So, I have a pretty serious love-hate relationship with the ocean. It’s the ideal summer destination, lounging around on the beach, soaking up the sun as the waves soothingly roar in my ears. It’s delightful. But on the other hand, there’s so much uncertainty that comes with such a beautiful body of water. Too many critters (remind me to tell you my horror story sometime), too much risk; the ocean itself is a place I tend to love from a distance.
Two months ago, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Cape of Good Hope with some of the people I love most in the world. It was our “fun day” while on a mission trip to Cape Town, South Africa (Truly, the entire trip was a blast. Who knew that sharing the Gospel was actually supposed to be fun?! The Kingdom of God is GOOD news and filled with JOY!), and as we detoured off the trail down a long staircase that led to the beach, I found myself jumping and singing, my heart on the verge of bursting, worshiping my God in the midst of one of the most beautiful, yet dangerous, places in the whole world. At the Cape, the waves are so large, it’d be a death sentence to try to swim, let alone sail. But all the while I was mesmerized; taken aback by the beauty of my surroundings, the awareness of my own frailty and stature, and the fact that the God of these giant waves would draw me out to take them in, all the while pouring his love out onto me in the same way the waves crash to meet the shore.
That experience was so sweet for me, a memory of my time in South Africa that will be held close to my heart for some time. And as I write this, I think one of the reasons I loved that moment the most was because I wasn’t so afraid anymore. In fact, I was more overwhelmed by my love for the Creator than I was by my fear of getting too close. It all felt a little wild in the midst of the fierce winds and the roar of the waves, yet I wasn’t freaking out, trying to grasp for control of the situation. I was laughing, I was singing, and my heart was rejoicing, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
How I long to be back in that place. For some time, I’ve been doing better, feeling more like myself than I had in months, praise Jesus. For the majority of this past year, I let the hard moments beat me up. And the worst part is, I was really trying to fix it all in my own strength. I was still having my quiet time, still leading and loving the Lord, but I was covering up my heartache by doing more stuff, like trying to cover a deep gash with more and more small band aids. Definitely a hopeless cause. If we’re being honest, the truth is that I’m still kind of doing that, and it only really hit me tonight. I’ve spent a lot of time the last few months running away from the hard feelings, doing everything possible to escape the heaviness, the sadness, the shame of feeling down when everything seems to be going great. I’ve been so afraid of getting back to that heavy place that I’ve kept everything and everyone at arms distance, because to really feel things, to really go there, would only mean more pain on the horizon. And in keeping my feelings at bay, I’ve been avoiding the confrontation that comes with change and all its hurt. I know God to be good, but for a lot of this summer, I’ve been trying to run away from my feelings towards him, from my bitterness and anger, from the heartache I have caused myself while placing the blame on him.
Before you freak out and start thinking I’m depressed or doubting God or anything like that, read: this is not a crisis of faith. I’m not losing it or forsaking Christ or anything like that. I love the Lord and I love my life. I’m just tired of having to tie up all my heartache into a perfect little package with a bow that reads, “I’m okay, I know God is good.” And while the truth is I am okay (in fact, better than okay), and God is good (in fact, better than good), I can’t keep telling you that it’s all okay and good while my heart is shaking it’s fist towards heaven, looking up with a tear-stained face, screaming, “Stop it God. Stop taking everything away from me.” Because that’s the way I’ve been believing God to be for too, too long.
More than anything, I’m realizing that I struggle hard with change (surprise, surprise), and don’t we all. For so long it’s felt like I’ve been beaten by the waves over and over, standing up once again only to get knocked right back down. Just as I finally let go of one hurt, just when I finally have peace with one situation, another something happens; another leak in the boat of my life appears while my hands and feet are already trying to patch up other spots. My boat starts sinking. And I’m finding that these changes (most of the relational) leave me hurting and fearful, because it feels more like I’m being rejected than just a normal part of life. And instead of understanding that relationships ebb and flow, instead of living open-handed, thanking God for the time to love people and accepting when it’s time for them to go, I scratch and claw, clinging to the edges of relationships, crying out, “no, no, no, you can’t leave me too.” And instead of turning and running to God, pouring my heart out to the only one who will truly never leave me or forsake me, I give it a half-hearted attempt and then run the opposite direction, pacifying my heart by doing more stuff while keeping tally of my grievances. “God, remember the time you let this happen? Remember that time this person left and that hurt me? Yeah, thanks for that. You owe me one.”
And today was I day I was really shaking my fists hard at God. Because I’m just so tired. I’m tired of mourning things I should have already let go of, I’m tired of not encountering the presence of God the way my heart longs to. I’m tired of wallowing in my own self pity, rehashing the same hurts, unable and unwilling to let them go. I know it’s not good, I know that I should be okay and should already be over it, and yet I keep finding myself coming back to the bitterness and disappointment of this last season. I’ve come to the end of my own strength and I’ve had enough.
As my head hit the pillow tonight, the tears poured out, too (And now that you know I have cried myself to sleep a time or two (dozen), we can all heave a great sigh at the fact that I’m human. Whew. Yay for being human and broken!). And I had my own little falling out towards God, which consisted of a lot of me crying and wishing I could physically cry out and scream without sending my sleeping house into a panic. I told God I was angry, I told him I was tired, and I told him I didn’t like him very much. I was hurt for all the hurt the change had caused me, afraid to let myself get invested for fear of it once again being stripped away, and most importantly tired of buying into my emotions more than the truth of who he actually is. And all the while I laid there crying, I felt him so close by, almost as if he was sitting at the edge of my bed, his hand on my back, the way a friend non-verbally lets you know that they’re there in a time of grieving. And once I finished throwing the millionth pity party I’ve had, I got up and grabbed a book–Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.
And there He met me on the pages I held in my hands. It’s as if he was just waiting for me to pick up the book so he could give me new perspective. Feel free to disagree, but only a loving God would use the words of one of my favorite books to begin healing and settling my heart. Especially after I literally just finished yelling at him. Why he continues to love me, I’ll never understand. I’m beyond undeserving.
But there I was with my tears spilling onto the page, my heart whispering the same small prayer I found myself praying on the shores of the Cape, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
He’s always for our good, even when we’re to blinded by our hurt to see it.
I tell you all this because I need to remember. I need to remember these moments, these feelings, the words on the pages that God used to so tenderly speak to my heart. And I need you to remember as well. Because we’re human. And change happens; it’s going to happen all our lives, with the same consistency of waves breaking on the shore. And as Shauna so eloquently writes in the opening pages of her book, “Change is not a function of life’s cruelty but instead a function of God’s graciousness… If you dig in and fight the changes, they will smash you to bits. They’ll hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare and confuse you. But if you can find it within yourself, in the wildest of seasons, just for a moment, to trust in the goodness of God, who made it all and holds it all together, you’ll find yourself drawn along to a whole new place, and there’s truly nothing sweeter. Unclench your fists, unlock your knees, and also the door to your heart, take a deep breath, and begin to swim. Begin to let the waves do their work in you.”
And that’s truly the only truth I know.This whole life is a series of storms and sunny days, and it’s my choice whether or not I enjoy the ride. So here I am, falling hard at the feet on Jesus once again, trusting that the waves of his mercy and love outlast my fear of losing control. Let’s let the waves do their work, for He’s good all the time and faithful in all that he does.