Trading Religion for Relationship

Trading Religion for Relationship

I’ve heard it said that noise is the enemy of our generation.

Maybe every generation. Probably. But I know that it’s a prison guard in my life.

As I type this, I sit alone. And it’s quiet. And I have spent the entire day in solitude. And I am extremely,

deeply

uncomfortable.

I don’t know exactly when I lost the art of solitude and silence with God. Maybe I never really had it. All I know is that my relationship with God has always functioned more like athlete-coach than father-daughter. I approach God like a soccer player on the sidelines. My “quiet” times are like drills and pep talks, and then I hit the field as I drive to work and go through my day.

Which works fine. Until I’m sick. Or injured. Benched.

And when God the Father wants only for me to come to Him, curl up with Him, I don’t because I see Him as God the Coach. I’ve failed Him. I’m weak.

I think this is why I fear solitude. I see it as myself on the end of the bench, my coach a million miles away, focused on the other players. So solitude is a dreaded time, a punishment, a time for me to focus on how to get back in the game.

A lonely time.

A time when I realize how much of my value I put into being an athlete. Because if God is a Coach, then that’s what I am to Him: an athlete. My injuries symbolize a loss of identity. No space for weakness, no room for rest. No value in stillness. Life becomes a game I can’t keep up with, and God becomes a Coach I don’t talk to. Because I don’t want Him to see me like this.

 

I came to South Carolina 2 months ago injured.

Not with a broken leg necessarily, or an open wound. More like unable to hit the field due to utter exhaustion. My mind was exhausted, my spirit was exhausted. The season after graduation had run me dry because every morning I woke up expecting to be an athlete and every morning I saw a weary face in the mirror. Dreams were dashed, loneliness was real, anxiety was present. The pressure of knowing where to go bore down on me as I got rejected from internships and confused about what to do.

I couldn’t be an athlete. I just didn’t have it in me. So who was I? My whole life I have focused, full of energy, on what I did for my Coach. But I never spent time learning who I was to my Father, off the field, off the bench. Who am I when I’m not accomplishing anything? Who am I when all things familiar are stripped from me, and I find myself forced to learn solitude?

 

I’m a daughter. That’s who I am. I’m a child of God.

Jesus did not call me here to South Carolina to train me up for the field. He called me here to give me Himself. He doesn’t base our relationship off of what I can do for Him. He just loves me for who I am because He made me who I am. Performance anxiety has no place in the Christian life.

Let me say that one more time, if even just for myself.

Performance anxiety has no place in the Christian life.

I have spent my whole life being a stage Christian, and I am weary for it. I am a Pharisee, but I scream for relationship. Religion leads to burnout, but intimacy leads to vibrancy, because there is no performance needed.

Today I did nothing of value. I saw no one, influenced no one. Accomplished nothing. Walked around deeply uncomfortable being only with my Heavenly Father. But what do you expect? I can only be who I am made to be. That is, a daughter. A child.

I don’t want to be religious anymore. I don’t want to come to God as an obligation, and I don’t want to view Him as a drill sergeant. I don’t want to place my identity into what I do or what team I’m on, because those things can be ripped from me in an instant.

I think that is why God is great to show us our weaknesses, to bench us. Because He knows we can’t keep up the athleticism forever. God isn’t the coach who drills us but the Father who scoops us up and takes us home in His minivan, buying us ice cream on the way home because He is so proud of all that we are, even when we fall. Especially when we fall.

And that is why solitude is vital. Because all God wants is to know me, and to know you. But we fill our lives with so much noise. He wants our severe honesty. He wants our love, and has poured out His love by the bucketload. I feel today as if I know very little about being in a relationship with God, but I’m learning.

I’m getting a taste of daughterhood, little by little.

 

Losing the Illusion of Control

Losing the Illusion of Control

I used to think that life with God was like sharing the wheel of a semi truck.

