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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Is God ever really good if He doesn’t give me the desires of my heart?

This is something that has been echoing in my heart these past few weeks; popping up whenever a quiet moment presents itself. I have pushed it down, using the Sunday school answers to quell my doubts: “Of course He’s good! How dare you think otherwise!”.

I admit that it’s dangerous to think that God revolves around my desires – to believe this would be blasphemous at worst and unhelpful at best. However, I have come to believe – or perhaps, to want to believe – that the God of the Bible is personally aware of mankind’s desires and needs. He knows that we need to lean on people to thrive. He knows that in American culture, sex sells anything from a can of tomatoes to an coveted luxury vehicle. He knows that loneliness leads to an experience often akin to hell on Earth. I also understand that He has purposes beyond curing loneliness, or providing every person who wishes to have sex a spouse. However, I don’t think that God’s purposes are above those things. But here’s the struggle, the crux, the vulnerable part that I am afraid to admit but will do so in spite of perhaps better judgment:

I have recently realized that if I were to remain single for the rest of my life, I would never believe God is truly good. I hope that I would still follow Him, love His people, and tend to His needs (however imperfectly). My experience with faith leads me to believe that Jesus would keep me in His hand for His glory. But I am not sure I could ever fully believe that God cares about me personally, if He neglected to give me my biggest earthly desire.

Now, I won’t hesitate to add that I am also very much aware that God allows His children to experience suffering. It’s important, even, for a believer to enter into times of troubles, because it is then that we really do recognize our need for Him. I am not by any means suggesting that following God means getting everything you want. But I do think that if God is good, He is not going to leave us alone in our desires and needs. He will meet them, as He met those of the beggar, the blind man, the dead Lazarus.

And then, I think of Jesus. His story was not expected – and I’m pretty sure the disciples were wondering where their good God was when He lay dead in the tomb. I’m also pretty sure they realized that their God’s goodness was so overwhelming in the wake of the resurrection that all of their concerns and fears became like a mist burning away in the heat of the sun. With Jesus, out of death comes life. Out of pain comes healing.

I don’t mean to insinuate in my plea that I arrogantly want to demand a husband from God and expect Him to drop Him right there on my doorstep right when I want it. I also know that I don’t just want a husband from out of nowhere; I desire a relationship born of God; shaped by Him, perforated by His presence. That is why I’m so conflicted, because I don’t know how to reconcile my love of God with the very real fear that if He “doesn’t come through for me” on this, that I will want to neglect Him. I don’t want to do that – I honestly want to think that even if I never marry, I will strive on and continue in the daily quest to pick up my cross and follow Him. But I’m just not sure that’s true. I may believe that God is good in the general sense, in the saving of humanity sense – but personally? I honestly don’t know.

The thing is, I am aware that He is good – and that He does care for me – the blood of Jesus poured out on me proves that. I am not here to blaspheme the Lord, or to claim He isn’t good. I know He is. But when it comes to the intricate personal desires of marriage and family, I am just not sure how I would go about believing that He is my best interest in mind. It seems silly, and contradictory, and it probably is. Selfish?  Maybe. Twisted? Possibly.

In Mark 10:51, Jesus comes across a blind man and asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The man answers, “Rabbi, I want to see”.

Because He’s God, He could most certainly have chosen to not heal the man. However, as it turns out, He does heal him – and it is on account of the man’s faith. Now, plenty of people in Jesus’ time were most likely not healed; my understanding is that of course God still cared for them all the same. But He does seem to respond to people who can do nothing else but trust that God, and only God, will provide and heal them of their pain, be it emotional or physical.

The thing is, if I were the blind man, and Jesus chose not to heal me after I requested it, I might listen to Him and respect Him, but I might not fully want to trust Him or believe He cared. Biblically, it seems that God cares not only our spiritual health and desires but also our emotional and physical ones. It is through His interactions and healings on earth that His power over sin and death could be made more poignant and  obvious. They matter.

But not everyone gets healed. Not every prayer gets answered. Not everyone gets married. What do I do with the fact that God is free to do what He wishes in my life and that just might not include what I desire for myself?

