Thursday, April 29, 2010

Confusing Ends with Means

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I've been gone awhile.

Not "gone" as in "traveling," but as in "out of commission."  Life's stresses built up to the point where writing was out of the question.

There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak (Ecc 3:7), and this was definitely a time for me to keep quiet and listen.

Some of you were used by God to speak to me during this time.  You may or may not know it, but I do.  More importantly, God does, and you will not lose your reward (Matt 10:42).

So why is it time to write again?  Because He has given me a focus, a direction, some things to work through.  I write to learn, more than to teach.  I desperately need the content He gives me, and the chance to pass it along to someone else is pure gravy.

And what is He wanting to teach me?  For starters, it's that my spiritual focus has been wrong.  I've been focusing more on external circumstances than on internal realities.  And when I've tried to deal with internals, I've done it mainly with an eye toward changing my circumstances.  That hasn't been my conscious motivation, but it was my motivation nonetheless.

Now, there's nothing wrong with praying about (and dealing with) circumstances.  We do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2).  But sometimes, God gives a different answer than the one we were hoping for.  Sometimes He says to us, like He said to the Apostle Paul, that our pain has a good purpose, and that He intends for it to continue (2 Co 12:8-9). 

Whatever my spiritual direction has been, it hasn't been sufficient to prepare me for an answer like the one Paul got.  I have regularly stumbled, gotten discouraged, and quit in the face of overwhelming and unrelenting difficulties.  My spirituality was beautiful in theory, but it couldn't stand up to the realities of my life.  That's one reason why I've found it so much easier to read and write my faith than to pick up a scrub brush with it. 

I'm not talking about hypocrisy.  I have believed, deeply.  But there has been a radical disconnection between my head's belief and my heart's life, and I haven't been able to figure out why.

I could live out my faith if only they would…

I would be loving, but it's all so overwhelming…

Paul stopped praying for relief when God explained to him that His grace was sufficient.  But I fear that my heart has been saying, "Sorry, God.  Your grace is not sufficient for me.  I need relief!"

What if life never stops being overwhelming?  Is my spiritual walk really to be held hostage, only to be released when things become manageable for me?  Why have I resorted to escapism and other sins so often?  What has made me feel that I couldn't do what I knew God wanted me to do?  Why would I turn away from love, from patience, from kindness when things got rough?

Could it be that, even though I "know better," I have been judging the value of godliness based on whether or not it changed my circumstances?

What if godliness isn't supposed to be a means to an end?  What if it is the end that we are to seek?

Of course it is.  I know that, at least in my head.  But in my heart I've been screaming, "Life can't go on like this! I can't go on like this!"

And so, I quickly resort to the things that bring me relief, or that I hope will change my circumstances, even if they're not godly.

God hasn't told me to stop praying for circumstantial relief, so I will continue to do so.  But relief may end up coming in a package that has nothing to do with a change in circumstances.

Maybe relief comes from a change in me.  Godliness may turn out to be its own reward, if I give it a chance.

Tomorrow I want to write down some thoughts I've been having about how godliness (specifically, the Fruit of the Spirit) can help me, even if it doesn't change my circumstances at all.  It won't be the wisdom of experience, because I don't have enough experience.  But it will be the sorts of truths that I want to tell myself, the sorts of beliefs I want to encourage.  Maybe they'll help others, too.


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Laurie M. said...

Glad to see you writing again. May the Lord bless your journey. Perhaps we can grow together!

Sharlyn Guthrie said...

Nice to have you back, Betsy! I can certainly identify with this, "I write to learn, more than to teach." Same is true for talking or discussing. These are valid learning styles, by the way. :)

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