Monday, September 4, 2017

Pillars and Threads

Coping is not the same as healing. And, if I’m observing correctly, it is also the exact opposite of processing. That’s where I found myself this summer. My shelves are full of books I anticipated reading along the lake shore or curled up on the couch. Yet I found myself unable to exert much emotional or spiritual focus. I barely cracked open one of these books.

The reading I did do, I consumed like my life depended on it – middle grade fiction of every sort: historical fiction, realistic fiction, stories with diverse characters in diverse settings, and even my very first graphic novel series. They were fun and informative, and fuel for children’s literature articles I’m work on, but most of all, they kept my mind distracted.

But a few things happened this summer that reminded me how much of a rut I’m in. A new health concern arose. My hours at work got cut, forcing me to piece together three part time jobs (including a library internship!). And I had a bike accident that left me achy and bruised. Together, these three events helped me realize what I may have learned all along if I’d read those books. However, seeing these lessons played out in real life made them tangible pillars to look back on.

My lowest times are when I allow my mind to dwell on the “what ifs” and the “why nots.” I’m not that into pep talks or self-motivation, and in the same way, I tend to shy away from reading scripture just to console or inspire. But I am a master at the other side of the coin—letting twisted and untrue messages permeate by brain.

Until this year, I had never heard of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I’m not sure why. But in the last few months, I have heard this quote from him no less than five times:

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”

He goes on to reference Psalm 42, in which David gives us the epitome of self-talk:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God
. (v.11)

Questioning God should not become a pattern in our lives. But the Lord desires honesty. Honesty in prayer and honesty in the ways we speak to ourselves. If I am raising up the events of this summer as pillars, that means I need to continually speak truth about them in my heart. My body is weak—but He is strong. My financial security is unsure—but He provides. The seemingly unexpected can happen and send pain searing through my limbs—but God is my wise protector.

It is so easy to look at the jumbled mess of our lives, the things that don’t make sense and dwell on these. It takes a lot of work to shift my thoughts to an eternal perspective. I read an analogy in the First5 Bible study app the other day which, describes this perfectly. Teaching on Job 21, the author writes:

 “One of my favorite memories as a little girl was watching my grandmother cross-stitch. I remember the first time I watched her nimble fingers stitch a mess of x’s into a masterpiece. I usually sat on the floor at her feet looking at the underside of her work-in-progress. We had a little game where I would try to guess what she was making. But the underside was such a mess! From my perspective it was an indistinguishable mishmash of string and knots. But what was utter confusion to me was perfectly known to her. She was looking at her work of art from the front. I was only looking at the back.

Job and his companions are trying to guess God’s plan. Job says, “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?” (Job 21:22). Knowledge comes from God; we don’t tell Him anything He doesn’t already know. Whether wicked or good people, whether blessed or afflicted circumstances, God is in control. He has a plan that we simply can’t see from our perspective. God has knowledge. God imparts wisdom. God judges rightly. In our suffering, God is doing something.

Suffering isn’t at all like the game I played with my grandmother. We aren’t just passing the time trying to guess what God is up to. We are often sad, lonely, hurting and afraid. But our best guesses won’t make that pain go away. In fact, if we get the picture wrong or begin to doubt that there’s a masterpiece in the making, we can hurt even more. 

You may be looking at your life as a jumble of frayed thread and messy knots. But there is a patient hand with tender, nimble fingers stitching the masterpiece of your life. You can trust Him. Don’t judge the brilliance of His artistry from the wrong side of the fabric.”

This summer, I was caught looking at the wrong side of the fabric. In coping through fear, loneliness, and pain, I focused on the inter-woven pieces of my life, and not the full picture. These threads aren’t meant to be untangled. We are exactly where God has us. Scripture reminds us constantly of God’s perfect sovereignty in our lives, so why is it so hard to see it? I’m learning that it is a daily choice. To wake up in the morning and say, “I choose to lift up these bumps in the road as reminders of God’s faithfulness.”

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