Well, to be honest, I pray every day that He would change His mind if that is the case. But I also remind myself that God’s goodness is not about me – and not dependent on my understanding of it. Through the Cross, God’s goodness was shown so evident that the disciples were forced to reevaluate what they had previously thought it meant for God to be good. And they also saw that God took what they believed was dead and removed from them forever and placed Him as their Advocate and Brother, far greater than what they could ever imagine. Their needs, and desires, were met in abundance…on Earth.

It is not my intention with this post to cause anyone to doubt, or to suggest that God is not good or doesn’t know what He’s doing. I want to obey and bring glory to Him, not the opposite. But I also want to be honest about my struggles; I truly don’t think Jesus just cares about the abundant life for us in glory; it is available now. I also want to make it clear that I absolutely do not think that struggles or lack of fulfillment of desire mean that God isn’t good or doesn’t care. But for me, personally, it perhaps becomes a rephrasing of my first question:

Am I willing to believe that God is ever really good if He doesn’t give me the desires of my heart?’

That, I think, is what I am most afraid to face.

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A few weeks ago, a dear friend loaned me a book that she had just finished, stating that it had made her think of me and that I would really enjoy it. It is a memoir, and to be honest, I don’t usually go around picking up that type of literature – even though, almost always, I love reading them. I have a thing about hearing other people’s stories; there’s something about people’s actual experiences that speaks to me so much more than abstract ideas. As the post’s title suggests, the book is called “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not”. The author, Trish Ryan,  lives in Boston as well, and used to attend the church that I have just started to “check out” as it were – in large part thanks to this book. She is thirty-something, hilarious,  is married, and has a dog. Obviously there’s a little bit more to her than that, but since I haven’t met her (yet), I’ll start with that.

I was wary when my friend suggested I read this, as I’ve had not-so-great experiences with books that claim that all we need is Jesus and isn’t it so crazy that He is our husband and we really don’t need an actual one and we’re actually pretty low on the spiritual scale if we do?! Like, yay! (Not).  In a nutshell, Ryan’s experience speaks to the fact that the struggle of her desire for her husband, and to figure out her spiritual life, are in fact very much related and it’s okay to pursue them together.  The book starts off with Ryan experiencing a situation where God speaks to her at a red light one day, after she very honestly comes to terms with her poignant desire for a husband.  Ryan says that the Lord communicates the following words in response to her plea: “I want you to want more for yourself. I have a husband for you, and a family, and everything you want, but you need to take Jesus seriously”. (Ryan, 3).

This voice experience comes to Trish after a traumatic situation in her life, when she feels little to no hope for a future filled with light and blessing.  She had had an understanding of God as a child – and at the same time, she also believed that what makes for a happy life is having a great marriage to the right guy. However, since that point, her desire to find the happily ever after ending leads to heartache after heartache, and also into the world of new age philosophy and spirituality. We follow Trish’s journey from a woman who practices astrology and feng sui to “control the circumstances” of her dating life, to the moment when she starts attending a church where all the “Christians” are, the ones who don’t have sex until marriage, and pray, and all that stuff. Hee. She does comes to an understanding of who Jesus is, and specifically who He is in her life and journey. It’s powerful stuff. And the thing that’s intricately related? Her desire for a husband. Much of the book is focused on her attempts to make relationships work, and to her struggles with God once she starts following Him and the husband doesn’t appear right away. I mentioned earlier that now she is married. So it seems that God held onto His promise to her, right? How so? Well…you’ll just have to read to find out! The way that the Lord brings her spiritual AND love lives together is so beautiful, and so Him, really. And I think it suggests quite a few things that I have alluded to before on other posts.

1) I can actually have a burning desire for marriage and the idea of a happily ever after ending – and still be “seeking first the kingdom of God”. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

2)  I really don’t need to have it all together in order for a husband to arrive. Really. In one of her talks on her website, Trish makes a point that I had never thought about before: the idea of self actualization is actually kind of a scam. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to start a whole life together as a unified couple when both people have spent so much time trying to “find themselves”. I felt very encouraged when she says that she learned more about herself and who she is after her marriage.

3) This one’s tough for me to fully believe, but here it is: God cares about my physical desires and needs, not my spiritual ones.  Trish’s story suggests that Jesus does care about my desire for marriage and children, and for my incessant crook in my neck, and my love of pasta. They are very important to Him. His blessings and joy are not just for the spiritual world, or for the life to come, but they are available here, now  (see 1 Peter 5:7 to support this). He delights in not only fulfilling our hopes, but Ryan would argue, in exceeding them as well.

