I would like to tell you a story, a story of a young lady who was raised in the church. Let’s call her…Annie. Annie loves God. Annie has always loved God. From a young age, Annie could see quite clearly the lifestyle of those who loved and followed God and the lifestyle of those who did not – and yearned to have the joy and peace (and less complicated life) of those who loved God. Annie accepted Christ into her life at a young age and while she was quite the handful for her parents, held fast to the lifestyle suited for Christians such as herself. While she never felt she missed out on anything by avoiding the do not’s, she did, however, struggle constantly keeping up with the do’s…all the things she needed to do in order to keep God happy with her. After all, God smiles at us when we do good things and frowns in disappointment when we do bad things, right? That’s what her childhood Sunday School papers said. And so the yo-yo of manipulating God’s feelings toward us with our actions was born. The problem with this scenario is that the more good Annie did, the worse she felt when she failed in an area. God expected so much more out of this little child raised in such a wonderful Christian family. Everyone saw it – many spoke of her wisdom beyond her years. Surely God was going to use this girl to do great things one day. So, she pressed on.
One of Annie’s favorite things growing up was youth retreats and camps. These were times to get re-energized – to build up enough resolve to keep up with all the do’s throughout the year. Her biggest struggle was always devotions. Try as she may, she just could not seem to find the right groove to set aside that half hour (or, better yet, an hour) of her day devoted just to God. How hard can it be? We have 24 hours given to us, surely devoting just one of those hours to God should be easy considering all He has done for us, right?. Annie tried mornings – that was a disaster. She tried night time before bed, but would fall asleep. Annie tried lunch time, but things always came up. Right after school? How about after dinner…or maybe right before dinner? Before her homework…nope, has to be after homework. Surely there must be a time that works. She just wasn’t committed enough. After time Annie’s resolve weakened and devotions were left to the wayside. Maybe next retreat she would build up enough strength to keep her commitment.
Retreat after retreat, camp after camp, year after year this happened until one day she just gave up. No, Annie did not give up on the Christian life, she gave up on constantly re-committing to ‘do better’ and keep her commitments to spend more time with God. It just wasn’t worth it. She was so good at all the other things and constantly disappointing God with her broken promises was more than she could bear. If she just stopped promising it would be better for the both of them. Problem solved.
Yes, that was me – my Christian walk in a nutshell. How had it come to that? What brought me to that place where I was so comfortable speaking about God and doing the things that He would have me do, but I had ceased to be able to talk with God or spend time with Him? During this time I ran across a book. I had long since given up Christian reading, but the title caught me. Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers. Could I ever relate. Wondering if it was even possible to salvage this shell of a relationship with God, I picked it up. Page after page described my life. Perhaps the most shockingly familiar remarks were these: “I could talk easily with others about Jesus, but I knew nothing of how to sit still long enough for Jesus to talk with me. I was comfortable around others who knew God, but the thought of being along with God was enough to keep me occupied with the demands of ministry. The idea of sitting alone in a room with God made me nervous.” The words struck to the core of my soul – somebody understood. I wasn’t alone. There were more frauds out there, terrified of the God they love so much because they ‘knew’ He was so disappointed in them and their fake exteriors and lack of relationship. There is so much more in this book, but I was not ready to hear much of it. For me, it was the groundwork, the mere start of what God would teach me over the coming years.
The next book I read was Grace Walk – a book that transformed my view of Christianity more than any other in my adult life. In it I learned anew that God’s thoughts and feelings toward me were not contingent on my actions. I had always known that God loved me and that love never faltered, but I was erroneously convinced that ‘love’ was separate from His ‘feelings’. Surely God loved me, but He certainly didn’t ‘like’ me after all my broken promises. I was His child, nothing could change that, but I doubted His confidence in that choice. Had He known how uncommitted I would be to my promises, He likely would have chosen someone else, somebody stronger…but at least I was a pretty good workhorse for His cause. Oh how sweet to learn how wrong I was. God loved me. He REALLY loved me. Not only was His love for me steadfast, His feelings toward me were unchanging. Against all that made sense to me as a Christian at that point, I learned that I was not a constant disappointment to God. My actions were not constantly swaying His thoughts about me. To think otherwise would assume that God was NOT all-knowing. God knows me for who I am now, who I am tomorrow, and who I will become years from now. He is not swayed day in day out by each action because He sees the whole picture – a picture that He is painting of my life. What a revelation and a relief. For the first time I felt secure in God’s unfailing love.
