30 October 2007

leaning into mystery

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NET)

My heart is so very tired.

This post has been slowly taking form and materializing in my own mind over the last several days. Weeks, really. I've felt as though I've been wandering through a thick fog which, for the time being, is here to stay. I've been fighting against it as valiantly as I'm able, hoping it will burn off. I'm exhausted. I surrender. [insert flying white flag here.]

In terms of relationships, faith, and life in general, I have come to the end of myself. No bridges have been burned, but familiar comforts have been stripped. While being taken to new heights and depths of faith, I simultaneously feel more clueless and uncertain than ever. I have reached a point where there is nothing more I can do. I am concurrently convicted and conflicted. I've come to the end of my own power. It is cold, it is dark, and I am in wholly unfamiliar territory.

Dear God, I am so terrified.

I've prayed for what you might pray for while in the midst of confusion: for clarity, for direction, for wisdom. None of these things have been provided. The only truths that have emerged are these: Faith is a choice, not a feeling. Faith is not for those surrounded by what is comfortable, familiar, or well-tested. Faith is for when it is desperately dark, when you can't see your hand in front of your face, when the next step you take might be over a precipice. Faith is for when your senses and your knowledge fail you. Faith is what you exercise when all conventional wisdom would say it's ridiculous to trust or hope. Faith is for when the only answer you receive is a question. Or when the answer is a deafening silence.

And so I've learned that there will be no clarity, no obvious direction forthcoming, no blaring red lights or voice from the sky proclaiming GO THIS WAY. And my wisdom? I've most certainly stepped outside the bounds of any knowledge or experience I possess. And so I'm left to lean upon God, to obey Him (sometimes blindly), to trust what He's promised. Ultimately, to trust Him. Like Noah did when he built the ark though the earth had never seen a single drop of rain. Like Abraham did when he held the knife over Isaac on the altar. Like Moses, who left behind a life of wealth and privilege in Egypt, having seen "him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27).

Nothing makes sense to me right now. I honestly do not understand what God could be up to, and I've given up postulating. But whatever work He is about, I know I'm slowly being emptied of myself and stripped of the things I did not even realize I leaned so heavily upon. I realize this is a good thing, even poetic in a way. To speak of it, it is such a beautiful concept: to be emptied of oneself so Christ can make Himself manifest in you. But may I say, ouch. The process of being stripped, emptied, cleaned out, molded, and refashioned is (at best) an unpleasant one. Tears come easier than prayers these days.

So when I pray, all I ask is that God would make something of all this. When my feelings beg to send me in a direction other than obedience and trust (which is the majority of the time), when I am tempted to reclaim old comforts, I am reminded that the ancients were not commended for following conventional wisdom or for paying heed to the opinions of onlookers. They were commended for exercising faith, for trusting the words of Him who could not be seen. They stood firmly on His promises and commands, building boats, raising knives against their children, defying those once called family.

They must have been afraid, but they did not let this drive them. In spite of what must have been an overwhelming feeling that obedience was insane, they simply did what God said to do. And so their examples shine in Scripture over two thousand years later.

In looking up the Scripture for this post, I looked at the roots for some of the key words in the passage. According to Bible.org, the word b├┐takh ("trust") has a dual meaning in Hebrew: in a literal sense, it means "to physically lean upon something for support" and figuratively, "to rely upon someone or something for help or protection". The commentary expands on this, noting that in this passage, "relying on one's own understanding is compared to leaning on something that is unreliable for support."

I've never thought of my understanding as unreliable. Nor have I ever obeyed God in spite of what (by all appearances) is most sensible. And I'm certainly not accustomed to putting aside the best-intentioned advice of those I'm in the habit of trusting implicitly.

And so my hope is that instead of just paying lip service to an abstract concept of trust, I would really learn to trust Him: that I would press my weight into Him, lean heavily into Him, look only to Him. That I would step forward even when I feel most like turning back.


  1. Oh, Kirsten. I love you, sweet friend.

    There is so much here. And as you said in your lovely comment on my recent post, I'm not sure that I have anything to say that can do justice to your thoughts and feelings.

    Here are a couple attempts . . .

