Step 1: Surrender
I was gasping for breath, really.
Gasping to live. Gasping for meaning. Gasping for joy.
Gasping to believe that the ache and loneliness I felt wouldn’t forever drag on through decade-after-painful-decade.
Gasping to know that God was good, that God was present, that God wasn’t making a mistake.
I gasped to know that my life wasn’t unimportant just because I was single and didn’t have a legit social circle. Sometimes everything around you from television to friends…and even (especially?) Christian culture…seems to confirm that.
Some people find God on the mountain top: through a child’s birth, a witnessed miracle, an unexpected conversion. For me, I really met God in the middle of a mess. A year later, He broke me again. I was saved. I was spending time with God every night, and it was beautiful, but I never held up my worst fears, so I never got the best kind of relief.
And what God has whispered to me through that experiences is this; The falling apart occurs because I want to put you back together right.
Fall into me.
Fall with me.
Breaking apart is breaking open, and only your open heart cries out to God. Only an open heart is healed by God. God is best at displaying His power and glory through open hearts. Ann Voskamp writes it: Broken and cracked vessels let light shine through the brightest. My fear of breaking open and laying it down only led to prolonged pain and half of the testimony that God wanted me to have. Sometimes, when we’re trying to keep it all together, God just wants us to ask for help. He’s waiting for us to name our need and hold it up to Him. He wants us to know that He is the healer. Not some self-help internet-article Gobbledygook. Not another person. He wants us to know His power when we call out our need for comfort and feel comforted, and I have literally felt arms wrap around me and peace settle in. When Jesus makes his home in you, peace makes its home in you, and it is always there for the taking.
But I have sat there, afraid that if I looked deep enough, I might find out that I was right in this circumstance: God’s comfort wouldn’t be enough to outweigh pain. He created me wrong. I don’t really have much to add to the world. I wouldn’t be able to take it if my worst fears came to pass. That I am always going to be the almost-but-not-quite-enough-girl. None of that is in line with Scripture, but sometimes it’s easier to believe God’s promises and gifting for others than it is for ourselves.
Why do we all run scared from the truth, distract ourselves from the truth, and fear facing the truth, when it’s encountering the truth that sets us free? Free from fear, from running, from distraction. Free to rest.
God stopped letting me run. The really wasn’t anything or anyone to run to. The stillness felt confusing and painful more than restful. And even if we’re busy with fun social lives, unsurrendered situations or areas of our lives breed emptiness and discontentment in the quiet moments. We take the first gasp of peace and fresh faith when we surrender.
Step 2: Exhale
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) sends the body into a fit of heaving and straining for air. The root isn’t a problem with inhalation. It’s a problem with exhalation. Because carbon dioxide isn’t expelled well from the lungs, oxygen can’t fill them and provide O2 to our oxygen-dependent cells. So we suffer. The air is always there. It just can’t fill lungs filled with junk.
This last year has been a year of exhaling.
I needed to exhale the toxic air in my lungs, in my mind, in my heart to inhale God.
Exhale my own dreams. Inhale purpose.
Exhale control. Inhale creativity.
When I exhaled the need for approval of those outside the church or inside the church, I inhaled more of God.
Only when I stopped, slowed down, and surrendered did I catch my breath. Life since then has been full of joy and full of purpose.
Step 3: Discover your purpose
I work in a service-oriented health care profession. I had thought my sense of fulfillment and purpose would come from that work. I imagine that’s the way a lot of women think about marriage and motherhood, too. But the truth is, at the end of the day, we can all feel empty and unused and searching for our meaning. We might all wonder if there’s more to life that we’re missing. We might all feel doubtful about whether the difference we’re making in the world is real and worth the suffering we’re enduring.
Brian Houston tweeted: “A career is what you’re paid to do. A calling is what you’re made to do.” Work, marriage, motherhood and even formal ministry may all be things that we’re called to and made for…but they may not be the only things we’re called to or made for. Sometimes in the midst of our roles, we forget our unorthodox gifts. The ones God wants us to use, too.
Life was busy with good things by this point. Who had time to write anyways? And honestly, why bother? How can I (anyone ordinary?) really share that gift? I’m not going to get invited on the stage of my very excellent, very large church to read a poem. I may never get published. What does a blog really do? But I have loved reading and writing my whole life.
I felt God encouraging me. A pivotal moment was when, during a sermon on “Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength,” I heard that undoubtable, still small voice say “and all your words. Love the Lord your God with all your words. Surrender all your words and all your writing to me.”
Discontentment can be a tool God uses to prompt us to examine unfulfilled purpose or unsurrendered idols/dreams. I’ve never felt so much urgency and meaning for my life as I have after surrendering my dreams for God-given dreams. I have never felt so much giddy joy or purpose or contentment. It’s more fun than I ever could imagine to write with God. God ministers to my own heart through it. I also get the sense that God wants to work through art to bring people closer to Him. It’s all a breath of fresh grace to feel like God’s using me for the purpose that he has intended all along. It is occasionally a little exhausting, but it’s mostly invigorating. And it’s all because of a step of obedience (I say obedience, because I didn’t really want to step out or step on stage initially).
If you’re like me, you may feel God calling you to obedience. Take comfort. Every act of obedience is an act of surrender, and every act of surrender leads to freedom. You might not know what that picture, or even the next step, will look like. He will show you. I didn’t have any concept when I surrendered my writing to God that He would birth out spoken word poems. That wasn’t anywhere in my plan, but God is not limited by our imaginations. Opening words just came to me in the shower one day, and the rest has been an exhilarating ride. I had no idea that God had placed a grasp for rhythm within me.
God wants to do a new thing in us and through us. He wants to breathe warm, fresh faith into our lungs. He wants us to live unleashed lives that point to Him. Right now, breathing can feel like a conscious act, but as I’m developing the dependency on God, it’s taking less time to surrender. To exhale. To inhale. And to let my writing be an outgrowth of my time spent with Jesus (which is why I will probably not be updating this blog more than once a week).
The Great Paradox is that we can’t surrender to God without trusting God, and we can’t trust God without surrendering to Him. We need to utter the words. We need to dare to believe that God can do all things. After that, surrender is an act of God. For me, the step of uttering the words only came because I was at the end of my rope and there was no other choice. Maybe you’ve been there too. I’ve had to surrender some other stuff the months since then, but all I’ve found when I’ve let go is that He is faithful and He is able, and His comfort out-comforts all our best attempts at self-comfort any day.
I really feel like I’m living again. Fully, head-on with urgency.
I want to keep breathing like this. I don’t want it to stop in the face of difficulty, failure, or success. I want to keep worshiping and glorifying God through my life and my gifts, because that’s what my life was created for. That’s what we are all created to do. That’s when we finally find meaning, even if the circumstances are hard. I want to live with open hands and letting light stream through cracks.
So maybe, lets just start by praying for that? Lets just keep doing the things that He has taught us to do. And lets just keep praising and praying for Him to do something new, too.