This past week has been both very excellent, and very hard. Excellent because of many surprises and gifts, not least for my birthday, and because of lots of sunny experiences outdoors, including going to see the bluebells on the Warwick campus, which only last for about a week.
It’s been hard because something in me really rebels against being given things that I want to earn. After all these years of supposedly “living by God’s grace”, I am still, again and again, confronted by the fact that I obstinately think I should be able to make it alone. Surely surely, if I work hard enough, and am charming and pretty and bright and well-educated enough, I will make a success of my life and then I will be able to present it all to God for His approval. Up until then, God, really, it’s fine. I’m working on it, but it’s fine really and I’ll see you when I’m done. You’ll be pleased, I can tell you.
I might shoot up a prayer on particularly desperate occasions, in the hope that God will align His powers to my agenda, but by and large, I put the food on my plate. I pay my bills. I cultivate my relationships. I get the promotions at work. I solve my own problems. And, just to show how competent I am, I help other people to solve their problems too.
But life has a way of blowing a fuse on you, which — sometimes — is Mercy’s way of reminding you that you can’t make things happen. (Sometimes it’s just crap that’s happening for no good reason.) And, you can also choose to do things that make you hungry for God, that enlarge that God-shaped hole inside of you, so that, even if you aren’t feeding yourself on Him yet, at least you know you’re hungry.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” — Jesus, Matthew 5.3
Awhile ago, someone I work with asked the question, “how can we arrange our lives in such a way that they won’t work unless God turns up?” That is, how do we make space to see God move, rather than just fending for ourselves in normal life? It’s quite a good question, if for no other reason than I have found that if I make my own heart desperate, God has less need to let the bugs get my attention. That’s part of what fasting is about, right?
Anyway, I think this is pretty much a season of learning to put myself in that hungry, desperate place. It’s funny because when we (my housemates and church community and I) started thinking about intentionally living in this season, I was really keen on it. I thought that it would be really satisfying, this having been my whole previous experience of ‘living by faith’; we would do some crazy radical things*, and then shortly after God would turn up, and we would have great stories to tell, right? Sure, we might go hungry and be miserable for awhile, but that would be a small price to pay for the miraculous returns and peer kudos in the longer run. (Did I mention I’m an achiever?)
God, however, is a lot cleverer than that, a lot harder to pin down and manipulate, and as a result, six weeks into our now-named ‘season of high challenge’, I am a lot more sobered than when we started. Whoever knew that He would bless us and provide for us, but not in the ways that we were expecting or asking for? Whoever knew that He doesn’t do things the same way twice? Whoever knew that He would use the delay time on coming through for us, and the fact that He’s just doing it in small and quiet ways, to shake my need for social approval? Whoever knew that He knows how to, while providing for me, still make me hungrier and more desperate than ever?
Someone I really respect once said that we make following Jesus easy and complicated, but it’s supposed to be simple and hard — all stripped back to that which really, really matters.
Hmm…I’m starting to think that I’m actually in a really good place.
*Sorry that I can’t be more specific about the crazy radical things yet, I’m sworn to secrecy until our season of high challenge is over. But watch this space…