You know. Sometimes you feel Him driving, and you’re sitting right there, watching out the front window with Him. He’s commentating on what’s going on, pointing out the places He’s bringing you, and training you up for what’s next.

But then sometimes it feels like He just lets go of the wheel and tells you to start steering. And you know He’s still there, but you also know that you’re gonna crash the truck if it ‘s all up to you to get it where it needs to go safely. So you clench your shoulders and grit your teeth and just try to survive because you think that He gave you the wheel and it’s your job to drive.

That’s how I’ve felt since graduating college. I spent 4 years with my driver’s permit, walking with Jesus and learning from Him about how to spend my days well, about how to love Him and others. And then I graduated, and I started to believe that it was suddenly my job to drive. I felt all eyes on me, the pressure of doing something with my degree, the world huge and the highway wide, and I felt my muscles start to tense.

Not helped by the fact that it became increasingly evident that I didn’t have any control of my life anyways. I felt like the wheel was supposed to be in my hands, and yet it consistently stayed out of reach.

I had my eyes set on an internship I was hoping to do this year. I didn’t get it. So I set my mind on a year abroad. The pieces didn’t come together. So I thought I might go back to college and do a year of grad school. But the wheel was always out of my hands. I was reminded consistently that I wasn’t the one driving. And what do you do with that?

If I’m not driving, who is?

 

I used to think that life with God was like sharing the wheel of a semi truck. But now I know that life with God is actually like sitting in the back seat of His minivan.

You see, after all my striving and begging for the keys, Jesus brought me exactly where I was supposed to be. A Fellowship program with a church in South Carolina had a spot reserved for me without anybody but God knowing it, and I never would have found it if it was up to me. I didn’t even know it existed.

But I didn’t have to! I’m just sitting in the back seat of my dad’s minivan. I’m only anxious when I forget that.

I’ve learned that Jesus doesn’t ask us to be in control of our lives. I’ve spent substantial time being upset with Him about my lack of control, but He has been faithful in easing my heart down. He reminded me of family road trips as a kid. My family would take one every summer- pack all the kids in a minivan, drive days on end, pitch a tent in the national park of your choice. It was awesome.

One trip in particular sticks out to me, and that was the year we went to Zion National Park in Utah. I was probably 9th or 10th grade, and I’m sure there were a million details that went into making that trip a success. Hotel bookings, budgeting for gas, renting a camp site, checking the weather. But I couldn’t tell you a single one, because I didn’t spend a single moment trying to do my dad’s job. You see, that was always up to him. He was the details guy who figured that all out. I trusted him to get me where I needed to go, and there was no anxiety in me as I jumped in the back seat of our family minivan that summer.

Why don’t I view God’s plans for me the same way? He’s the details guy. I’ve spent a lot of time not believing that, but I am learning that it’s true. It feels so wrong and pointless sometimes to kick back and read my favorite novel, but from the backseat of a minivan, what else is there to do but enjoy the ride?

That is, if you trust the driver.

It took me landing in the middle of a state I was not planning on living in, in a program I didn’t know existed, living with a host family I had never met, to realize that I was never driving the car. Never. But what a gift that is, because the world’s best driver is.

I’m not going to understand where He takes me, how He does it, and why I’m here. Not all the time. Very rarely. But it’s not my job to understand. It’s my job to enjoy the ride.

And my favorite parts are the pitstops. The times when He stops the car, and takes my rested up, content self and points out a person that needs to be loved. Or a flower that needs to be smelled. Or a really, really good book that needs to be read. And we do it together. Father and daughter.

Sometimes the pitstops are really painful. He teaches me about suffering or walks me through illness or humiliation. Sometimes it straight up feels like He dips me in hot tar or takes a scalpel to my soul. But He’s still driving the car. He’s still in control. His plans for me are still good, those stops merely necessary moments in the story He is writing.

And every day, it comes down to trust. Trust, trust. Always trust. Like a little child.

And every day is a choice to lean into it or not.