    When I was reading the first couple paragraphs of your post, I was thinking, "Uh huh. Oh, I get that. I've been there. Walking forward in the dark, even if it means stepping over a precipice? I so get that." But it wasn't until I read the last couple paragraphs that it really hit me what you're feeling in this exact moment, when you say you're at the end of yourself: that you're coming to ponder that your own understanding might in fact be unreliable. Ouch. I'm getting snippets of that thought lately, too, and it's frightening. It's frightening, too, to realize how much more I depend on my understanding than I consciously am aware that I do.

    But not to get off on me (see -- I can do it, too!) . . . only to say that that one sentence about your consideration of your understanding being unreliable really laid it out for me, where you are.

    The other thought I had in relation to the standing on the precipice moments is that it brought me back to a couple years ago when I think my understanding of faith was deepened in a whole new way. It was right after I found out I didn't get accepted to Baylor, and I had pretty much staked everything on getting in. I thought it was God's direction for me, since all signs pointed to YES. (I've never explained that the reason I didn't get in was because I applied for the MA instead of the PhD, thinking to transfer over after a year, and they scaled back their MA program with the intent to shut it down. They only accepted one person into the MA program that year, and only five into the PhD. So, really, the odds were pretty much against me when I didn't know the background on their future plans for the MA. Now that I think about it, though, I really don't think knowing this in advance would have changed my behavior in applying and staking it all on the line for it.)

    But I digress. Shortly after all this went down, I was walking around in a fog. For weeks. Perhaps two months straight. And then Easter weekend came. My home church, Rock Harbor, does this thing every year where they carve out the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter as a day of mourning. You can go to the church and walk through different stations to try to put yourself in the shoes of the disciples and what they must have been feeling on that day. It's really powerful.

    One of the first stations you can go to is a confession booth. You confess your sins to one of the pastors or elders and then get absolved of your sins.

    When I stepped into that booth, I had no idea what I was going to say. So I said the only thing that came to mind, with no background whatsoever on the situation I was in: "I'm having a really hard time trusting that God has any good plans in store for me. The future is black, and I have no idea where I'm going. I don't know how to trust Him at all in this place. I'm scared to death."

    The elder to whom I was confessing said, simply, "That's what faith is. It means stepping into the black, not knowing what is there. Otherwise, what would faith be?"

    Wow. Profoundly impacted my faith (meaning, my understanding of my beliefs) in that moment.

    I'm sorry you're in this place, Kirsten. Know that you are loved, and that you are not alone. We are all fellow pilgrims, and we are walking the paths He has for us.

  2. Thank you for your kind comments, dear, dear friend! I'm so glad that even if it's only through our blogs right now, that we are able to relate to and connect with one another. It's refreshing to find that there's another woman speaking the same language I do (and, I think, vice versa). As I'm sure you know, even when you KNOW you're not alone, it can feel that way and sometimes that feeling can override any cognitive ability we possess.

    I trust that God is in this in every possible way. I know I'm going to fumble behind Him as He leads, but I trust He's leading me to a more beautiful place than I could have ever imagined.

  3. My heart breaks for you my friend. I am reminded of going through a time of complete and utter darkness in college in grad school, where just like you, it was easier to cry than do anything else. And yet, I had to cling the truth that God had taught me, even if it was just his basic truth that He is with me always. It was in those times that i learned what it meant to have a childlike faith, because I was okay with not understanding everything and being okay with putting it in God's hands. Its like when we were young kids, and we realized that our parents planned things, like vacations, and meals, and such, and while I asked questions, my faith was 100% fully in them. Even as I type this, I am reminded of my essential need for this, and how much I desire to be back in that place. I need to have that childlike faith, and "turn off" my brain sometime. It sounds like you are in that place, of wanting to turn off your brain, and just "be" - obedient to what God has called you to do. I believe that if we are seeking God with all of our hearts, and go about our life living this way, that no matter what we choose - in the options of life - if we are seeking to glorify God, he will bless our decisions, and they will not be wrong (if that makes any sense).

    I so wish I could see you right now, and give you a big hug. I don't know if i would have words to speak, but sometimes you just need to be with someone, even if they only grasp a small percentage of what you are experiencing.

    Love you my friend!

  4. Thanks, Ilse!! I will definitely take a raincheck on that hug. While this isn't the first time I've walked through something like this, I guess it just seems so intense, like the only thing keeping me going is what you so appropriately referred to as "the basics" that God is present, that He loves me, and that He wants me to obey Him.