In general, I could not recommend this book enough. Ryan is an amazing writer, profoundly honest, and utterly relatable. If you struggle with your desire for marriage and intertwining that with your faith, as I do, it’s a breath of fresh air to read the experiences of someone who does not give the standard “Jesus is my all” pat answers. It’s real. And it makes me excited to be part of the reality that she states is not only possible, but should be expected, for the believer – and for right now, not just sometime in the future.

You can find Trish’s memoir and her most recent one, A Maze of Grace, at most bookstores and on Amazon.com.

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It’s been seventeen thousand years since I’ve wrote on here. I’m hoping that will change…but I have to admit, I’m running out of topics! (Suggestions hereby welcome).

One of the reasons I’ve been absent has to do with the last post I wrote, incidentally. Basically, I’m not perfect. I have a dark side – or many. Recently, my choices led me into a state of feeling like I had no business hoping for a marriage of any sort, let alone a good one. I don’t feel deserving. So I’ve reacted against feeling bereft of my desire with self-pity, and it hasn’t been fruitful or life-giving. But it has been a source of growth, and a necessary one at that. I have sinned, and sinned purposefully, in the area of relationships, as is often the case these days. It has only been in the last few weeks, in light of the evidence of this, that I have started to realize the root of my patterns.

You see, I come from a broken family. A child of divorce, I was devoid of having a strong male presence in my life. I learned to mask the pain of it all; to pretend like just because it is now so normal for so many women, that it is fine. But it’s not. It’s not okay that I had to learn to walk into the world without my father to tell me I am beautiful and worthy of affection and love. It’s not okay that I felt left and abandoned, in part because it was true. It’s not okay that I have been plagued with insecurity and low self-confidence as a result.

And it’s not my fault. And these things do not have to dictate my future.

I’m not sure what kind of families you all come from, or what kind of pain haunts you at night. However, I do know that we all carry some burden of our pasts around with us and into our relationships. I have learned recently how important it is to face these issues head on, lest they remain unnoticed like an odorless poison that is discovered only when it is too late. It is far too easy to ignore the warning signs when we are enticed by promises of pleasure in the wrong context that leave us decidedly empty, or by the presence of someone – anyone, regardless of background – pretending to love us. But I do believe that Jesus, who defeated sin on that cross, is there to defeat our sin now – and even more, to heal the root of it. After all, He always went above and beyond when He healed the lepers, the beggars, the lame and the blind – not only did He address their physical needs, the”bonus” (and incidentally, the most important) thing was healed as well: their relationship with Him. And through that, other people as well. I have learned that relying on Jesus to heal my past and the roots of my decisions is the only way I will be able to look forward to the future with confidence. Have I fully done this? Definitely not. Should I even expect to be fully healed before entering into a relationship headed towards marriage? No, I don’t think so. But I think it helps remind us of where we are headed, once we know where we came from.

Until recently, the process of healing scared me. I didn’t want to be limited by a timeframe before I felt like I could hope for a godly relationship. I’ve since realized, though, that a break from dating needed to happen. To clear my head. To face my demons, and to sometimes feel alone in that. I’m still absolutely in the process of doing this, and I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon. But I do find that I can hope again, and that is beyond freeing. God is a God who redeems brokenness, after all.

And when my guilt threatens to consume me, I scream the heck out of Hebrews 9:14:

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,so that we may serve the living God!”.

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If you haven’t heard the new single by American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, I highly recommend that you do so. The song is hard-hitting and profound, and I definitely teared up when I first heard it (and still do). Take a look at the lyrics to the first verse:

There’s a place that I know

It’s not pretty there and few have ever gone

If I show it to you now

Will you try and run away

Or will you stay – even if it hurts?

Even if I try to push you out – will you return?

Something I’ve been struggling with recently is the terrible reality of just how sinful I am. This isn’t a forced feeling; a fabricated sense of self-deprecation brought on by years of sermons and my general demeanor that is prone to self-criticism. While those things are certainly in place, it does go deeper than that. Most recently, I found myself going once again against my better judgment and following a path that lead me to sin in a certain way. Now, of course I sin everyday, but often when it catches up to me, the guilt is hard to bear. I do desire to follow the Lord and seek His ways, but I can just be so selfish and self-serving that when I fail, it takes me a good few days to even start to feel hope again.

