Thursday, April 22, 2010

Steps, Leaping, and Surrender

In my adult life I have had three significant love relationships. The first one was to the man I married, a man I dated, and the man to whom I will be married in forty days. I haven’t always been wise when it comes to matters of the heart. It would be easy to blame society, television, Walt Disney, or a million other factors. The truth is I was pretty mixed up when it came to the who to the whole love thing, but I didn’t know it and as I talk to other girls who hope to one day find love I see that it isn’t just me that had a problem sorting all this out.

We get a lot of mixed signals when it comes to romance. Most of us come from broken homes, so we believe that love is something that goes away and can’t be trusted. Many of us see the dysfunctional relationships portrayed in popular media and we think that love can be had in rapid succession with a number of partners. We are told that love is a commitment by so many people in the church. Walt Disney says love is forever and once we find it we are guaranteed a happily ever after.

We don’t know if love is something we pursue or finds us. We can’t figure out if it is something that we feel or decide. We just don’t know if we are destined to be the lucky ones or if love is a matter of intense effort. It is not easy to sift through all the information out there about this phenomenon.

As the date draws closer to my wedding, I am finding myself reflecting on the past. The events that shaped my perceptions, recognizing some of my mistakes, and things that I have endured in order to understand what makes this relationship so different from the last ones. Yes, definitely the man is different, but I am different too.

I was twenty years old when I was married the first time. I knew I wanted a husband and a family so I got married to the first man who seemed to fit my check list. I took all the proper steps in choosing this man. He looked good on paper, and I believed that as long as I kept following the formulas, did things by the book, we would be able to build a marriage that would be okay. There was no passion for him, and as it turned out, he had none for me. We were both looking of partners who fit certain criteria and we thought we had found them. It was not long before it was obvious that our marriage was based on misinformation and more than a few lies, but I still believed that if I took all the proper steps I could make it better. I told myself that I loved him, and if I just kept trying everything would work out.

I had every relationship book in print, worked the formula, and went through counseling all in hopes that I would find the right set of steps to our save us from destruction. The thing is love is a bit of a dance, but if it is really love, your partner doesn’t hate you if you step on their toes from time to time. In the end, I was unable to keep up, do the right things, or be the right person to keep him happy and all I was doing was killing myself trying to make it work. It wasn’t easy to admit that the marriage failed, but looking back, I realize that my biggest mistake happened when I believed that love could be a formula to be mastered.

The next relationship was comedy or tragedy of mistakes, depending on your point of view. I leapt into love, blindly, stupidly. For the first time I knew what it was to want someone in my life, not just try to have someone because it is expected. There was fire and passion, but it was fanned by the flames of uncertainty and doubt. The constant strain of whether he was going to be there for me or not, rearranging my life so that I would be acceptable and appealing to him, all in the hopes that he would one day wake up and realize he loved me as much as I did him. I held on through so much chaos and confusion thinking my leap of faith would be enough to sustain us. In the end, it takes two to believe for great things and both have to leap together. The last time I leapt, he stood firmly on the edge of that abyss and watched me fall, and I realized that I could never do that again.

I was a little lost for awhile after that. I didn’t know what to do. Love wasn’t working for me or I couldn’t make it work for me. I had tried taking the steps. I had made the leaps, what else could I do? It seemed so out of my hands, so far beyond anything I could possibly do that I felt hopeless. I didn’t like being out of control. I didn’t like feeling like I could do nothing to bring about the one thing that I have wanted since the first time I saw Cinderella, but I was helpless.

Then I met Ty, and I was too weary to take the steps. I was too scared to make another leap, but he never asked me to. Instead, he sat there one night and told me about the things in his heart, his hopes, his fears, and why I belonged in his life. He told me about how who I was, not what I did, fascinated and captivated him. There was no formula to master or ability to prove, and I found myself confronted by something so completely new, it scared me to death. He loved me, and all I had to do was surrender to it. I had to be okay with just being. I had to trust him, and it is hard not do with those beseeching blue eyes promising so much if you do. I had to turn loose of all my attempts to control the situation, and surrender to this man.

For the first time, I understood why so many people can’t figure Christianity out, why a God who offers grace is so difficult to understand and accept. When you spend your whole life thinking that love is something you have to perform to receive, being confronted by a love that demands only your presence is overwhelming. I almost walked away from Ty. He seemed too good to be true, but I decided I could be okay with this new type of love, the kind where I am beautiful even when my hairs a mess and my feet are covered in dirt from the garden.

