I’ve been to this place again and again: of desiring something, of seeing the good in it, of asking the Lord for it, and yet hearing the phrase I feared upon asking: “No.”
I remember the first time the Proverb, “hope deferred makes the heart sick”, resonated in middle/early high school. As much as I wish I had learned the lesson for good, the first time (and oh, how I wish it had stuck the first time), I am not immune. The theme recurs. Each time, I have raged. I struggled against the answer, desperate for it to be different. I have been angry, feeling betrayed, questioning: is this a good God? Does he truly, truly want my best? Am I important to him? Does he hear me, remember me, care for me?
And slowly, bit by bit, he would show me the poison of my entitlement, my fervent and futile attempts to fulfill the mantra of religion: be good, so that He owes me. Obey, so that He will reward you with the things you want.
A mantra never identified, but claimed by my attitude and posture. Always denied, but evidenced by how I react to finding that His will did not conform to mine. I am humbled by my reaction to disappointment; even after all these years, I fail to respond the way I hope.
And my heart would cry in a moment of honesty:
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.
– Psalm 73:13-14
I felt hurt at having my hopes deferred, and came face to face with the thought of if following Him was all in vain, since I was in pain. The pain must be a mistake! It must be either an oversight, a betrayal, or something else entirely.
An oversight: Has God missed something? Is he paying attention? Does he care?
A betrayal: Is this all vanity, and I have wasted my time on something that disappoints too often, too painfully?
Something else: Have I missed something?
“Blessed are the bitter things of God
Not as I desire but as I need
He pricks my pride and lets my spirit bleed.”
– Joy Davidman
And oh! Do I need.
Pride swells like a blood blister,
and the prick is pain
but relieves the pressure.
It is pride, that says: God, you owe me.
It is pride, that demands: give me what I want, for I have obeyed well thus far.
It is pride, that assumes: my way is best, I know what I need, and You saying otherwise is cruel.
This last time around, God made Psalm 73 unavoidable, and quickly. For a week, I ached and wrestled and raged, and on the seventh morning I dropped all armaments while reading the rest of that chapter:
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
– Psalm 73:21-22
Oh, how little I know. How foolish it is, for me to think I know better. How hurtful, for me to forget the cross and question His love.
“In the darkness and loneliness, He met with me. He was right there, a great, wonderful, almighty God. His love enveloped me. Suddenly the ‘why’ dropped away from me, and an unbelievable peace flowed in, even in the midst of the wickedness. And He breathed a word into my troubled mind: the word privilege.” – Helen Roseveare
Asking “why”, when hope is denied, is a natural response. It can fester, however, into a wicked, spiteful resistance – a resistance to letting Him call the shots, to acknowledging that I am not the one in control or even the one who would be capable if I was in control.
Yet, there is a beauty that awaits in the heartache, even despite my worst irrational thoughts and mercenary attitudes. It is beautiful, for we find Him closer than before, realer than before, His love more tangibly necessary and sweet than ever before. And when we are reminded of just how much he loves us, trust trumps the “why”. Instead of raging against a dark wall, we can relax in the arms of a Father who considers us precious to him.
The “why” melts away, because such love melts away the fear that is hidden within the “why”. It is a word, a question, that comes when we fear that we are forgotten or this will ruin us or we will be left hopeless. Yet those fears dissipate in the face of perfect love.
And we are left with the overwhelming knowledge that we are privileged to know him, to follow him, even if all of our “whys” go unanswered.
“My spirit finds in Thee its perfect home: sufficiency.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now.
Lead on no matter where, no matter how,
I trust in Thee.”
– Elisabeth Elliot
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
– Psalm 73:23
He is with me, even when I am a brat. He is with me, sees me, knows me, and that is more than enough.
Helen Roseveare knew much more of loss and pain than I ever have, and when she was met with a “no” in response to something desired, she responded thus: “In this He could not do for me what He wanted to do, to make me more like Jesus.”
May I see discomforts and denied hopes as sweet, sweet mercy, rather than heaven’s spiteful refusal of my request.
And that “mantra of religion”, that entitled and spoiled attitude, that proud assumption that I know best, that I am owed comfort and the right to get my way – that is the heart of religion. Religion says: I’ll be good so that I earn good things.
And painfully, I would learn: this is no religion. This is not a situation I can barter in.
And joyfully, I would learn: this is grace, and it’s far, far better than what I was hoping for.
Grace, because I could never earn a thing (I am far too broken for that).
Grace, because I owed more than I could make God ever owe me (I am in too much debt for that).
Grace, because when I deserve not even life itself, I am given life to the fullest (and I am far less deserving than that).
I’ve been, and I believe we all have been, confronted with that terrible crux in the road, the question poised: “Do you want to go away as well?”
It is a question worth being asked, a question that brings my life back into perspective: what is worth my life? What is worth living, dying for? Have I found the answer, or is there something else that could possibly satisfy me more than Him? I am free, to choose.
And like Peter, finding: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I am free, to choose, but I see
that my freedom is found in Thee.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
– Psalm 73:25-26
Because of who He is, I have the chance to go from
– an entitled, spoiled, whining brat
— to knowing Him. To finding rest, joy, and comfort in a love that never ends, a love that was never deserved, and a love that pours out more good gifts than I know what to do with, if only I take a moment to see.
And though this is the millionth time around this cycle, the millionth time I have learned this lesson, I know I will face it again. My pride and entitlement will pop up again; but each time, He digs a little deeper to root out the things that choke me, and leads me deeper into freedom. Each time, I am humbled again, knowing that I am not immune, knowing that I need the gospel just as desperately (if not more so) than ever before. Each time, I am a little quicker to accept, a little more ready to give up the battle that wounds me. And giving up, while it does not solve all the hurt, it ends the war and brings me to the place where healing becomes possible. He took care of the reconciliation, though we were enemies. How much more shall we be restored, in all the broken places, by His life.
And perhaps, my reaction will increasingly be based in truth, rather than entitlement.
“As Christians we know, in theory at least, that in the life of a child of God there are no second causes, that even the most unjust and cruel things, as well as all seemingly pointless and undeserved sufferings, have been permitted by God as a glorious opportunity for us to react to them in such a way that our Lord and Savior is able to produce in us, little by little, his own lovely character.”
– Hannah Hurnard
So I am learning, ever a tiny bit more, to say:
If what is
Is Your will
And Your will
Is my best
Then I’d best
Not be distraught
That is not.
Forgive me, Lord, for my pigheaded nature, for my stubborn heart. You offer me spacious places, and I run to the cell of imprisonment. Why do I wander to the table of woe, when you seat me in joy? Why do I waste time bemoaning the loss of things of which you lovingly say, “This was not best – I have the best for you, only wait and see”? I let selfishness and self-serving actions and thoughts crowd out your good gifts to me, your goodness in being near. What you must remove, I ask, remove it! What you must let die, I ask, let it be so! For you have a plan that far exceeds mine, that goes far beyond the meager expectations I have for my own life. You intend to make me whole, make me like Christ, and you know the perfect way to accomplish this. Let me be a ready and willing participant in the process, rather than a reluctant child dragging my feet in a foolish tantrum. Let me be quick to trust, quick to agree with You, quick to run to you and say, “if that wasn’t it, then how much greater will be the things you have in store for me!” If it hinders my feet, if it weighs me down, I don’t want it. Take it. And oh, help me remember this request when you point to the next something and say, “that too must go”. Help me to respond more and more out of trust, remembering the cross and the empty grave and the many, many ways you have been faithful again and again. You have never failed me, and yet I am quick to assume you will – I am weak and fickle, but you are steadfast, glorious, and worthy – so worthy.