In my early teenage years, I had a personal, everyday encounter with what it meant to be a hypocrite. Someone close to me hurt me continually, verbally and emotionally, when I was with her, but then when out with her friends would be all syrupy sweet. It sickened me, and I resolved to be honest and genuine myself. I know it’s always easier to see someone else’s flaws over your own, so I make it a point to work on in myself whatever bothers me about others. I believe it was Gandhi that had the same idea: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
I was talking with my best friend recently and we were discussing how there is often suffering in the midst of God’s goodness in our lives. It made me think of when I was growing up; I got pretty tall pretty quickly, and my legs and back would just ache and ache and ache. The thing is, though, whenever I would tell a doctor or parent about it, their response was always, “You’re in a growth spurt.” Never once did anyone tell me, “You’re in a pain spurt.” No one exclusively focused on the pain; everyone acknowledged what was really going on: I was growing.
I think the same thing happens in our spiritual lives, except we focus on the wrong thing. I think oftentimes we are growing, and that involves some aches and pains and stretch marks, but instead of talking about what’s really happening–we are growing–all we ever talk about is we are hurting. The pain is not the circumstance. Growth is the circumstance. Pain is simply a symptom of the circumstance. Yes, the pain is real, but SO IS THE GROWTH. Focusing on the growth doesn’t make the pain go away, of course, but it shows its purpose. We are not suffering for nothing. We are aching because we are growing.
Romans 8:22-25 NLT
“For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as His adopted children, including the new bodies He has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)”
For so long I have seen “abandonment” as something negative, something to be feared, an action that is taken because of a passivity to take the desired action. A passivity in love, a passivity in care, a passivity in devotion. All of these I have seen as leading causes to abandonment.
Abandonment is painful, yes, but recently God has been showing me how necessary it is to our walk with Him. In order to wholeheartedly follow Him, we must evict everything else that takes up space in our heart. God wants to own the real estate of our hearts, but we rent it out to lesser things. God can’t inhabit the places of our hearts that we have allowed to become occupied by worry, fear, doubt, tradition, unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, lust, comfort, wanting to go our own way, and more.
In order for God to own all of us, we must abandon everything else. This abandonment is a painfully positive thing. An active choice. This abandonment is trading everything lesser for the One that is GREATER. This abandonment is letting go but is also taking hold.
For me, abandonment has meant counting all else as loss that I might gain Christ. Abandonment has meant abandoning myself and embracing Him. It has meant ending harmful, parasitic relationships, leaving a job and career I had been trying to build for myself, and doing whatever God tells me to do, whenever He tells me to do it.
The effect has been akin to that of going on a zipline over a beautiful landscape instead of trudging through it on foot. The journey (and the view) is so much greater and faster and more overwhelming and incredibly amazing on the zipline than from the little viewpoint you have on the ground. It involves a lot of trust to take that first step off the solid platform, but the ride is so much more exciting as you realize you’re just as secure in the ropes as on the platform. You’re still being held, but you are also moving. You’re not stuck where you are and you realize what a beautiful sensation the wind in your hair is and how weightless you feel. Nothing is holding you down any longer; instead, you are held up.
It’s a beautiful thing. It’s terrifying at first, but it’s a bigger regret to stay on the platform than it is to step out into all God has for you.
It means leaving where you were behind you, but where you’re going is so much better. I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She had a life planned out for her, but God came in and changed not only the direction of her life, but the whole world. People thought she was crazy. People thought she was lying. People wanted to kill her. But what do we remember and celebrate? Her humility in abandoning her plans for her life over to God and His plans.
Maybe what God is telling you to abandon in order to follow Him sounds crazy to everyone around you. Let me remind you that God is the One who knows where He wants to take you. God is the One who will catch you and hold you when you take that first step (and all the ones after it). Don’t stay where you are if God is telling you to move. On the flip side, don’t move when God is telling you to stay. Abandon your plans, your heart, and your ways to Him; He will direct your paths.
He’s got this. He’s got you. And He will never fail you.
I see your pain. And I know if I, being only human, can see your pain, our God surely does too.
I know you. I know how you’ve fought before and know you’ll fight again. I know the God we serve and know we surely will win.
I’ve loved you for thirteen years (and counting), but God has loved you since the beginning of time.
My heart breaks at the troubles you’ve had, and I know yours has too, so I thank God He is The One Holding You.
I wish I could make everything better. I’m not strong enough to carry your burdens but I can drag them to the feet of Jesus and meet you there.
That is what I love about you. No matter what we have been through, we bring each other back to the Mighty One Who Saves. We tune our ears to the songs He sings over us. We sing His praises with our hearts bleeding and our tears falling, our breaths shaking and desperation calling.
We know, This is not The End. This is the start of Something New, Something Bold, Something We Do Not Yet Behold. It is the approaching footsteps of God coming through, coming to rescue me and you. It is the shift in the atmosphere, the Voice of God saying, “I AM. HERE.”
It is the beating of angels’ wings; Heaven’s Armies all surround us. The glory of God in the cloud, coming down. It is not near; it is HERE. It encamps among us, seeps into us. It is the Mighty Rushing Wind; it is the River of Life around the bend.
It is us asking, “God, what are You doing here?”
It is Him responding, “Just draw near.”
It is His breath we are breathing, His life we are embracing. His blood running through our veins, His heart we are chasing. To do so alongside you is something invaluable to me, all the things you help me see that show me I am not my own. Thanks to you, I have grown.
So in this time when you are hurt, I beg you to never forget your worth. Look back at your battle scars and trust that God has not gone off far.
He is here, He is now, He is forever. He has not left you and He will never.
So in all the things you have to do, take comfort that I AM is in you.
Over the holidays, I was struck by the parallels of window-shopping to our spiritual lives. Window-shopping is when we walk through all that’s available for purchase, but don’t pay the price to get it. How often do we wish we had greater faith, saw miracles more often, or had a stronger prayer life, but don’t want to put in the work to get it? How many times do we worry about something and hope it gets better but never put in the work to get down on our knees and petition the gates of Heaven for a miracle?
I think, in my own life especially, we fear and avoid the process of growth because we fear the pain that comes with it. We want what we see displayed in the window but don’t want to sacrifice anything to get it. We become content to listen to praise music but don’t sing the words from our own hearts. We don’t mind praying over a meal but aren’t praying about what keeps us up at night. We want a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, etc, but don’t want to improve who we are. We feel good enough about ourselves because we see what we want all around us and think it’ll still be there whenever we decide to sacrifice what we have to get it.
But what if our time is now? What if God is calling you to trade in everything of value to you in order to receive everything He has in store for you? What are we waiting for? Isn’t what God has for us much more precious than what we have stored up for ourselves?
May we boldly approach the throne of God with faith enough to believe that what God started in us, He will carry on until the day of completion, and may we give up anything that would hold us back.