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

 

It’s Time To See The Good

It’s Time To See The Good

I have a confession. This isn’t what I was going to post. I already had something else written, spell checked, tagged and ready to go, but I woke up this morning and realized I couldn’t post it.

Because it was 1,000 words about what was wrong with my life, what was wrong with the church, what is wrong about what is happening around me right now. And I’m tired of focusing on everything that doesn’t fit where I want it to.

You see, I’m the problem. I have blamed a million things for my negative attitude, but nothing is to blame but the brain between my ears and the crooked heart in my chest. And it’s oddly liberating to know this, because for so long I couldn’t understand how the world we live in could be so paradoxical. It had my head spinning, for it would seem so dark to me, as I awoke on an aimless Saturday morning, or wrote another paper, or gazed at the unknown days ahead. The world seemed menacing and dark to me, and yet I would go for an evening run to Walmart, and as I drove past an open lot the ground would glitter with lightening bugs and the sky would be seven shades of red and I couldn’t understand how a world so beautiful could seem so dark to me.

And now I know: the lightning bugs have it right. They are beautiful because they can’t help it – they were programmed and designed to spread glitter across green landscape. They were simply created beautifully and so was I, and any day I refuse to believe that is a sad waste of precious time.

I’m only 22, but I have lost entire seasons of my life worrying myself to panic or, worse, sleep. I couldn’t figure out how I could be so tired by 11 am until I realized that I had created an exhausting world in my own head. I was torturing myself with my negative thoughts, and it wore me out. I was literally making myself sick with worry. And it was all my fault, in the best of ways.

I’m glad it was my fault, because I don’t want to blame the world or God or anyone else.

Sometimes, when I am sick and in my mind, I just step outside and allow this world to be all that it is to me. And the sun’s heat, the mismatched clouds, the sounds of lawns being mowed, they heal me. I recently spent two weeks beneath Italian mountains, and the way they rose from the forest blanket, staring at the sky and daring to be grander than anything else around them… I was small in the best way. I really am allowed to let go and give my worries to the mountains and the God who fashioned them perfectly.

I can lean into friendships. The people who make me laugh without trying. The eyes I can stare straight into without fearing what they see. The people who validate my fears, cry through memories of boys I shouldn’t have liked, and still view me as a whole, capable woman through it all. The people who instill confidence in me, who build me up, who let me dare to be more than who I am today. Who told me I could be more in the first place.

And Jesus. Jesus. My shepherd who died to give me life I don’t appreciate, days I worry out of existence. Why do I think so small when I have a Father who made everything?

So today I choose. As one who chooses to lose weight from their body, I choose to lose weight from my mind and soul. It doesn’t happen all at once, but change begins with a choice. For me, it’s a pledge to gratitude. It’s a decision to fight the stress headaches and negative perception by Truth and new foundations. It’s a promise to have fun. To think of nothing sometimes. To dream again. A new way of living that I used to be good at, until I thought I had to play God in my life.

And that’s why I couldn’t publish that other post. It can’t be me anymore. I don’t need to tell you what’s wrong in this world, and I surely don’t have to tell myself.

But I do need a reminder of what is beautiful and worth my musings. I need to remember who God is in this world and who God is in mine.

And maybe you need that reminder, too.

You Gave Your Life To God. Don’t Expect It Back.

You Gave Your Life To God. Don’t Expect It Back.

I never got a boyfriend in college. Or high school.

And I don’t say that to evoke some sort of pity from you. Really. It’s more of a fact, and one that I’ve found peace for.

But I do say it to be real, because even though I’ve never met the right guy, hardly a day goes by that I wish I will. You know… you turn a corner one day and see him and suddenly everything changes. (Maybe I’ve read too many pre-teen novels for my own good..)

Overly fantasized or not, the reality is that so many people find that person, and their lives are changed forever, and they get to live the rest of their lives with their very best friend. And for many people, this adventure happens in college, and I would be lying to say I didn’t hope it would also happen for me.

But it didn’t.

