Saturday, February 19, 2011
Feel the Burn
One of my best friends loves a good workout. I don't really like any workout, good or otherwise (to be totally honest). My friend loves nothing more than to work out until it hurts, to feel the burn. She wants to come away from her workout session knowing she's pushed her body to the point where her muscles have been broken down from the exercise and will need to rebuild and repair and then will be stronger.
Not being one prone to the enjoyment of exercise, I am faced with the striking parallel that my spiritual life is something where I am no more a lover of the workout process. Fortunately, I value the growth, so I endure the growing process. And as I've sometimes struggled against the ways God has asked me to grow, over the past year in particular, I realize that I'm becoming more comfortable with the way it feels.
Just as my friend's body responds to the exercise by increasing the strength in her muscles and burning away pesky fat cells her body doesn't need, leaving her leaner and stronger and more energized, my spirit grows and changes in response to how I handle the weight of my cares and my relationship with the Lord. I'm learning to like the burn. I'm beginning to enjoy the anticipation of increased strength I'm developing as the nonproductive parts of who I am are being broken down and stripped away.
"Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him." Psalm 37:7
What strikes me as so ironic, however, is how often the hardest thing I'm asked to do in order to become strong and fit spiritually is to sit back, rest in the Lord, stand still in His presence and wait. It feels so much better to me when I can "do" something. Last year, the Lord provided me with many opportunites to practice stillness, and a very interesting thing happened. I finally gave in. I could feel my willfulness and my determination finally surrender. In my stillness and my obedience, God trimmed away some of the excess, useless stuff in my heart and in my life, and He built up my trust in Him, strengthened my spirit and my faith, and He made me stronger.... in Him.
We have had two adoptive home studies done in the past few years. The first was for a baby, and when we were called about twins to adopt, the Lord clearly showed us that this was not His will for us. He closed the door. That was a February afternoon. I cried into my hands, with sobs that came from a place so deep that I wondered if my heart would survive the sadness. But we knew it was the right thing to do, so we moved forward, trusting the Lord. A couple weeks later, I was pregnant with Sage! God knew His plans for us.
Right now, we have a completed, current home study once again. I'm not really sure why, to be honest. I mean, I know we did it because we were pursuing adopting an older child last year, and the Lord led us to do the homestudy and provided the money for it, so we did it. And the Lord brought us into a relationship with the child we'd hoped to adopt, which has been a huge gift to our lives. But the door for his adoption closed. For a number of reasons. And we know with conviction that had it been God's will for this boy to be here, he would be, and we also know that there are other ways the Lord will use us as a "family" to him. So we have committed to be a long-distance family to him, sending him things, staying in touch, praying for him, sharing the love of Christ with him. We know God has not abandoned him and that he has a big future in the making, because God's plans for him are good, even when they are different than my own.
I've cried about this, too, but the tears are not the same. This time they are quiet, and as they fill my eyes, I know that while my feelings are ok, I am not fighting against what God's doing in my life. I am willing to unclench my fingers from their tight grip on my dreams in order to hand them to my Dreamgiver, because my life needs to be shaped by His purposes instead of my own. The dreams from Him, He will package beautifully and hand back to me when the time is right.
But I keep finding myself pushing the Lord for an answer. I'm trying to understand the "why" of it all. I keep thinking there must be some culmination of these experiences, some reason why my heart is completely broken for the cause of the orphan, why we have a second homestudy and no adoption process going on now or even in the foreseeable future, why we'd be led to spend money on something that God didn't intend to use ultimately for an adoption. I like things to make sense. I ask God to explain.
And He does something very precious in response. He quiets my soul. He reminds me of how good it feels to stop pressing for answers, to stop trying to understand how or why an Almighty God does the things He does in the way He does them. His voice in my spirit is soothing. I feel myself relax into the trusting and the stillness and the surrender. And I am ok with realizing that I am not owed an answer to my questions. Sometimes God brings me to a place where I can look back and see the way certain pieces fit together. But my faith is based on knowing that He is fitting the pieces together even when I can't see how.
What it all really comes down to is relationship. I've come to know God more intimately as I've gone through situations outside of my control. I've been at the end of my rope, so to speak, a number of times and in a variety of ways. And He's told me to stop hanging on so tightly to that rope - that it's Him I need to cling to. There are days my clinging to Him feels easy and comfortable, like my toddler with her arms slung around my neck. But there are also days where I'm clinging desperately. The only difference between those days is me. God is always there. Always the same. Steady. Unchanging.
God also reminds me of something else very important. He has given me a husband who is an amazing leader. I can rest in the peace and safety of knowing that my husband leads our family with grace and wisdom and with a relentless strength. When my heart gets the better of me (as it tends sometimes to do), it's ok, because Selden leads from a much more capable place than emotion. When I don't understand why God's doing or not doing something, I can let it go, because I know the Lord's leading Selden. I thank God multiple times a day for the blessing of my husband's leadership. He is my hero. I will follow that man anywhere. I trust him, and that trust lets me live in a freedom that having to understand or control things could never afford me. The genius of God designed marriage to work that way, and I benefit from it so much.
I'm now thankful for the times I can feel the growing happen. I know the temporary discomfort is producing good things in me. Just like my friend and her workouts at the gym. My faith muscles are strengthened when I am powerless and decide to rely on the only true source of strength. It gets easier each time the challenges come. My endurance is greater, because I realize I'm not able to endure on my own, so I rest in the Lord. The resistance I have to work against produces results. So I'm learning to embrace "feeling the burn."
"...but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31