Four words that change everything

On and off for a year or two I have been asking Him, but more intensely these days.

“What should I do when my medical license comes up for renewal in December? Is it time to let it go?

It is not a matter of defeat, of giving in to the illness and assuming God will not heal. The question is deeper now. “Even if You gave me back my health tomorrow, would I want to step back into medicine? Would You want me to?”

For a long time, I worked from the assumption “of course.” It seemed the responsible thing to do. So much time, so much money, so much effort invested in gaining the skills of a doctor.  And the privilege of so closely observing the miracle of  new life as it grew within the mothers for whom I cared. . . it seemed unthinkable to step away.  And besides, should my health improve, I needed some way to support myself, something to fall back on.

And yet. . . there has been a deeper longing growing, barely perceived. Or perhaps perceived but unspoken. Barely believed. Moments in the last two years when God seemed to be calling me to give all my attention to sitting at His feet, listening to His heartbeat, doing what I can to help others hear it too. I have paused, awed at the thought. I have wondered to God, “Really? I want this so much. Can it really be that You are calling me to this?” With Moses I have hesistated, “But I don’t think well on my feet. Even in a small group I can barely stammer out an answer. Why would you choose me?”

Lately my questions have shifted, the longing within me growing too strong to be ignored. “Abba, I want this more than anything. I long to sit at your feet, to hear your heartbeat, to write in ways that let others hear your heartbeat more clearly too. But is it irresponsible to give up my medical license? Is it selfish? Lazy? Unwise? This desire is so strong. Is it okay to let go of all else and pour all of my time and energy into listening for your heartbeat?

And then I heard them, the four words that changed everything. “I want it more.”

And what do you say to that?

Those four words, they silence all of my questions. What do you say when your Creator tells you that more than you want to know Him, He wants to be known?  More than you want to spend every moment seeking Him, He wants to be sought?

His answer echoes through my days.

“So few people are given this privilege of concentrated time at Your feet. How am I so blessed?”

“People know Me in different ways. This is how I have made you to know Me.”

I read back through what I have written in months past, about how God is a blessing God, how I can trust him.

The pastor speaks the same truth on Sunday morning.  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Not “the Father.” “Your Father.” The One who brought you into being, who knows you, who is committed to you from the very depths of His being. Doesn’t just “give you the kingdom,” but “is pleased to give you the kingdom.” He has chosen gladly. It gives him great pleasure to give you all that He is and has.

And I realize that as I asked my questions, I expected an answer, but not the answer that He gave. Perhaps something about being a good steward of my gifts and skills. At best a slightly reticent, “Well, if you’re sure that’s what you really want, then it’s okay with me.”  What I got was a take-your-breath-away passionate declaration of longing. “I want it more!”

It’s the same Voice that rings throughout Scripture:

“And then I’ll marry you for good—forever!

I’ll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness.

Yes, I’ll marry you and neither leave you nor let you go.

You’ll know me, GOD, for who I really am.”

(Hosea 2:19-20, The Message)

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose?   If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?” (Romans 8:31-32, The Message)

And the song that has risen in my heart hundreds of times in the past year swells again and I sing, free, confident that I am being led into Life.

And I pray that I will forever be spared from believing the lie that God is holding out on me, keeping back His best. And I ask that God would keep the longing fresh, the passion for Himself alive in me. And I hear again the four words and know He will answer. “I want it more!”

When you long too small

Sometimes it’s a subtle restlessness easily buried beneath activity. Sometimes a gnawing ache that refuses to be silenced. It can masquerade as loneliness or grief, or, in the face of startling beauty, mingle with joy and awe.

I call it longing.

I don’t always know what it means. For what is this insistent voice crying out?

I’m often tempted to stop at the first answer that presents itself:

I’m longing to practice medicine again. Longing to be productive.

Longing for a man to love and choose me to share his life.

Longing for my life to matter, for each of my days to make a difference in the life of another.

