Sometimes I am haunted by a certain dream. I always enter the dream in the same way, beginning at the same spot in a recurring reel. I am new to my twenties and counting minutes until I graduate from college. I find I am not eligible to walk with my class. I have failed to complete the necessary classes required to receive my diploma. With growing desperation, I panic, knowing there is not enough time to make up the coursework. Another year is not an option but suicide. I have barely survived these last four years, and I am certain I can not outlive my sin for another. Tingling and darkness fade as the sun approaches my window; I remember where I am and, most importantly, where I am not. With great relief and the sunrise, I discover that I have survived that certain season and will never, ever again have to inhabit that time, place or person.
Much lingers just beneath my skull and in my upper back, short breath, gritted teeth, stiff arms, quickened pulse. Fear has become so familiar that I don’t recognize its perch in my mornings and evenings, stealing my joy and upending truth. I am easy prey while isolated by young kids, home office, busy schedules, relentless expectations. On my worst days, I don’t get out of bed but retreat under the covers as if to say I can’t bear the weight of another day. I long to be known but choose to hide. I long for adventure but keep foot from trail. I long to sing but stay silent.
I have found that asking the Lord to be my rescue does not mean I know how it will come. I have found that surrendering to my God does not mean I will feel safe. I have found that people are painful, and I can inflict worse. What does it mean to be faithful to a mysterious Christ in an uncertain world? What does it mean to surrender to a God who allows broken hearts and bleak horizons? What does it mean to deny myself and how can this possibly produce joy or even just relief? How is a clean slate possible for one like me whose spirit craves to mar its perfect surface yet again? How can I stand on a foundation of scripture that I don’t always understand?
A wise novelist* writes, “Sometimes our greatest gifts grow from what we are not given”. As I seek solace from pressing, obsessing fear, in the absence of peace, I stumble into his presence and the truth that lives there. I learn that pain has purpose. I see the depravity Love will endure for his precious inheritance. I see the eternal purpose defined in that pain and how the same purpose exists in mine. I learn that surrender and suffering are not the same. I see that the only moments suffered in a life of surrender were in the face of sin, most significantly on the cross, because surrender is a response of love but suffering is a result of sin. I see that, while God allows sin suffering, this in no way changes the perfect nature of his love. Never.
I learn that what I fear is what I give authority full reign to romp. I learn that pride fuels this fear and my efforts to control keep its belly full. I see the strength of spirit born within the intimate pause of daily worship, strength that shapes what I know and what I revere, allowing the authority of One to slip into my heart and whisper “worthy” to my nagging doubt. I see that the disorder of the messy, uncertain, unfinished in no way affects the Order that governs this globe.
I learn that discipline is not judgment but correction. I see that God tests those whom he loves to reveal his glory and our dependence which is never condemnation but part of his perfect purpose. I see that rescue is not always from circumstance but judgment which is what I most need. I learn that this world’s model of scarcity is driven by greed and wholly irrelevant in light of God’s heavenly abundant store. I learn that self denial is not giving up my share of this abundance but giving glory to the One who gifts me with it.
Perhaps fearlessness, then, is not the absence of apprehension but a willingness to be uncomfortable, an abandon of certainty for deeper trust. Perhaps the greatest peace comes from a pursuit of his presence, not the eradication of the unknown. Perhaps more important than learning with our minds is knowing in our hearts that, with full awareness of what “we are disposed to do” (Deut 31:21), God continues to promise our rescue.
“Know with your heart and soul that not one of the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” Joshua 23:14
*The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (thank you Kelsey Starrs!)