It seems a little anticlimactic for me to write this now, when so much has happened in my life since I thought these thoughts. But I think it is important to reflect on where I was a month ago, to better understand where I am now and where I will be heading in the future.
Our family traveled to Michigan to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church, pastored by my father-in-law. We stayed there for 18 days, and I encountered between 30 and 40 old friends who had been praying for me regarding my search for a job. As I related the same story to each successive person, I found myself becoming strangely prone to tears, as the frustration and pain of 17 months of unemployment was thus verbally exposed.
I am a sentimental person; I regularly tear-up during annual viewings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or any movie that displays deep loyalty or selflessness. But I am not given (my parents’ memories/opinion to the contrary) to excessive self-pity. It was very strange for me to lack control over my emotional equilibrium. I felt baffled and frustrated by God’s handling of my life. It seemed to me that I was being broken by God.
Intellectually, I know that God’s love for me burns so brightly, extends so deeply, that He wants me to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him, exclusive of other loves. I began to consider the other ‘loves’ of my life, the things that I hold to tightly, that God might be asking (or even requiring) me to relinquish.
Apart from God Himself, the greatest love of my life is my wife, closely followed by the love I have for my five children. Jesus said that we must ‘hate’ our earthly family in comparison to our relationship with Him. At this point, I don’t sense a requirement from God that I relinquish my grip on those loves. More perhaps on that later.
Imagine a bunch of helium balloons, each one labeled, for example:
Right to experience justice
Right to withhold forgiveness
Right to work, to earn, to provide for my family
Right to enjoy my work
Right for vengeance
Right to be vindicated when I am right
Right to comfort, luxury, to enjoy the fruits of my labor
Right to use my gifts and talents according to my direction
Right to feel secure
Right to spend time with my family
Right to count on God’s faithfulness, justice, goodness, truth
Right to spend time in relaxation
These are some of the values that I hold most dearly. Some of them are ‘good’ things, some of them are not; still, these are a few of my favorite things. Note the absence of raindrops that fall on my nose and eyelashes, and warm, wooly mittens. I use the word ‘Right’ to deliberately convey the sense of entitlement and personal ownership, as distinguished from things received as a gift.
I felt that God was calling on me to let go of these balloons. Some of them (like the right to withhold forgiveness) are unlikely to be returned to me — the scriptures speak pretty clearly and harshly about those who fail to forgive their fellow men. Others, like the right to count on God’s faithfulness, justice, goodness and truth, are guaranteed by God Himself (albeit as a gift, not as a ‘right’, although this may be symantic hair-splitting). Most of the others are counterfeit values; that is, they can only truly be enjoyed as a gift from God; they become worthless or even harmful when selfishly taken.
I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ story The Magician’s Nephew, in which Digory is sent by Aslan to pick an apple from a magical tree in the center of a magical garden. The apple has the power to grant immortality, as demonstrated by the evil witch who climbs over the garden wall and steals an apple for herself. Digory is strongly tempted to take an apple for himself, especially when he considers the effect it might have on his terminally-ill mother. Conscious of his responsibility to obey Aslan, he completes the mission and (reluctantly) hands over the apple. As a consequence, the entire country of Narnia is protected for hundreds of years, and Digory receives (as a gift from Aslan) a second, lesser apple which ultimately results in the healing of his mother.
Digory questions Aslan about possible outcomes, should he have succumbed to the temptation of taking the apple for his own uses, to give to his mother. Aslan tells him:
“Understand, then, that it would have healed her, but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.”
There seems to be a dramatic difference between something that is selfishly grasped and something God-given, even when it is the same object.
Am I willing to let go of those “rights”? Some of them may not be returned to me; indeed, I am not permitted to ‘own’ them in any case, if I propose to make God my one true love.
What are my other alternatives? Many Christians live their days by apparently relegating God to the level of a side interest, or a hobby. God seems to permit this — the Church does not lack for marginal Christians. Do I really have to die to myself?
Is it even possible? Even if God persuades me at this time to relinquish my grip on these balloons, what will stop me from grabbing them back, or finding new balloons to hold on to in the future? Does exclusive love for God require a daily ‘taking up of my cross’ that includes frequent self-examination and repeated efforts to relinquish these shadow values?
How do I go about letting go of even one of these balloons? What would it look like, if I (even temporarily) relinquished one of these?
Holding on to a right includes:
Feeling resentment when someone infringes on it
Taking protective measures to avoid encroachment against it
Worrying about it
Requiring compensation or reparation when it is violated
I have come to the conclusion that for me, at this time, it is necessary that I seek God for Himself; that I not lay claim to anything beyond an intimate relationship with my Lord and Master. Everything else I should lay at His feet, for His good pleasure, to do as He sees best. I ought to make no demands, retain no rights, but simply make myself available for His work in accordance with His will.
How does this translate to day-to-day living? It would seem this is not a time to be making a lot of long-term plans. I have no idea where God will take me, so I’ll just put one foot in front of the next, continuing on in my current situation, waiting on God to direct my path.