Not that I didn’t try, of course, and my close friends could tell you story after story of ridiculous things I did to try and make Boy A or Boy B notice me. (Don’t even ask about the unicorn onesie incident…) But after the first boy I liked married my roommate, and the second boy stuck me straight in the friend zone and asked me for advice on the girl he actually did like… things started to get a little discouraging.

I distinctly remember thinking that there was absolutely no way I would get through four years of a christian college without at least one guy falling in love with me. Right? I expected the world to at least give me that. (And maybe it did. But if so, I was painfully unaware.)

I would speak to juniors and seniors and learn that they were still single, and I would gawk at the romantic black hole I had walked in to. How were those people still single?! They were beautiful and wise and dedicated to the Lord. Who wouldn’t want that?

But I have learned that I put way too much stock into romance and dating and sappy Instagram posts. It embarrasses me to even think about it now, but I was indoctrinated by the culture that surrounded me. Even at a christian college, and a good one, far too much time and energy was spent on who liked who, and way too little time on the God who made us all.

 

It’s a little unsettling how much my mindset has changed since graduation a month ago. I think I was changing for years during college, but it’s like I never actually had a chance to see what it all meant for me. I was stuck – in a good way, at the time – in a decision I made as a 17 year old to attend the school I did. And I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but part of me now thinks I may have loved it too much.

Let me explain.

I was comfortable there. I cared about getting a boyfriend far more than bearing my cross. Following Jesus was a hobby for most of my college career – something I would do when I had free time but nothing worth giving my life up for. I would come for Him when I had something to gain, like comfort or proof for my beliefs.

And how sick is that? He died for me. A bloody, humiliating event. God turned away and He took it all.

I think, my whole life, I have been indirectly taught that you can have Jesus and everything else too. But can you? This post feels jumbled, but maybe that’s because I am. I feel like I just stepped off the Tilt-A-Whirl at the fair, like my head hurts and what I thought was gravity just dropped out from under me.

The reality is, I gave my life to Christ when I was 5 years old. And I had absolutely no way of knowing what that would mean for me, but God did. He took my little heart, and He began to mold it and form it and I will never forget the Saturday night my 7th grade year when I realized I wanted to live for God. I knew that night that my heart burned for Jesus, but I will admit I thought nothing of sacrifice.

I thought I could have it all and Jesus too.

And now I’m trying to figure out how I justified it all.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked for life, for a place in His kingdom. And Jesus didn’t tell him to go to a comfortable christian school, marry a christian woman, have cute little christian kids and find a comfortable job to support it all. He tells him to “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me”.

I want to be careful here. I am not, in any way, insulting those who met their spouse at a christian college, had kids, and now work to support the family they have built. That is incredible and beautiful. What I am questioning, however, is the word comfortable.

And I’m questioning it because I see it in myself. I never dreamed of sacrifice, and consequently didn’t partake in it much. I don’t spend my life loving orphans and widows, as scripture clearly commands. I can’t even remember the last time I told somebody about Jesus who had never heard. I am sickened, sickened by what I have considered important.

Why did I never consider that I didn’t find somebody to be with at college because Jesus didn’t plan for me to find someone there? I gave my life to Jesus long ago, why do I keep expecting it back? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

I think back to all the heartache of the past year. I think it was me losing my soul. Vain desires were rotting me. Jesus took away – withheld – so that I would face sacrifice with a hungry knowledge that this world ain’t gonna cut it. Sacrifice is the only obvious choice if I am to gain Christ.

And I must gain Christ. My soul needs Him. I don’t want to gain this world, for I die a little every time I do.

Jesus is so different than I imagined. He expects me to give it all up, everything He has given me. And yet I know – I know – that if I do, life will be there. He kept me from falling in love because He has love waiting for me – buckets and buckets of love.

But I must follow Him to find it.

 

 

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to do big things.