I have to believe that God is like that. That he sees our dirty feet and smiles every time we turn our faces towards him, because its not about the steps we take or the leaps we attempt. It is about realizing he loves us and trusting his love enough to surrender to him.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Disturbing Bible Stories

If you study your Bible very long one of the things that you will find is there are certain stories that can be rather disturbing. Stories that can make you wonder how well you understand this person we call God, and even some that can make you wonder if we really know Him at all.

For me one of those stories is the story of Uzzah. Many of us don’t remember the name, but most of know his tale. He was one of the men who was trying to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. He was following the orders of his king, when the wagon transporting the Ark hit a bump in the road and the Ark began to topple, Uzzah did what I think anyone of us would do. He put his hand out to save the Ark, and God struck him dead.

As a child, this story really bothered me, and when I would ask people, “Why?” The answers were never satisfying. It just did not make sense to me that he would be punished for trying to do the right thing. Okay, sure, David was going about it all wrong. He messed up royally, no pun intended, but Uzzah was just following orders. Doing what the man in charge had instructed him to do. It wasn’t his fault that David got it wrong, and I kept seeing myself in Uzzah’s place. As the one who had to do what they were told, who saw a disaster in the making and tried to stop it, and still got in trouble.

Even as I got older, it still bugged me. How does this happen? How can a person be punished for trying to do the right thing? It didn’t seem just or loving. It didn’t line up with my understanding of who God is. So I tried to ignore the story. It is easier that way, just act like the hard parts of the Bible don’t exist, and presto, your theology can remain simple, easy, and comfortable.

The thing is you don’t learn when you do that. Failing to ask the hard questions means you never get the great answers. Sure the process may hurt, and you may find that some of the things you once believed about God need to be reevaluated, tweaked, or even scrapped. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean God is any less God. It means you are growing up. Just like when we stop to consider our parents as adults and not simply as a child. They are still our parents, but we can begin to appreciate more of who they are.

Even later in life when I returned to the story, I began to see some things I had missed before. One of those things was Uzzah wasn’t a nobody. He wasn’t some ignorant worker who did not know better. The Ark had been kept at his father’s house, so he probably already knew a thing or two about how it should be treated. He had been chosen to be close to the Ark, a position of honor, probably for this very reason. So this leaves us with the question, if he knew so much, why did he allow the king to make such a horrendous mistake?

Why didn’t he speak up? Remind David of the proper protocol, refuse to be involved when he saw things were not being done according to God’s will? Was he seduced by the honor offered by the king? Was he worried about offending David? Or did he hope that good intentions would be sufficient?

Now when I read the story, I wonder when in my life have I been Uzzah? Willing to cut corners, go with the flow, or hide behind the excuse “I was only doing what I was told”? Have I ever been bought off by recognition and honor, because I let myself believe that good intentions made up for disobedience? Or am I just being lazy or fearful?

We will all be confronted with times when someone will ask us to do something we know isn’t right. In that moment we will have to decide whether the prestige of such request outweighs our reverence for the things of God. In my life, I pray that I am willing to speak up, or decline to be involved, when I face these times. I pray that I have the grace to do it with compassion and mercy but with a firmness of conviction that will not allow me to be swayed from my intent to honor the King.

It isn’t always easy. People don’t always respond well to being corrected, and sometimes in our fervor people can be irritated by those they believe stand in their way. We can lose out on the perks, be seen as trouble makers, and even shunned by people who fail to understand our hearts. And make no mistake, it can hurt, but Uzzah lost his life because he kept quiet. He died because he failed to take a stand. I don’t want to be that person.

And as someone who is in leadership, I would hope that my people would speak up. Correct me if they see that I am wrong. David grieved over Uzzah’s death, as a good leader should. His purpose of returning the symbol of God’s glory to people was delayed, and he had to stand before his people aware that he had failed them as a leader. Everyone knew that he shared in the responsibility to for Uzzah’s death. That is just one place I never want to be.

So let Uzzah’s story be reminder, there are times to find our backbone, use our voice, and share our knowledge. And there are times when we need to hear from those in our lives that may know something we don’t. It really could be a matter of life or death.