I had a dream a few months back that I was dangling on a roller coaster, my hands gripping the sides of a drop-off that went straight down into blackness. I was in my car with my children, for heaven’s sakes. I couldn’t risk their lives letting my clunky Chevy Tahoe loose on these metal tracks. What kind of mother would let go? I couldn’t tell if my car was strapped in or if I would fly off into the cold air. Where would I land? Who would provide for them? What would I do? Help, Lord!
I shrieked in fear as I sat up straight in bed in a hot, panicked sweat. I have given my life in service for you, Lord, and this is the payback I get? This is my reward for all those youth mission trips and church services and solos? Is this really happening? It felt like I just got kicked in the gut, and yet when I curled over to seek some relief, the blows just kept coming. All I could feel was hurt. A deep and immense and crazy hurt that I’ve never before experienced. Worse than cancer. Worse than my abdominal infection. Worse than death itself. It was as if all the darkness in the world was hurling toward me at once, and it entered my bloodstream like a bad drug. I was swept under at the sheer the weight of it and was so extremely uncomfortable that I wanted to peel off my own skin. But I couldn’t, so I just curled up and clenched my teeth, and begged for mercy, and made no coherent sense for months. And now I’m dangling off a cliff with white-knuckles and I’m a little pissed about it, if you want to know the truth, because I so don’t deserve this.
I’ve lived my whole life professing my faith in God, that he is the ruler and owner and molder of my soul. I’ve nodded in response to picking up the cross and following Jesus and felt in all earnestness that I was a good believer. Kind of like most people do on Sundays, before they go home and continue their natural and sinful natures. And yet here I am, and now it’s happening, and I’m finally tested. The stability on earth that I clung to with my bare hands shattered and I was dangling on the edge in fear, not trusting God would catch me. And not only did I lack faith, but I had the audacity to challenge God’s plan, like I put my payments in the God vending machine all these years but all I got out was this crappy mess. I was such a damn fool. Or rather, I was blind to what God was really trying to show me.
Now I see more clearly. What’s so beautiful is that this is precisely my payback for years of loving Him. A realization that I had it wrong, and I wasn’t fully submitting, and all I have on this earth is a cartoon mirage. Jesus was holding out a hand in my personal crisis to say “Follow me. ” I could have just said don’t-mind-if-I-do, or thanks, man, or even Cool. My life on this earth is one empty vessel of saggy skin that will rot into the earth, but my soul exists for Your glory, and this is a chance to live into it. I could have said all sorts of lofty things, but I didn’t. Instead, I screamed like a girl and asked God to somehow put my Tahoe in reverse. I basically said to Jesus, “You’re a great teacher, and I’ll take what I think applies to me, but this total submission thing? This fall-off-a-cliff dependence? That’s a good one, dude. Now let’s quit with all the crazy-talk. I want my old life back.”
I see now what I could not before. That my old life wasn’t life-giving. It was full of decay, and stagnant water, and salt that had lost its flavor. I was saying all the right words about faith and thinking I was in the right camp, like I could fit God within the walls of my upper-middle class lifestyle and would give God my budget surplus. I liked to go to bible study and talk about Godly things and sit on the front row to be entertained, but the real lesson of Christ? The die to self part? Well I’d find time for that later, after dinner and bathtime and lunches and writing and friends and phone calls and facebook and photo sessions and, well, me. I’d find time for that after me.
But God doesn’t do surplus. He won’t accept lukewarm, or dependence when it’s easy, or prayers only on Sundays. He doesn’t believe all religions are created equal or we can just slide by unnoticed or half-ass our way to salvation by putting ourselves first.
We have to let it all go. Not because our palms are sweaty and we just can’t hold on any longer, but because we want to. And friends, there is joy in submission. Joy that envelops fear, and pain, and deep, dark wounds. Joy that frees us from the beating and torture and darkness that penetrates. It’s in these moments where you have nothing else to hold onto but God himself, when you see His amazing grace mostly clearly. A smile starts to crack, and then it widens, and joy enters in.
So here I am, starting over. It’s liberating, in a way, to see how God works. To see how He uses people and circumstances and turns bad into good for the sake of His glory. And the fact that I can be of some service in the great commission is fascinating and humbling and makes me want to fall down in reverence with tears streaming down these saggy human cheeks.
Lord, thank you for this pain. With every fiber of my being I scream to the heavens a resounding and echoing thank you, for I have finally let go, and I trust you’ve got this, and I am finally free. If my luck holds out, I won’t get bugs in my teeth on the way down.
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