Do you ever take your eyes off your own paper just for a minute, maybe not every day, but every so often? What do you see when you look around?
I don’t necessarily mean on social media, but let’s start there. Maybe you sit down for a few moments of peace in between meetings or mountains of laundry. You tap the screen and lose yourself for a few minutes – maybe more than a few – in those perfect little squares. (Yes, I know I pick on Instagram a lot. No, I’m not sorry.) In the span of a few moments you’ve maybe seen amazing vacation pictures, a victory shot of a new number on the scale or a new pair of jeans.
A lucrative new opportunity someone else has been handed, a pregnancy announcement, the money shot to a set of keys to a new home being handed over. A gap-toothed kid smiling with a solid gold report card. A kitchen reno. A mission trip overseas. A road trip over state lines.
Whatever it is that you’re seeing, when it causes your heart to contract, tightening with pain instead of expanding in gratitude and wonder, what is happening there?
Original sin, sure. A touch of envy. A dusting of avarice. A smidge of self righteous resentment. Quite possibly, yes.
But what if the pain is also a sign of something more foundational than plain, boring old sin?
What if God is examining an old hurt, probing an imperfectly-healed wound with His finger, showing where it’s still tender, infected, impacted?
I was on the treadmill last month in a fit of mid-January despair, multitasking between (I kid you not) a motivational podcast with a self-help book pulled up on my Kindle while maintaining a vigorous pace. Of the two entire times I exercised during the month of January, this was by far the more strenuous.
My mind wandered from the podcast as my brain strained to toggle between audio and visual input. Frustrated, I switched off the Kindle and stared into space. What was the use, anyway? I can intake all the self help advice on the planet and still only show up at the gym twice a month during this season of life. I just don’t have the hustle. I just don’t have the grit.
God gently quietly inserted Himself into my negative stream of consciousness and this thought popped up: “But do you spend time with Me?”
Not lately. My conscience was seared on the spot, but with the gentle precision that only the Divine Physician can wield.
During the tumult of the holidays and a very sick month for our family, time with God – along with my amazing diet and great sleep hygiene and New Year’s Resolutions to slay all day – had fallen along the wayside.
I saw myself in that moment on the treadmill in a crowded gym at 10 pm on a January night and I laughed at how perfectly, perfectly I embodied my perpetual desire to save myself.
God constantly has to remind me to stop fighting Him for control of my own life.
Basically from the time when I first gained self awareness right up to present day, I’m in a constant cycle of forgetting Him, forging ahead, enjoying moderate success under my own formidable head of steam, having some kind of stress or effort or circumstance-induced breakdown, crashing and burning, and then calling out to Him in despair. And repeat.
He always picks me up again. Consols me with an intimacy that doesn’t seem possible outside of a retreat setting.
For about a week or two – however long I manage to maintain my newfound enthusiasm for a good prayer routine, however long I can perceive Him metaphorically rubbing my belly – I lap up His closeness like a good-natured dog who is so, so happy the master came home from work again.
Inevitably, life creeps back in and the intimacy fades. As I’ve come to understand in my slightly more mature walk of faith, it is almost always me withdrawing from the Lord, not vice versa.The morning after my little treadmill epiphany I came to God with some pretty specific questions, asking Him why so-and-so had already achieved such and such, wondering what was wrong with me, my work, my commitment, my ability, etc. He was really clear and, again, really gentle: “What I have given to her would not have been good for you.”
Unfortunately that sentence wasn’t followed immediately by “but I’m going to give it to you soon!” Happily, neither did He finish with “And I’m never, ever going to give it to you.”
I guess He’s leaving the more nuanced work of discernment up to me.
It did get me thinking that some of my specific struggles with jealousy are tied to specific wounds or weaknesses of mine: the fear of not being chosen, of not being enough, of bringing my best to the table and still being rejected – this specific fear usually manifests for me as paralysis and procrastination. Because they can’t reject what you’ve never offered in the first place, am I right?
I’m the guy who buries his single talent in the ground and then obsesses about why everyone else is having so much success with their talents, while simultaneously trembling in fear of being called out for it one day.
Where is this going? I guess my point is twofold. First, that God uses specific weaknesses and wounds to speak to us about His vision for our lives and to remind us that we need Him. When something hurts, it’s an invitation to turn towards Him and ask for help.
He wants to heal us, He longs to…but He won’t force His way into our lives. If we turn away and refuse to show Him the cut, He can’t bandage it up. I’m sure it pains Him to watch us dripping blood all over the place like crazed toddlers, clutching at the injury in agony, wondering why He won’t help us but refusing to come near enough to let Him do so.
Second, He will continue to bring our pain to the surface, offering us opportunities to address it with Him. The woman from today’s Gospel who grabbed at Jesus’ robe in the crowd, had she tried everything in her own power already, was she desperate to be healed and finally reaching out to Him as a last resort? Or had she been crying out for years, unable to articulate what it was exactly that she needed until the moment she laid eyes on Him: the source and summit of her healing?
His mercy is new every morning, but so is our freedom to turn away. It’s a constant sacrifice of the will to turn towards Him, confiding our hurts and insecurities, our jealousies big and small. He wants all of them, begging us to lay down our burdens, longing to draw all the poison to the surface and make us well, make us whole.
As for me, I can wash my face and not quit my daydream and hustle like I mean it all day every day, but unless I hand my dreams, my heartbreaks, and all my brokenness over to Him, I’ll never reach the potential that He has in mind for me.