Shortly after realizing these newfound joys in my walk with God, but before fully recovering from this journey, we began our infertility struggles and subsequent miscarriages. As I have shared many times, I fell hard during this time. I was angry and bitter toward God for not intervening on my behalf and on behalf of our innocent children. Had I not learned of God’s unfailing love, I likely would have had a very different reaction. While I would say I would have given up entirely, that is not true. I am too stubborn for that. Had I felt like I did not have permission to fall and be angry without changing God’s feelings for me, I likely would have painted on a plastic face and buried my grief in the depths of my soul – never dealing with my hurt, never processing my pain…allowing myself to die a slow death of unresolved issues. Instead, I allowed myself to walk through my valley. I constantly shared how I didn’t want to go over, under or around my valley, but I had to walk through it – slowly and painfully. My desire to allow God to use this time in my life for something, anything good was so strong that I wanted to fully experience the depths of my misery so that I could come out of the other side confident that I had fought the fight and won and not repressed anything that I would need to deal with later in life. I wanted to go through it and be done with it no matter how long it took…and it took a long time.
I have also shared a number of times how I feel that my valley has reached a new plateau. I have reconciled with God, embracing His plan for my life, but there are still remnants of my struggles. Perhaps the greatest struggle is that age-old quiet time with God. It was my hardest struggle in my youth and college years, the reason I gave up committing anything to God, and the source of so much of my frustration in my Christian walk. It is what almost destroyed me had God not gently pulled me back and shown me how He really feels about me. Now that I am ready to continue to move forward, though, I am terrified to begin pursuing anything that even resembles a commitment to a quiet time. I am terrified of falling back into that pattern of commitment and broken promises. At the same time, I am hungry and long for more. I am in tears over my desire to be closer with God – to have that sweet relationship with Him where I just cannot seem to get enough of His presence, yet I am stuck and do not know how to get unstuck.
As is so often the case with God, He will always (eventually) lead us to the next step. It took me a LONG time to listen to this one. I started a Bible Study at my house and guess what – the discussion has been on spending time in the Word. Ok, God, I get it…but don’t you remember what happened last time I committed to a quiet time? Yeah, we don’t want to go back there. Another solution please. Suddenly I see that there is a ladies Bible Study at church coming up and the topic is…wait for it….devotions! Nope, not going to that…still looking for another solution. I don’t care how much I believe in going to church functions because you’re part of the group, not because you are interested in what’s happening…I’m definitely not doing that. Then someone came up to me and asked if I was going…crap. Yes, I’m going. Okay, so maybe there’s something to this whole getting back into spending time with God thing. Maybe, just maybe, I can’t get unstuck without this on some level. Fine. I get it. Sunday morning Pastor Jared shared about doing and not just hearing. I go to Home Fellowship group and ‘somehow’ it all gets brought up again. Subtle, God, real subtle. Maybe I’ll start with listening to a podcast or something of my favorite pastor on my way to work Monday. That wasn’t so bad, in fact, I’m kind of enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll try the same thing tomorrow.
And there it was. My ah ha moment. Tuesday morning I sat and listened to an analogy that I had heard countless times. When we feed a desire, it grows. When we starve a desire, it loses all strength to have any control over our lives. When I begin to exercise, I desire to exercise more. When I eat healthy foods, I desire to continue to eat healthy foods. When I feed my desire for intimacy with God, that desire for intimacy grows. See, my problem is that all my life I have been a binge devotionalist. I waited for that next big push to renew my resolve to spend time with God, I started strong and fizzled out, eventually giving up entirely. The energy that I received from whatever pushed me was not strong enough to battle with my busyness or to build my hunger in such a way as to sustain me. My hunger was not what was driving me to spend time with God. My hunger was there, but it was my stubborn resolve that I fed as the fuel to keep my commitment. Each time I would obviously fail and think that maybe next time I’d be full enough to last a bit longer. Next time I would be strong enough, committed enough, stubborn enough to make it happen. This is an unhealthy pattern. Now that I have a genuine hunger again, though, I’m so terrified to feed that hunger that I’m starving it to the point that it isn’t growing enough to move me to any action – it is not strong enough to cause me to go to my Bible rather than to TV, Facebook or Pinterest. How do I feed that hunger without binging – which to date is the only way I’ve ever been moved to action? I’m so used to binging that I don’t even know what a healthy appetite is, let alone what happens when I chose another method other than binging. Said another way, I’m so afraid of binging that I don’t want to ‘eat’ anything to satisfy my hunger because I’m so afraid of falling to that old habit which inevitably leads to failure and perpetual starvation. I must learn to feed my hunger in such a way that it causes my hunger to grow instead of artificially resolving to be where I ‘should’ be. I do not need to commit to do better, I need to feed my hunger enough so that it grows in a healthy and genuine manner.
So, that’s where I am…learning to feed my hunger and cause it to grow, not committing to standard of devotions that a Christian ‘should’ be doing. Even in the last few days as I have fed myself even small amounts of God’s word, I have seen that desire grow. Instead of fueling my desire with myself, I am trying to fuel it with God…allowing Him to spur me to action in His time rather than forcing myself to lunge into a feast that by all appearances is what I ‘should be doing’. I am not committing to a quiet time, I am feeding a hunger and watching how it grows from there. This is new and exciting territory.