Of course, as it pertains to this blog, most recently I have found myself feeling terrified that I will never meet anyone who will actually want to put up with all of me; my spurts of anger, my oft-inappropriate statements of honesty; my deep longing to be loved that has led me to look for it in harmful ways – and that’s just the surface of it. The thing is, I honestly am thankful in some ways that I have made certain choices, as it has opened me up to be far more forgiving and understanding than I would have been otherwise, and than I used to be. I also know that because of it, I would be absolutely fine extending forgiveness to my future husband with his failures – which of course he will have. For some reason, though, I often wonder if maybe I’m too bad for it. That I could never deserve anything remotely “good” – and I’m sure that it’s based on my poor understanding of grace. I get so exhausted from trying to be holy (and yes, I know that’s sort of an oxymoron) and just want to live sometimes – without guilt. I don’t want to feel stuffy and repressed. I also don’t want to be all over the place. It does seem to be a daily, tiring, incessant battle between will and spirit – and while that most certainly is a Biblical framework of what our life on Earth is like, I get so discouraged when I see people that are “good” get to marriage…although that isn’t always the case, either.

I think all of us yearn for one person that we care about to say, “Yes – I choose you! Your imperfections, your anger, your jealousy, your lustful tendencies – and I’m here to walk alongside that battle with you!”. The difficult part is getting to the point of exposing ourselves and all the burdens that we carry to someone else. It’s perhaps made even more poignant when we don’t have anyone to expose ourselves to – and that might be one of the most painful experiences of the single life; that it can feel like our real selves are never really appreciated in the passionate way that we desire them to be.

Christ  has shown us the ultimate example of this exchange – by making us beautiful by His choice to become sin for us. To take on the role on the very thing that entices us, drives us, destroys us – and gives new Life through it. I don’t think that this advocates a sense of “Jesus is my boyfriend/girlfriend” mentality, because to be frank that seems a bit silly and people are created for intimate relationships with each other – Christ ideally being at the center of them. But I do think that once we have an understanding of who God is and how He loves us, it is easier to feel that we are worthy of love from other people – because we deserve neither. I absolutely, 100%, do not have this down right now, and I don’t think any of us fully will until we see Him face to face. However, it can only be helpful when it comes to how we view ourselves in relationships. Sometimes we have to flat out just hope that things will happen as we would like – that we’re “open” to the experience of falling in love and letting ourselves known and be known. I’m hopeful that despite all of my crap, someone will find that “nobody’s a picture perfect”, as Kelly would say – “but we’re worth it”. That me, and you, and everyone else, is to the core worth loving, despite ourselves.

 

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Hope.

A small word, with sometimes disastrous consequences if that which is hoped for is not attained. Hope is really what drives any of us to do anything; to continue to look for a job even when we’ve gone on countless interviews to no avail; to force ourselves out of bed and off to the gym in hopes that we will work off that slice of pizza or five we had over the weekend; to stash away in our prayers the glimmer of hope that that person, whoever they are, will finally sweep us off our feet (or let us sweep them off their feet, if you’re a guy!). Whatever shape it may take, Hope gives us a possibility for more. We thirst for it, and truly thrive off it. It’s for this reason why it hurts so much when Hope is taken away from us, or maybe even never shows up to begin with.

I’ll use an example from my own life to start.

