You are my portion, O Lord;
I have promised to obey your words.
So here is what I have been struggling with-- and when I say "struggling," you should imagine me wrestling with a giant beast, trying my best to pin it to the ground and make it stay.
Desire. Hope. Things wanted. Hope deferred. Longings unfulfilled.
Don't worry-- my intention is not to depress. I write with a kind of joy that I can't say I've experienced before. It's a joy that has begun to settle into my spirit, the way feathers from a broken pillow might drift down over the floor-- pieces so light and small, but ultimately covering the place.
Here's the question I've been asking a long time-- it's the thing I've been struggling with: what happens when you don't get what you want?
I think that, so often in the Body of Christ, we insist on calling hope and faith and "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" a promise of what we want to have, what we long for.
How do we continue to believe the Lord for His promises when He doesn't seem to hear that one cry of your heart-- for a husband, for a child, for whatever...? We tell the world that if you just believe God for something, He will provide it in His time, and we wait quietly hoping that it's true, silently willing ourselves not to become bitter or angry with God for not showing up in the way or timing that we're expecting or hoping for.
But what about when it just doesn't happen? Do we give up? Do we throw in the towel because the time stamp on that hope or desire is about to expire? Do we decide to come up with another dream?
In a word... kinda.
Here's what I mean: I'm 41. I've held one beautiful, stillborn son in my arms, and experienced an early (9 week) miscarriage on Halloween, of all days. We have continued to hope and try for pregnancy, but it looks like it might not happen. I won't lie-- having a baby, raising a little one, has been a deep desire of my heart. The loss of two little ones has broken my heart, and it has affected the way I see and understand things. But I have a choice about how I process this.
The whole thing is complicated.
I told my students that there are three ways I got through and continue to get through the death of my baby son: my faith in my God, my relationship with my husband and our community, and writing. But there's a huge key to the first part: worship.
Here's why: when I go before the Lord in worship, I am dragging my focus back toward Him. I'm looking Him full in the face, and this thing happens when you look Him full in the face: all you can see is Him. He fills the screen. I sort of see Him putting His hands on either side of my face, leaning toward me with eyes full of the most intense and beautiful love and concern, and fixing them on mine. And He just looks at me. And He is my closest, most precious friend. And He understands every pang of grief and He understands all of my frustrations and He knows the whole story that I could never begin to grasp, and suddenly I remember why I'm even alive.
To know Him. To tell everyone I know about Him. To worship Him. To enjoy Him. To tell everyone I know that He is merciful. That He is kind. That He never abandons us. That this life is simply a through-path to eternity. That the end, here, is not the end: it's the beginning. This life on earth is prologue. Who hangs out on the prologue?
And it's not about being Republican or conservative or any of the trash we find for our hands to get mixed up in on earth-- it's not about being exclusive or inclusive or any of the things we get so distracted by, those things that we use to distract others from just this:
I long for a baby. But it's not what I was created for.
I love teaching students and laughing with them. But it's not what I was created for.
I love my husband and cannot imagine my life without him. But he isn't what I was created for.
I love my family and friends-- but they are not why I exist.
First, I exist for Him.
Then I exist to tell everyone that Jesus Christ is the way to Him.
I exist to know the depth of His love, the sureness of His friendship, the perfection of His plan, and to share it. To talk about it. To talk about His goodness and to sing about it and to write about it. To shine a light into dark places and proclaim that Jesus is good and that He is the hope of life.
Because that is the hope that was set before the people on that list in Hebrews.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
So many times, we live our lives wishing for things only to miss what is right in front of us.
For me, my mind has been changing over these last years. I always thought I would have babies. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't. I didn't prepare myself for the possibility that I wouldn't. I just sort of knew that at the right time, it would happen.
I had no contingency for "just in case" because...well... just because. I mean, seriously, what kind of "contingency" plan can there be for hope deferred?
