For me, 2017 and 2018 are a study in contrasts.
Last year was dark and stripping. Depression came, people left, the wilderness was stifling and sanctifying. The painful shaking out of all my dreams and plans was healing and holy, necessary and good. And, while I wouldn’t particularly love to go through everything again, I would repeat it all in a heartbeat in order to be where God has me today and to know Him as I do now.
Because of the lessons in the wilderness, I can tell you with more conviction and clarity than ever before that God’s Word is true, His promises are real, and His grace is sufficient. His character is flawless, His methods and ways are good, and His purifying fire never gets a degree hotter than He intends. He is trustworthy in our trials, torment, and terror, and He calls us to lean into all of those things in order to receive what we crave most: more of Him.
It’s in that receiving we quickly learn that He is better than the fulfillment of any and all earthly desires. Jesus is better. I want to go to my grave declaring it to be so. He is better than our hardest battles and deepest sorrow, better than an easy path or comfortable lodgings in this world. He is better than relief from trials or realized dreams. And, as I often repeated to my forgetful heart last year, knowing Him is better than knowing what He is doing.
“If every good thing He has given were to vanish, we would still be safe in Christ––and our basis for gracious gratitude would have no reason to be changed at all.” -Mary Mohler, Growing in Gratitude
But what if those good things aren’t removed but instead stay and multiply? What about trusting Him in seasons of abundance? I know He’s better than His gifts, but how do I accept and enjoy those gifts without shutting down from fear of their removal?
This year has been pretty much the exact opposite of 2017.
It seems like everywhere I turn there’s light and joy and another staggering mountain of tangible goodness. From jobs to relationships to a new house to overwhelming kindness from so many people, there is an abundance of goodness everywhere.
And I don’t know how to handle it.
The God of all comfort is heaping loads and loads of grace in this justified sinner’s life—I don’t deserve an ounce of it, yet here it is. I’m swimming around in mercy on a minute-by-minute basis, which is always true regardless of circumstances, but for the last eight months it’s been visible, holdable, and obvious, demonstrated through abundant provision, and it freaks me out. How do I operate here? The Lord gives and takes away but how do I say “blessed be Your name” when I’m scared of the blessing?
How do I lean into goodness? Maybe this sounds like craziness to you. It sounds and feels like craziness to me. Why do I distrust good things? Why do I sinfully wait for the rug to be ripped out from under me? Why do I expect the worst from the people I love the most? Why am I scared to trust God when things are going well?
Ah. There it is again. Fear.
Simon and Garfunkel might have sang about their old friend darkness, but fear is one of my oldest companions.
Though irrational and ridiculous, the battle to trust God and people when they’re being kind is one of the fiercest trials for this heart.
Here’s some of the fear battles that have flared up lately:
- I’m scared to feel.
- Feel loss, sadness, loved, or too much of anything because what if it’s not real or what if let emotions rule? Feelings don’t determine truth, so obviously it’s best to not feel at all.
- I’m scared people will manipulate me and nothing will be real (do we see a pattern?).
- I’m scared I’ll let people in and they’ll leave.
- I’m scared of everything good because it must be too good to be true.
I feel it. That familiar fear squeezing around my heart and assembling massive walls fashioned by lies. Lies that say God is untrustworthy and to be on guard because all of these gifts are too good and the things and people you love most will soon leave you anyway so best not to get too attached to anything or anyone. Shutting down emotions will prevent attachment and, by default, pain.
Except it doesn’t.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore told Harry, “Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” And numbing feelings in general robs glory from their Creator, the Author of joy.
The current happenings in my life can only be attributed to grace. Every single detail is the result of God’s kindness, extravagant love, and mercy. Last year (and the beginning of this one), those things were experienced through hardship and right now they are coming through a succession of yeses to years of prayers. Same mercy, different circumstances. But I’m fighting (and sometimes failing) to accept the gift because I’m too scared it’ll be removed. So clearly the only rational thing to do is resist it all. Bless.
Things I’m learning and relearning and fighting to remember:
- It is zero percent honoring to God to not enjoy His gifts.
- Fear does not exalt Jesus as the Sovereign Lord.
- “Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity.” -C. S. Lewis
- Shutting down may be an involuntary defense mechanism that keeps my heart from feeling certain emotions, but it hurts others.
- This trial of goodness is intentional.
None of this struggle is an accident. It comes from the Lord’s loving hand as He tenderly and faithfully fulfills His commitment to purify His bride. Through His goodness and this season of abundance, He is ripping up more layers of selfishness in this heart and exposing the fear bricks that shot block His grace.
One of those fear
bricks boulders? It’s marked “What if” and God is taking a jackhammer to it and the selfishness that motivates its presence.
My overly analytical brain rationalizes all kinds of what ifs on a second-by-second basis. Yours does too. We’re constantly weighing and making decisions, sometimes on a subconscious level. However, when it pertains to being vulnerable and trusting someone with my heart, my what if factory goes into hyperdrive, producing fear bullets at alarming speed (pun intended) and then, as previously stated, my default is to shut down so I don’t feel anything.
“As someone who doesn’t trust easily, I’ve come to know that what I call a ‘trust issue’ on the surface is a fear issue at the root. I don’t trust you because I’m afraid of you. Afraid that you’ll bring me pain. But what fear won’t say is what if they will give you love. What if..”
We sang my favorite hymn in church today.
It is Well (and the story behind it) has often led this weak heart to worship, as it so beautifully articulates the truth of the Gospel and the hope we have in our great Sovereign. The heavy three word declaration of “Whatever my lot” has long been a source of comfort and courage as it reorients and reminds this soul of the One who establishes that lot (Psalm 16:5).
As we sang those words today though, the thought immediately came, “What if that lot holds more tangible goodness—is it still well with your soul?” And then I realized a part of the root problem with this trial of goodness.
What does it say about me that I have to pray and ask God to help it be well with my soul in a season of abundance? What does it say when I have to pray and ask God for grace to relax and enjoy the goodness of His presence right here and now in pleasurable moments?
It reveals something that is quite shocking: I’m not God. Rather, I desperately need a Savior to rescue me from my greatest enemy—myself.
When fear sets in, regardless from where it stems, it’s a signal that my eyes are focused on the wrong thing. When I’m terrified because everything feels too good, I’m still looking at circumstances instead of the God who lovingly and strategically ordains them for our deepest joy.
So we’ve come to the heart of the matter.
Leaning into this season looks exactly like leaning into every other season. It looks like leaning into Jesus, goodness personified. Stability personified. Righteousness personified.
The goal in this season is the goal of every other season: holiness. More of Jesus. And more glory and worship for His name.
Only with hearts and gaze fixed on Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, will we resist retreating and shutting down and instead receive strength and resolve to run our race with endurance, whether we’re running in conditions we might label “good” or “bad” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Here, in whatever situations we find ourselves, we get Jesus. And, come what may, because He has secured us to Himself with a love that will not let us go, we are safe (Psalm 16:7-10).
May God be praised in our enjoyment of Him—an enjoyment that is not contingent on pleasurable circumstances but on the Person and finished work of Jesus, who has bought our eternal joy with His blood.
We can trust Him. He is not too good to be true.