I was that kid who would watch American Idol with my family on a Tuesday night, and then quickly steal upstairs and practice singing in front of my full length mirror until mom came to tuck me in. I would practice introducing myself to the judges (Randy, J-Lo and Steven Tyler at the time), and I would pace back and forth, singing and using up the space, putting on a real show to my 10-year old self in the mirror.

I would do this partly because I liked to sing, of course, but mainly because it was a big thing, American Idol, and I wanted a part of it.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of big things.

My mom would get me snuggled in bed, and by the glow of the dim lamp I would dream about what my life would be. And I would think that I would do just about anything and go just about anywhere. I would audition for crazy singing shows and fly all around the world and write best-selling books. (Don’t even get me started on all the rough-drafts I had going of achingly-bad teen novels…)

My head was full of big dreams, because I wanted to be a part of big things.

As I grew up, those big desires began to change a little. Not entirely, and not overnight, but I did realize that there were bigger things than trying out for reality TV shows. I would fantasize filling up my passport and playing my oboe so well that thousands would come and see.

I would dream so big, and I wouldn’t feel any fear. Partly because I hadn’t actually done any of these things, but also because the world was consistently good at patting me on the back. I was cheer captain, principle chair in band, worship team leader in youth group. I had a loving family, a comfortable home, an exciting life. I had friends that had stuck by me for 10 years, and I was looking towards an excellent college education at the school of my choice. I had never experienced real pain, physical, mental, or emotional. I had never had my heart broken, never been hospitalized for more than a day, never tasted bitter panic.

I didn’t view myself as plagued by anything that would stop me from filling my life up with everything that would make me happy. As I write it now, I recognize how ridiculously skewed this way of thinking was, and also how painfully naive.

I took mission trips in high school, to Mexico, Burkina Faso, Mali, China… I prided myself on my ability to go on trips that I wanted to go on, saw myself as so brave to jump on a plane, selfishly see the world, give what didn’t hurt, and then come home. (Now, I don’t want to make myself sound too awful in high school, but if I’m honest -and I try to be- my heart was a selfish muscle. I was in it for me, and I passed it off for Christ-like.)

I thought courage was the desire to do big things and the ability to carry them out un-fazed, happy. I saw the courageous people as those who made big moves, and the scared, lazy people as those who lived normal lives.

I was sickeningly wrong.

 

I got lost in the Shanghai airport the last time I flew home from China. The story is long, and though I like to tell it to anyone who will listen, I will spare you the details here. All you need to know is I got lost, I got freaked, and then I finally found my family just in time to jump on a metal tube that was about to take me over the Pacific Ocean for 17 hours.

Something weird happened in me that day. Something cracked. I was scared. Suddenly, it was all too much for me, and I felt that I would never jump on another plane again. I practically kissed the ground when we touched base in Seattle.

My little ghost began to follow me around. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and suddenly I was afraid of things that I knew shouldn’t scare me. Dark clouds began to find me on perfectly normal days, and I couldn’t see past them. I began to doubt everything – my faith in God, my ability to make it through the day breathing normally. My chest was tight. I couldn’t make it through a work shift without reading scripture or taking bathroom breaks to breathe.

I had my first panic attack about 6 months after the incident in Shanghai. I gripped the chair, didn’t tell a soul, and couldn’t believe there would ever come a day I wasn’t afraid. My fear was irrational, most of it, and yet it was so real. It became my closest companion – it wouldn’t leave me alone.

Those big crazy dreams of mine were put somewhere deeper than I could see them. Nothing mattered but getting through the day. And besides, I couldn’t imagine boarding a plane, let alone doing something worth mentioning on the other side. Suddenly courage meant something new to me – seeing past the fear and finding life somewhere else.

 

I write this today because I spent my whole day packing, anticipating the first big trip since the incident in China, since the fear began, 3 years later. I am coming off an intensely fearful season of my life, and I am no longer the happy-go-lucky high school girl I was as I stare down this adventure. She has been replaced by reality, by a girl who knows hurt, and joy, more than she thought she would.

