’s completely consistent and reliable. God knows everything–which isn’t the same as saying God causes everything. God is completely faithful, and is the only One we can depend on wholeheartedly no matter what. God really is good, just, and loving 100% of the time. And He is holy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGod is the absolute antithesis of who I am. Because God is God–and I am not.

I have been rereading Isaiah. This morning, I got to chapter 49. I stopped at this verse and began imagining other ways God might speak to us similarly. The first portion is Isaiah 49:15-16. The rest is from me.

But I . . . 

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget
I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you
on the palms of my hands.”

Though they interrupted,
I hear you.

Though you were invisible,
Now you are seen.

Though no one applauded for years,
Here I AM, rejoicing over you.

Though they said ‘stop crying,’
I weep with you.

Though he stripped you of dignity,
I vindicate.

Though frailty ravaged your frame,
I make all things new.

Though dreams atrophied,
I restore years the locust has eaten.

Though cacophony and chaos cluttered days,
I still waves.

Though they’ve proven liars,
I will always be true.

Though they are,
But I AM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lighting fire

I have walked by the light of my own fires for too long.

This explains why I’ve repeatedly fallen on my face.

I’ve struggled with trusting God rather than trusting Bethany most of my life. I’ve tried understanding my own struggle. Perhaps I just don’t have an innate ability to trust God, like “doubting Thomas” who needs to see the scars to believe. Maybe the tragedies and sadness in life have blinded me to the merit of choosing to follow Someone Who Knows the Way. I can speculate and analyze myself to death, but at the crucial juxtaposition of two roads in the woods, I’ve often chosen the one that seemed best at the time rather than the one with the Guide.

Recently, while reading up on the topic of trust, I came across Isaiah 50. I’ve read Isaiah many times; in fact, it’s one of my favorite books of the Bible. Somehow verses 10-11 never penetrated the seemingly impenetrable wall between my sight and my soul. When I reread the verses today, after being drawn to them repeatedly over the past few days, the words welded a hole in that wall, and they stuck to me.

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?
Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with
flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set
ablaze.
This is what you shall receive
from my hand:

You will lie down in torment.”Isaiah 50:10-11

While reading these lines this morning, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave flashed before my eyes. I envisioned myself as a cave dweller, chained and unable to turn around, with only shadows of real light to reflect on. In Plato’s Allegory, the true philosopher is the person who is freed from the cave, unchained, and able to recognize true light from shadow. The freed philosopher then works to free the other prisoners by enlightening them.

Why have I relied on my own fires for so long?  Why have I stared at shadows with the Light at my back? Why have I not embraced freedom?

I think the key is in verse 10. “Who among you fears the Lord?” In this context, “fears” does not refer to shaking, trembling, and cowering before God. It’s a term used to describe “true religion,” as termed in my Bible’s commentary, or real reverence to God. It’s used in Proverbs 1:7 to explain the foundation of knowledge. If real recognition–and reverence–of God is the beginning of knowledge, and if real reverence of God is required to trust in and rely upon the Lord for Light and guidance, then there’s my missing link. I have not really believed God is Who He Is, at least not consistently. Instead, I’ve believed what I could see–that the world is a dark, lonely, and cruel place. And to let my guard down is to make myself prey to it. If I can’t see Who He Is, or if I’m blinded to the truth of Who He Is by the realities of the world around me, then how can I follow Him through the darkness? I just can’t. Instead, I’ve relied on my own itty bitty ability to rub two sticks together in a feeble attempt to keep myself warm for a little while.

I’ve been freezing to death for years.

All this time, He’s been standing outside the cave, shining the Light at my back, waiting for its warmth to turn my head away from the shadows to see what’s real.

“Arise, shine, for your light
has come.

And the glory of the Lord rises
upon you.”  –Isaiah 60:1

Thank God I don’t have to keep rubbing those sticks together.