But in the summer, as I sat with the gnawing ache of desire to practice medicine again, I discovered that I could follow it deeper. It isn’t the practice of medicine that I long for, with its respected position and crazy hours. It’s being invited to step into people’s places of pain and fear and bring hope and healing. Being part of the most intimate and precious moments of their lives. (I just love watching dads cry when they see their baby born!) It’s being able to explain a complex question simply enough for a layperson to comprehend. It’s being who I’m made to be in relation with God and others. Working with my hands and heart. Using my skills and passions. Participating in God’s work of creating and healing and restoring life.

I’m discovering at the root of all of my longings one from which all others arise. It is a longing to enter more deeply into the relationship at the center of the universe – to know and be known, love and be loved, and to be part of the Love and Creativity that flows out from itself to draw others into the place where we become most truly ourselves.

God understands these longings.

Jesus pronounced a blessing on those whose longing runs deep.

“Blessed are those who are starving for right relationships, for they will be filled.”

(Matthew 5:6, my paraphrase)

This appetite that seems unquenchable – it will be satisfied. But only when we let the longing grow, when we refuse to settle for quenching the thirst with something that will in the long run only make us more thirsty, when we let the longing drive us to its end. There we discover that its end is also its source. Our longings to belong, to be part of the Life at the center of the universe, are small reflections of the heart of the One who made us.

Maybe this is part of what sets longing apart from simple desire. It comes not merely from within myself. It is an inner stirring that arises in response to the call of Another.

In Hosea, a parable of passion and prostitution and hope, the glimpse of God’s longings is almost unbearable.

My people are hell-bent on leaving me.

They pray to god Baal for help.

He doesn’t lift a finger to help them.

But how can I give up on you, Ephraim?

How can I turn you loose, Israel?

How can I leave you to be ruined like Admah,

devastated like luckless Zeboim?

I can’t bear to even think such thoughts.

My insides churn in protest.

(Hosea 11:7-8 The Message)


Dreaming of the day she responds again to His love, God says:

“It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD,

“That you will call Me Ishi

And will no longer call Me Baali.

(Hosea 2:16 New American Standard Bible)

Not “my Master, my Owner.” No longer “One who rules over or possesses me.” But “my husband, my man.” It astounds, this glimpse into God’s heart, this longing which runs far beyond reverence and awe to intimacy of the deepest level imaginable.

It is this longing that drives him to take gifts away, refusing to let the love of his life wander off without a fight for their marriage, for her life.  The longing causes Him to strip the beloved of all distractions, not to be cruel, nor in punishment, but in a passionate love that desires only that she receive his love. He knows it is only in His arms that she can truly live free, for it is for His arms that she was created. She was made to fit into the life of God, to be filled by Him, in an even deeper and more mysterious way than man and woman meet and fulfil each other.

Seven times in Hosea comes the verb “paqad.” Admittedly one of the most difficult Hebrew verbs to translate, it is given widely varied meanings, including, in Hosea, “to punish.” But the root meaning may best be understood as “attend to with care” or “take note” (Speiser in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).

Even the harsh measures of pain and deprivation are driven by longing and love too great to settle for less than the best for the beloved.  His longing keeps the end in view.

“But then I will win her back once again.

I will lead her into the desert

and speak tenderly to her there.

I will return her vineyards to her

and transform the Valley of Trouble into

a gateway of hope.

She will give herself to me there,

as she did long ago when she was young,

when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.

(Hosea 2:14-15, New Living Translation)

His is a longing which never gives up, even as it leads Him to the harshest of measures of love, the one which He bears Himself.


And as I wait before this sign of His longing, I am learning to see longing not as a problem to be fixed, but as a gift, a gift which I miss when I refuse to sit with the longing, to let it grow, to turn back toward the Giver and ask him to explain the gift.

It summons me toward what is deeper and truer and more satisfying.  For under all our deepest longings lies a longing deeper still, the echo of the heartbeat of the One who longs for us, refusing to let us be satisfied with anything less than His love. Unwilling to be satisfied with anything less than ours.