Yet she has never been so courageous. I have never been so courageous.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is Something bigger than it. Someone bigger than it. In fact, I believe no one is truly courageous unless they are utterly afraid. Courage is acting in faith when the task at hand terrifies you, knowing that God has ordained these steps and will provide a way through them.

I never knew my need for God until I walked through a season afraid. I have never loved Him more.

Now, I view no one more courageous than the quiet soul who dispels fear with scripture, who wakes up daily and says, “God, what’s next?” Because that’s hard to do. It takes real faith.

It takes a heart of bravery. Of courage, in its purest form.

So I’ll jump on a plane this Friday a little afraid, and a lot excited because I get to be brave.

I never had the chance before.

 

 

 

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

I’m at a wedding this weekend.

My oldest brother is getting married to the sweetest, most genuine southern beauty, and my whole family is in the wedding party. There are a million things to get done, of course. Weeks ago things started popping up around the house: chalkboard signs and table arrangements and taupe colored bridesmaid dresses.

Essentially, throwing a wedding is like throwing an incredible huge party, and it’s kind of the best. Granted, there’s a ton to get done, but the reason for it all is arguably the most beautiful ceremony that can occur under the sun.

And so, in a way, I’m engrossed by the most beautiful thing on planet earth right now.

Something strikes me every time I’m a part of something inherently and exponentially beautiful, though. It’s funny, but it’s like all of my problems in life are amplified in a way. Watching others happiness reminds me of my own unhappiness. Meals with family make me think of the moments I am completely alone. It feels like I’m cheating on the more realistic, down to earth sides of my life, like I’m not honoring them in the way they deserve.

This weekend has nothing to do with me. I didn’t choose the color scheme or pick out the dress I’m going to wear. If all goes well, I will go completely unnoticed, entirely overshadowed by the bride and groom. That would be right, that would be good.

And then I will go home, and although a thousand things just changed for the better in their life, everything in mine will stay the same. I will still be recently graduated, unemployed, proud resident of the average sized bedroom in my parent’s upstairs. I don’t need reminding that my life starkly juxtaposes that of the happy couple.

It could be so easy for me to let bitterness win. Because that’s all we want as humans, isn’t it: to get everything we want.

There are a million things the Lord has not handed me as I wished Him to. Or, to put it another way, if I could write my life, I would possess so many things I don’t currently have.

Life, for instance, a plan for my future. A ring on my finger. A straighter nose. A spotless past. An unbreakable heart.

A party, just for me. A husband who vows that he will never leave me. Always be mine.

It’s not hard to think of what I don’t have, especially on weekends like this.

It’s funny, but I thought that the hardest thing about being single would be the loneliness, the forced-independence, the unmet desires, the tumultuous world of dating. I never imagined that the hardest part would be none of those things, but would lie in the party itself.

That the hardest part is rejoicing with those who have what you want.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

Oh, how hard it can be. The Lord asks us to throw our selfish hearts out the window and be more, to harness the Peace of the Spirit in a way we never have before.

Because, you see, the Lord may be one who takes away, but He is also a God of giving, and one who gives abundantly, more than we can ever ask for.

He has withheld so many things I want, and yet has given a million things I never even thought to ask for:

the ability to walk someone through a panic attack

an internship working with underprivileged kids

an incredible, humongous, loving family

sister in laws

a vibrant, living, consistent group of girls to live with during college

a story, one that is more broken than I wanted

and an ability to weep with those who weep, though I still have work to do with the other half of the verse.

 

Because our God might take away what we think we wanted, but He will surely give us what we need. More than that, what we never could have imagined needing.

But He knows.

And this weekend, there is no room for wishing, for if only I would open my eyes I would see, that I have never been in want. Not truly.

Not ever.

 

So I can go downstairs and play card games with my family, and I can laugh, and I can let it be all that it is supposed to be for me. Because it’s a gift, all of it. And if I let the blessings grow to size, there won’t be any room for anything else.

And that’s right. That’s true. That’s today, exactly as it’s meant to be.

