Folly and Failure and Faith

faint fringes old locksI thought the opening would be like the sweet slow blossom of a rose, or a door cracking slowly and light bursting through.

But most days, it’s like a desperate prying of a rusty castle gate with a crowbar.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The year of sacrifice wasn’t exactly all skipping around in daisies. God’s work in me is long and slow and hard. I think I see my way ahead, but as He molds me into His Son’s image, He sends me off on unexpected detours and barely-there footpaths and occasionally right through the fire swamp without even a trail to follow and Rodents of Unusual Size hiding around every corner.

The way to the center of God’s heart is not a superhighway. It’s a long, slow walk and so often I just really wonder why we take all these wandering byways up jagged mountains, along the sides of terrifying cliffs, deep into dark shadowed valleys. I wonder why this path sometimes leads me into the mire where I can’t see my way out; why it can’t be daylight all the time; why He puts me in a boat and sends me out into the lake where a storm awaits.

Would it be so wrong to find an easier road? Maybe just some rolling hills, with lots of light? Nice, firm ground? And if it has to be a boat, why can’t it be a nice cruise ship?

Why can’t the opening be sweet and easy, like my daughter’s eyes when she first wakes up in the morning, slow blinking and then recognition of my face and a smile? Or joyful and fresh like a watermelon being cracked open and spilling out its sweet summer goodness? Instead this opening is ugly and painful and what spills forth is far too often poisoned infection and exactly the opposite of what I wanted, what I expected. Should I spill Jesus now, when I am cracked like an egg?

I am so impatient to see the finished product that I can’t handle the process. That is never how God works. Again and again He reminds me– My ways are not your ways. He is so high above me, completely outside my way of thinking. If He had not stooped down to me, I would never have known Him, for I could surely never reach up to Him.

All the really big things in life, the really good things, start small in us small people. If my heart is a closed and rusty gate, locked and bricked up, God does not use a blast of dynamite to open it. So very carefully He removes a brick at a time, oils the hinges. It is a process. And sometimes I get scared and in my fear I add a few extra bricks, maybe a chain and padlock. Open me wide, I pray, and then I turn around and close off my heart to a child or a friend.

This Christian life is not what I thought it was for so many years. It always seemed like a garment to put on that made me look pretty and clean and Just Like Jesus. Of course I knew the inside wasn’t what it should be. I tried so hard to figure out what everyone meant when they said I needed a personal relationship. I tried to pray and it was just me and the ceiling, it felt like. I listened to mature believers talk about God and thought they must be making it up, because in all my years as a Christian I had never once experienced Him the way they talked about.

There had been glimpses– don’t get me wrong. I do not doubt that I was saved by grace through faith when I was five years old, sitting on top of a bunch of shoes on my closet floor. (Even then I was closing off my faith.) When I was seventeen and God reached out and saved me from the dark path I was running down– I knew then that I was His and that He had a plan for me. When I met Art and fell in love with him– I knew then that God was writing our love story and I began to see what grace meant, because I never deserved a husband as wonderful as mine. When we lost Elijah– I learned what peace that passes understanding meant. When God met me in my doubt and despair after our second miscarriage– I knew He loved me and cared about me and took me as I was, even in my fear and faithlessness. When God led us to Tiny Town Baptist Church– I saw His clear hand of direction and rejoiced in the calling He had placed on our lives.

But there was always something missing, something that felt hypocritical and wrong. Gradually God began transforming that wrongness, and it started when I finally obeyed Him and started praying. That’s why I talk so much about it. Prayer has changed my life. Prayer, and time in God’s Word, and learning to recognize the still, small voice. And then– obedience. That’s what it all comes down to. Trusting that God is what He says He is, and then obeying Him from that place of trust.

I failed today. This morning as I prayed God showed me something specific and said, Trust Me; I will enable you. And I was so gung-ho for the first few hours of my day but by the time I had time to do the thing– time to obey– I was just so tired. And so I took a nap. Instead of opening my hands to receive God’s gift of strength and power in my weariness, I crossed my arms and shook my head and turned away His gift, because I didn’t trust His sufficiency for my tiredness.

I am so foolish. I expect you are too. I ask God to work and then get mad at Him when He does, because His work makes me raw and uncomfortable and sometimes deep in the valley. And then when I realize my foolishness, I get so angry with myself. But He is never angry with me. I am His beloved child, and He has poured out all the wrath I deserved on His Son. What a gift of grace. How could I ever turn my back on this gift?

And so I turn back to Him, back to this hard path of opening– this hard path that leads, in the end, deep into the very heart of the God of the universe, my Father and Friend. There is no love like this– it draws me in and makes every battle, every struggle, every deep valley worth it. I fail and I embrace my folly and I fall down, and His grace is perfect in my weakness and He uses the foolish things to shame the wise and He never, ever gives up on me because He sees me as I am– beloved.

faint fringes keysAnd if you have asked Jesus to save you, trusting that His work on the cross paid the penalty for your sin, then you are His beloved as well.

This is incomprehensible love, and it is why I pray– Open me wide, Lord, to receive and to pour out Your good grace.

 

 

special thanks to my dad for letting me use his pictures for my blog. 🙂

 

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