When I was a young girl, I watched many a Disney movie. My particular favorites were The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast. Strangely, I don’t remember thinking that I wanted to meet my own Prince Eric, or even Aladdin (homeboy had nice abs for a cartoon though!). (I did have a crush on grown-up Simba, which looking back on it is incredibly awkward). I would say that I got most of my desire for marriage just from something that existed within me. When I was a teenager, I was introduced to the wonders of Jane Austen, and that was when my awareness of this desire became poignant. I read all of the books and took in countless versions of Pride and Prejudice, unknowingly instigating an unhealthy attitude towards romance and what relationships actually look like. At the same time as this was happening, I plodded on through high school with no one expressing interest in me and trying to figure out what the dating world looked like as a born-again Christian. It was then that I got introduced to Christian self-help books, like When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy, and the infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. I basically took all of the things written in those books as gospel. I thought that if I just worked on being holy and totally embrace Jesus as my “boyfriend”, He would provide me with the God-written love story He so desires for His children who actually really loved Him. And so I only watched movies with a rating of PG or less. I didn’t less to non-Christian music. And I certainly didn’t think about online dating, because that would me I wasn’t trusting in God to bring me a husband. This line of thinking existed until I went away for to study in Scotland during my year abroad, when choices I made tore down my previous worldview on dating and left me feeling broken, ashamed, and most of all, without hope. I was convinced that I had ruined any hope of a wonderful relationship, because I had yet to experience one. I felt ugly now because of a realization of the true horrors of my sin, not because I was told so by an insecure teenage guy in the hallway. I remember thinking for the first time that my hope of a marriage to a Christian man may never happen, and the hollowness that accompanied that was unlike anything I had experienced before.

For me, the most painful thing now is that I still have that fear, and in many ways it is justified. God does not promise any of us husbands, and certainly not perfect marriages because they do not exist. I have a much healthier view on marriage now than I used to, thanks to His guidance and teaching, but yet I still desire it. Something I’ve learned recently is how much the blessings God gives is not determined at all by our deserving them. Quite a few of my friends who are in relationships are wonderful, God-fearing women, and I am so happy for them. However, I do struggle with wondering what they did that I haven’t. I start to wonder that maybe if I spent an hour with the Lord everyday like they did, or seemed as confident as they are, that maybe then the Lord would see that I “deserve” a relationship just as much as they do. In essence, I let my own hope for marriage become a catalyst to scrutinize my friendships and undermine God’s grace. Now let me be clear: I am of the opinion that desiring marriage is a good thing and not bad; that there is nothing wrong with expressing such a hope. The issue is not my desire for marriage, necessarily, but the way that I sometimes perceive God’s actions in it. I assume that He is trying to skewer me into pieces by stripping away my hope with every rejection or lonely holiday that passes; that He is dangling my Hope in front of me only to rip it away right when I think it will happen. In those moments, I cry out to Him bitterly with the words of Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”. Lord, why are You willingly making me heartsick? Do you want me to waste away and become bitter? It becomes ever so easy to wallow in my sorrow and pain, to lash out against the very One who I just want to be comforted by.

It is during these times that I am reminded of Psalm 84, verse 11: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless“.

Perhaps it is true in some sense that the Lord does favor those who seek Him out – that He draws near those who draw near to Him. But that insinuates that He does not favor those who don’t deserve it, which is to say, all of us. We know this not to be the case. If we are in Christ Jesus, God has promised us not to withhold any good thing because we are blameless in His sight. I’m not sure what good things mean in this context – I’m guessing it is the presence of the Holy Spirit, or Christian community, both of which are incredible blessings that I have myself experienced, and certainly not because I have done anything to deserve it.

A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon at my church about the Saturday following Good Friday. For the disciples, they had no idea that Easter Sunday was coming. They were waiting in hopelessness, darkness, despair, for something that they didn’t even realize was about to happen. The speaker remarked that God allowed the disciples’ despair precisely so that they would come to an understanding of what true Hope is. Obviously, because of Jesus’ resurrection, my ultimate Hope (and yours!) as indeed been fulfilled already. It absolutely is true that no matter how poignant my desire for a husband is, it is nowhere near my deep need for God’s presence in my life and the next. That Hope was fulfilled at our lowest point, and so I believe that even when I feel despair, there is always a tiny glimmer of Hope that says that I’m still in my waiting time. To be brutally honest, I don’t want to even think about the possibility of staying single the rest of my life. However, what I do know is that I can only take things as they come; that I will continue to be hopeful every morning despite my fears and insecurities, and that I want to continue learning to hope in what is eternal. I don’t know why I haven’t been pursued in a deep way yet, and it does leave me in a state of feeling unloved and unnoticed at times. Sometimes, I wonder why I consistently try to remain positive when my hopes in this area are dashed again and again. I just don’t know.

Perhaps part of it is that my Lord embodies Hope, and I don’t want to let go of that no matter how painful the journey is. I want to be aware of God’s presence in my Easter Saturday of waiting, so that perhaps I am not so surprised when my Easter Sunday finally arrives.

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