Yesterday one of my friends asked me if I had time to meet with him. My answer basically reflects one of the core struggles of my life at this moment. I had a similar discussion with my daughter this morning. She seems to be following in the footsteps that I’m modeling.
There is an overwhelming number of things constantly calling for my attention. And it’s really easy for me to believe that I’m the only one that can handle them. That if I don’t react immediately, and correctly, everything will fall apart.
I often feel a bit like a protagonist in one of Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse shows. Bad things are happening, the city — even the world — is falling apart and <the hero> is the only person who can possibly save the day. And they will do whatever it takes, sacrificing relationships, and working themselves to the bone to accomplish their mission.
If you haven’t seen the Last Jedi, I’m about to give away some significant elements of the plot. Consider yourself warned.
In the film, Poe Dameron is in a similar position. He sees himself as the only person capable of — or perhaps the only person willing to — rescue the rebel alliance from peril. But there’s a problem with his belief system. His commanding officer, Vice Admiral Holdo, tells him to stand down. She has a plan. She will take care of things. He just needs to trust her.
The trouble is, he can’t see that she’s doing anything…
This is my problem as well. I’m not trying to save the world, I’m just trying to make a movie, but I believe it’s important. God keeps telling me to trust him. He has a plan. He will take care of things. But…
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Poe doesn’t listen. He decides that he’s the only one that can save everyone, and hatches an ill-fated plan to throw his friends into danger and eventually a lot of the people he’s trying to save are killed. It’s not clear that Holdo’s plan would necessarily have worked better. But the implication is strong.
That’s what I told my friend yesterday. I didn’t feel like I had time, but I needed to remind myself that I’m not the savior, Jesus already did that. Making time for friends and relationships is important. Talking with my daughter this morning, and sharing that her struggles are real and that I’m experiencing them as well, that’s important. Sitting down to write this blog today… also important.
I can’t make this movie single-handedly. In fact, I probably can’t make it at all. But my God, the creator of the universe, can do whatever he wants. He told me to do this. So I’m giving it my all. But I have to remember that it doesn’t depend on me. I’m not the only one who can make this work.
My title may be misleading. Poe Dameron is almost certainly not a Christian. But his struggle is a fundamental one for many believers, I think. How do we trust God when things aren’t all going well? When we feel overwhelmed? And it looks like trusting him is a recipe for failure?
I believe that God is trustworthy. Now I just have to live that belief.
From the earliest days of my youth, I’ve heard that phrase. I can remember singing Jesus Loves Me in Sunday school classes when I was three or four years old. It’s a wonderful sentiment. After all, who doesn’t want to be loved?
I’ve spent many months now, painstakingly crawling through David Benner’s excellent The Gift of Being Yourself. The focus is on stripping away all of the masks and self protections we build up to create value for ourselves instead of accepting the value that God has given us. It’s a short book, and pretty easy reading, but there is a deep and difficult challenge in the text. Fundamentally, Brenner is suggesting that I stop trying to prove my worth to God and just accept the value that God has already imparted to me in creation. Scary stuff.
My spiritual mentor challenged me recently to focus on spending time in silence with God, and focus on his love for me. Silence with God is pretty hard for me. Distractions abound both externally and inside my head, even without the additions of phone, computer and internet. But I’ve found that if I give myself a little phrase or an idea to repeat over and over in my silence it can help me stay on track. Briefly, at least. Normally, I begin with telling Jesus how much I love him. So, I’ll sit quietly and repeat it over and over to myself. But this challenge, to focus on God’s love for me, caused me to flip the formula. So instead of telling Jesus over and over how much I love him, instead I started declaring how much he loves me.
On the surface, I didn’t expect that to change anything, but it did. It changed everything. In one simple action I completely reversed the power dynamic of my time with the Lord. Instead of it being about what I was doing for him, it became about what he continues to do for me. As that took hold, I found myself profoundly moved. I was overwhelmed by a deep and rich feeling of love. Like a warm embrace, I could actually FEEL his love.
I paused for a moment to journal what I was experiencing. Forgetfulness is shortly after Godliness in the book of Ted and I didn’t want to lose it. God loves me, without condition or limitation, regardless of what I do, or say, or think. He loves me like I love my children — only perfectly. Defiance, failure, great accomplishment, insane ego, none of it changes his love.
And then I returned to silence. But, to my horror, the feeling was gone. I felt like God’s love was suddenly hidden from me. What happened? What had I done? How could I get it back? My theological brain kicked in and reminded me, that God wouldn’t take his love away, so I must be doing something, putting up some barrier. No surprise there, but how could I stop doing it? And then something even more wonderful happened. The Spirit whispered gently to me that God’s love isn’t a feeling. My perception of it is entirely immaterial. God loves me perfectly, completely and without limitation — whether I feel his love in this moment or not. My experience of it has nothing to do with his love. His love is a constant. The author of gravitational force, the boiling point of water, and granite… loves me with utterly unyielding constancy. At a time in life, when so much feels out of control, his unchanging love gives me a peace I desperately need. Jesus loves me… but not just me.