What it has looked like is a sort of bowing in my heart. Grabbing that desire-- that panic that rises at the first sign of my period arriving every month-- and feeling it. Not ignoring it. Feeling the grief of waiting again. Feeling the grief of loss all over again. Disappointment.
But the emotion that tags along with that grief is anger, and that's when I have to get up and look that thing right in the face and say NO. That's when I have to start singing. That's when I have to remind my soul of why it is here, why the Lord said "YES" at the moment of my conception. I was created to bless His name.
Everything else is extra.
And every single month, the grief grows a bit smaller, and my faith increases that much more.
Someone asked me, "But how?"
Honestly-- music. Listening to worship music. Singing to Him. Being careful who I talk with about the dreams in my heart-- some friends mean well but do not help at all. Meditating on His goodness. His word.
Here's your assignment:
1. When you feel the grief of loss and disappointment rising up (because it rises up, doesn't it? Like a really big wave, and you see it coming and you brace yourself for it, but it knocks you down anyway. Sometimes you don't see it coming, but it hits like that, too) allow yourself to feel it if you need to. Cry, write, call a friend who will cry with you and not preach to you about faith or desire or how many people "wish they had what you have" (we all have those friends...we've all been that friend... but after a while, even with the most amazing friends, this becomes a solitary path-- one you have to work through on your own). Don't ignore the sadness-- it's real, and God has created you with the capacity to feel deeply and widely and with great strength.
2. Then think of this: He's in it with us. He's with us. Ultimately, our friends will fail us, our family won't be able to think of anything comforting, our husbands will be out of words (because they're walking this path, too). In the end, it's just you and Jesus.
3. Give up on trying to figure out why. I've battled this point since the moment I heard that Ben was dead. Did God just think I would be a bad mother (did He think you'd be a bad wife? Is that why you're single?)(by the way, the answer to those questions is "Seriously? Have you seen some of the idiots who reproduce and marry?")? Only God has the answers-- He is sovereign, and He's a good Parent-- He knows what we can understand and what we cannot possibly understand. We live in a fallen world where the sun shines on the good and the evil. We live in a place where we are not exempt from sadness. The difference for those of us in Christ? We are never alone in it. We are not abandoned to it. We understand something else-- we might not understand why bad stuff happens, but we know that we are never alone.
But we feel alone until we lift our eyes and look at Him.
4. Do something. Sing. It doesn't matter what it sounds like-- He dances over us with singing, no matter how it sounds coming out. When I begin to sing, I feel my whole focus shift. When I begin to truly think about the lyrics I am singing, suddenly I find my vision lifted-- when I begin to worship the Lord, my enemy flees. When I begin to meditate on the goodness of the Lord, it seems like everything else that wants my attention-- my grief, my despair-- falls away.
Do you paint? Do you run? Do you create anything with your hands? Can you think of a way to do it "as unto the Lord"? Can you do it while worship music is playing in your ears? Meditate on the beauty of the Lord and do something tangible while you're doing it. If you let Him distract you with His goodness, He will begin to fill you with the wisdom we're crying out for. Peaceful understanding that passes all other understanding.
There are so many other parts to this whole thing, of course, but these are some of the steps He has been walking me through.
So what happens when we don't get what we want? How do we cope with disappointment and longings left unfulfilled? I've been discovering that these aren't questions that have easy answers, but that they are the gates some of us walk through to greater depths of intimacy and friendship with Jesus Christ.
Because here's the bottom line: no matter what longings we're left with on this earth, He has accomplished the deepest desire of all of our hearts-- He has given us His Spirit, His Son, Himself. And that is no small thing, dear friends. That is no small thing. It is the only thing.
And worshiping Him brings my soul back up into that truth, out of the depths of grief, every time.
Because no matter what I long for on earth, He is my portion. He is my great inheritance. He is why I live.
Songs for lifting our vision higher, for reminding our souls about the beauty of the King we were created to know (I'm not that all concerned about the videos-- it's just the music):