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;

he rises to show you compassion. (Isaiah 30:18)


 

Too old to carry?


Of all the pieces in the Zimsculpt exhibition, this one touched me most deeply. Who among us has not seen someone tell a child, “You’re too heavy for me to carry you. You’ll have to get down and walk.” It’s a normal part of growing. A necessary and healthy part, even. But still challenging. Stretching for the child who wants to stay in the place of safety. Sad for the parents who continue to hold the child in their heart when they can no longer hold her in their arms.


But hear this and rest: there is one set of arms that we never outgrow.  One place that, no matter our age, we remain children.


Until your old age I shall be the same,

until your hair is grey I shall carry you.

As I have done, so I shall support you,

I myself shall carry and shall save you.

(Isaiah 46:4 New Jerusalem Bible)


Beating on the chest of God


I felt like a frustrated two year old held by her father, wailing and beating my little fists against his ribs. “Where were you, God? I got up early, showed up for the retreat day and didn’t find you there. At the end of the day everyone else had their stories of how you had met them, cozy feelings of being loved. I had nothing.  At least before I had the anticipation of meeting with you. Now I have just disappointment. Aloneness. Why didn’t you meet me?” Bang, bang, bang, my fists against the chest of God. Squirming and wriggling and crying out,  “This is not okay, God. I can’t manage life without you. Where are you?”

And then I worried. I know God wants us to be honest with him, but maybe this is too honest. Is it okay to have a temper tantrum with God? I mean, He’s God. The Ruler of the universe.  The All-Powerful One who deserves total respect. He has every right not to show up. If it wasn’t for Him saying that he loves me, showing that he wants me near, it would be ridiculous to dream that He might ever condescend to meet with little ol’ me, let alone show up according to my schedule.

Is it okay to have a temper tantrum with God? I don’t know.

But I do know this. Over and over, God says “Come.” Come hungry. Thirsty. Broken. Come tired and at the end of your rope. Just come.

Come as children.

Many of us enjoy other people’s children when they’re happy and fed, and prefer to hand them back to their parents when they’re tired and hungry and don’t know what to do with themselves. God calls us to come “as children.” And he calls us to come hungry and tired and sick. Not to try to fix things first. Not to swallow hard and cover up our longings. Just to come. Come as a child who doesn’t stop to think about how to come. Needy. Honest. Even wailing and flailing.

And I know this. God is Truth. He doesn’t deal in half-truths and hiddenness. He brings it all out in the open where He can heal it.  A two-year-old’s tantrum may not be a mark of intimacy in our communication with God. But that kind of honesty is. And we’re not alone in crying out in this way (eg Job, Psalm 73:21-23, Psalm 13). The first step in healing is always being honest about the situation. Often we can’t hear God’s heartbeat until we realize how desperately we need to.

This I know too. God understands longing for intimacy. He understands the pain of rejection, the piercing disappointment of showing up to find the other party not there.

“I’ve made myself available

to those who haven’t bothered to ask.

I’m here, ready to be found

by those who haven’t bothered to look.

I kept saying ‘I’m here, I’m right here’

to a nation that ignored me.

I reached out day after day

to a people who turned their backs on me . . .

(Isaiah 65:1-2 The Message)

Maybe God doesn’t mind my fists against his chest. Maybe his Father-heart, calling “come, come, come,” feels only compassion, not the condemnation I fear. Maybe he even hears my longing for his presence as a tiny echo of his God-sized passion for all to be united with him. His arms are safe, a strong and steady place to feel the painful longing for oneness and let the tears come.

One thing more I know. God would rather have me beating on his chest than turning away and crying alone. His patient heart and strong arms gently wait, letting me exhaust myself against him, ready to quiet me until I can rest again in his love.

Who knows? Maybe, more often than we suspect, childlike fists beating on the breast of God are a way deeper into the heart of God.

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”

(Matthew 19:14, New Living Translation)