“This is awful.”
Isaac and I drove home in virtual silence. The disappointments were mounting. After getting accepted to his first choice college, Isaac had been unable to go. It was just too expensive, in spite of his numerous scholarships from the school and even one from a local church. Now he was waiting on his second choice school but it would be months yet.
We’d just put Brandy and Faith on a plane back to Germany, but finances had forced me to stay behind. I had no return ticket. No plan for when I could go home. We were both stuck in limbo.
“Heard back on any of your job applications?” I asked.
He just shook his head. The pneumonia had interfered with all of his plans. No friends. No job.
“Maybe next week we can drive out to Barclay.” The tiny college I’d graduated from in Kansas was hovering in the number 3 or 4 slot on Isaac’s list. “Have a little father/son road trip.”
Isaac smiled softly. “That’d be fun, Pa.”
While I was trying to line up appointments for my extended stay, I texted admissions over the weekend and setup accommodations for us Monday night and a tour Tuesday morning. So, after a long slow weekend, the two of us set out for Kansas.
A six hour trip quickly became eight. As we neared the tiny town of Haviland (population 703), a big sign reading “I’d turn back if I were you” seemed almost prophetic. The town was so small, we drove right past it and had to turn around, but we found the school.
18 hours later we were back in the car driving home.
“What did you think?” I asked.
“As plan B,” Isaac answered, “I would be happy to go there.”
The next morning dawned bleakly. I had no new appointments.
“Dear Lord,” I prayed, “I don’t know what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it this way… Help me. Please, Lord. You’re always there when I need you. I know you’re hearing me now. What do I do?”
When I’d finished praying, I walked upstairs to see Isaac. He looked like I felt.
He’d been waiting for today since his arrival. He was to audition for the church music team, but the leader couldn’t make it and they would have to reschedule. He felt a bit like the only thing he was looking forward to had been taken away. Both of us sat looking at one another in shared commiseration. We felt hopeless. I started talking, trying to suggest activities that Isaac might enjoy, and all of the sudden, he sat bolt upright, his eyes lighting up.
“What?” I asked.
He started to slump immediately. “Nothing.” He said. “It’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense.”
I smirked. “None of this makes sense.” I said, “Let’s hear it.”
“What if I just go to Barclay right now? This semester.” he replied. “But, then I’d have to take out loans and it… it’s just crazy.”
I was glad that he was leery of loans, but I knew they’d be very small in this case, so I told him to go ahead and submit the application and I’d get started on finances.
The rest of the week was a whirlwind. Isaac submitted his application Wednesday, was accepted Thursday and we were back in Kansas moving him into his dorm on Saturday. Everything seemed like a perfect fit. By the time I was driving back to Colorado on Sunday afternoon, Isaac was on the soccer team, had found a good church, scheduled an audition for the worship band and was joining the school choir. I could see God’s hands all over this moment that was tailored precisely for my son.
The next morning, I was back in a darker place.
“Yes, Lord, it’s clear to me I needed to be here to help Isaac step into the amazing plan you have, but,” I whined vigorously, “I’m still stuck here — no closer to having the money raised!”
The foolishness of it, the ingratitude is embarrassing, but I’m being honest.
Between fruitless attempts to raise money, I tried to contact the finance office at Barclay. Isaac was in classes, but I still didn’t know how much the bill would be. I expected we’d need an additional $3000-4000 to be paid over the remainder of the year. Finally, I got the finance guy on the phone.
“I’ve got all Isaac’s info here, I just have to put it into the system.” He told me.
I listened to his clicking keys for several minutes. Then came the big number.
“First semester,” He informed “Isaac will owe $1247 and $1248 next semester.”
I got payment instructions and we agreed to talk again the next day. As I hung up the phone, I got thinking about Isaac’s church scholarship. I called them on the phone.
“Yes. Isaac has already talked with us, we’re directing the scholarship to Barclay.”
The scholarship was $1250 a semester. I was floored. Here I was, questioning God and his plan, his ability even to work out our convoluted finances. But God had known all along, where Isaac would end up and how much it would cost. He’d arranged it all perfectly from the beginning, though we’d been unable to see it until all the pieces came together.
It’s still hard to contemplate our financial situation. But I’ve been powerfully reminded just how good and generous our God can be, when we’re seeking him and walking in his will. It’s not that getting there wasn’t difficult. Of course, it was. There were powerful moments of hopelessness and despair. And yet, God delivered on such a sweeping scale. How can I not have confidence in his plans for our ministry and financial provision? Praise the Lord!