 

God Isn’t Who You Think He Is.

God Isn’t Who You Think He Is.

I never considered myself a theologian.

I mean, those people are like probably really smart and have long beards and write books that end up stocked in the “Religion” section of Barnes N Noble. And I was… well, a white, middle-class, 16 year old girl who donned a cheerleading skirt on the weekends and drove a Jetta to her public high school every weekday.

So I never thought I formed much of an opinion about God. I mean, God is God. Right? He’s just… God. The Untouchable one, the Creator of the world. Being raised a pastor’s kid, I knew every adjective under the sky for the Big Man Upstairs, and I had been raised speaking fluent Christianese. I knew what to wear to church, what to say at church, what to do at church, that I should GO to church.

And it was all good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I have begun to realize that it all created an identity for God in my mind that has nothing to do with God at all.

I believe that one of the biggest influencers of our relationship with God is our relationship with the world. This shouldn’t come as a shock to you, of course. How many times have people been turned off from God because of pain in their life? Losing a loved one? Seeing how people treat each other? We correlate how the world treats us with how God must be treating us because, after all, He controls all things, doesn’t He?

Growing up, the world was one of my best friends. I know that may sound weird, but it worked with me. It held me up, gave me what I thought I needed. I had a clean bill of health, a living and well family, dinner on the table, a prominent position in my social groups, friends… I began to trust that this world would keep it up. I honestly remember thinking that other people suffer, but I never would. Surely if I made it to 18 without anything, I’m good to go, right?

And the theologian in me began to tell God who He was. He was the God that would make all of it happen for me, who would walk me through life without a scratch. He was my “buddy”, my patron saint, the one who would make things good for me in this life.

And oh, how I wish I could tell myself, all those years ago, that God was nothing like I imagined.

Because none of it came true. Life in college did not go by easily, I was not given everything I wanted, I did not come out without a scratch. So many dreams shriveled up and died right in front of me, and I had to learn how to grieve them. So many desires went ridiculously unmet, and I had to learn how to soothe them. The world seemed so against me all of a sudden.

The worst of all were the ghosts. The world didn’t have a lot of leverage on me growing up, but now it did. Memories that wouldn’t go away, lies that I believed for too long, beliefs that would pop up and follow me around. Things people said and did that hurt me more than I thought I could be hurt, and I can forget it when days are good, but once the pain hits they all come haunting back.

And you know what? It made me mad, really mad. Because to some, being hurt by the world is a given, and they learn that early on. The world is a messed up place.

But to me, it seemed a personal betrayal. I had trusted this world, believed that it wouldn’t hurt me, and it did.

The world hurt me… and in my mind God did too.

You see, I never saw myself as a theologian, but I have always been one. My whole life, I have formed opinions about God and decided who He was as regards to who He had been to me. He was good to me, therefore He was good.

But now I know that it doesn’t work that way, and if I could go back and tell myself one thing, this would be it.

God is good, always. This world is fallen, this world will hurt me, but God is good.

God is love, and His love stretches far beyond giving me everything I want. He loves me enough to take it all away, like a forest fire through the trees, clearing it out in a painful blaze so that something new can grow.

God is just, and I deserve His wrath. Every day, that ridiculous pride I’ve carried around is thrown off a bit more and I begin to see, clearer and clearer, Jesus in front of me, taking that wrath in my place. And I am standing, only in the shadow of His pain.

I have learned that sometimes God leads us through fire so that somewhere down the road some fire-scorched human being can take solace in our experiences. I have learned that He did not call us to ease, but to cross-bearing. To suffering. And our sufferings aren’t even for us all of the time, but they are for other people, tools that make us useful in loving those people.

And that my theologian’s mind may try and define the God who made it all, but even my most off-base definition can’t change Him. He is God, and I am not.

He is to be worshiped, and I am not.

He will never change, no matter how much I do.

And He is love – no matter how much this world hurts me, He never will.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you.

Therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.

Job 42:5-6