    I think part of what makes this darkness so dark is that when I do have any emotion or feeling around this, it is so deceptive. There really are times where obedience seems counter-intuitive (I think of Abraham raising the knife over his son. "Um God??? Seriously. What are you THINKING!??!). My situation isn't quite that dramatic of course, but I think you'll catch my drift. Right now, I think obedience means taking steps that are counterintuitive to what I thought I knew and that are definitely counter to what many wise and loving people have advised me. It makes me feel so torn (what I call being "convicted and conflicted) in the post.

    Anyway. I'm so glad to know I'm really not alone in this (even though it my feel that way -- see, there go those deceptive feelings again!!) and that God is in it. If the faithful before us did it, I believe we can too.

  5. What a post. My heart goes out to you, and although I don't know the specifics of your struggle, Kirsten, I would like to say a couple things that I hope will help you during this time.

    First is that you are not alone. You are part of His body, part of all of those who follow Jesus. We may be 2 blocks or 2,000 miles away, but we stand with you.

    Second, I would like to say that there have been times where I have received answers to very specific prayers that gave me direction (coupled with being in line with His word and the Holy Spirit) and other times it seemed the choice was mine, and I chose where my heart said to go (as long as it lined up with His word and Spirit inside of me.)

    Third, a while back when I felt my prayers were going no further than the ceiling, I still prayed. Check out Psalm 13...David is in such a dark place but at the end of the Psalm he says, "I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me." He has been good to you, Kirsten. Hold on to that. You trust a God that is trustworthy.

    Coram Deo

  6. Wow. I love, love, love everything that 23 Degrees had to say. (And Ilse, of course -- that girl knows where it's at by wanting to hug you even if she doesn't have words!)

    I also want to say that I love your new blog banner!!! How did you DO that?!?!?

  7. 23 Degrees - thank you for sharing your thoughts here. This is when blogging is community & this is when I need it most.

    Sometimes I do feel really alone in this. While I am acknowledging my feelings, just letting them happen, and identifying them as they do, I'm just trying not to let them drive me. So even though my soul's journey toward God is essentially a singular one, I know the Body by which I am surrounded & of which I am a part is going to help me get there. So I guess what I'm saying is that when I feel crummy & particularly alone, I need to remember these words. I need to remember that I am part of the Body.

    And I've heard similar wisdom from trusted pastors in terms of the idea that there may be "one right thing", but sometimes God gives us the choice amongst many good things. I love that about Him. Like a kid in a candy store. Right now, I think there is just a very impatient part of me. And I'm doing some mourning of leaving good things behind, trusting that God is leading me toward better things (though I'm not sure yet specifically what those are). I'm really trying to trust Him with this.

    Thank you for giving me Psalm 13. I love how raw & honest David was before the Lord. I feel like it gives me permission to do the same.

    Thank you again for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Whether 2 blocks or 2,000 miles ... it's good when the Body IS the Body.

    Christianne -- I loved everything he said too. This is what I love about the Body of Christ. Whatever you've been through, you're sure to find someone who's been through it too.

    As for the banner, I was totally inspired by the other blogs you linked to. I played around with the Paint feature on Microsoft, and beaucoup help from my Corel photo editing software! :o)

  8. The other thing all this conversation about the Body made me think of is how there are so many other parts of the body that function when another part remains still. This is particularly comforting to the still part when the reason it is still is because it is fatigued.

    For instance, when I work out and my arms get really tired so that they are sore for a couple days and it's painful to even raise them, the rest of my body just goes on functioning. It doesn't break down. It counterbalances itself by picking up the slack where my arms can't work. The fingers work extra hard to bring their strength to bear when I can't pick things up as easily with my arm shoulders. Etc.

    So, take rest. The rest of us are going on, still helping the entire Body operate and leaning in to help out while you take rest for a while.

  9. I read this and felt sad for you. And all that could come to mind was this...

    Rest. It's okay to do that. Rest from stuff, from speech, from explanation. Sometimes I think that's why when we're clinically depressed we sleep a lot. Maybe the body intuitively knows... the secret of rest.

  10. Christianne -- I love how you expanded on the Body metaphor. Actually, it's more than a metaphor, isn't it? It's how we live. Thank you for sharing that. It is refreshing & encouraging.

    I also read on another blog (one of the beautiful blogs you linked to, actually) that we don't have to know it all now & we cause ourselves additional despair when we don't have to. So I'm going to relieve that bit of pressure too. Let the questions be for now & know that the not-knowing is okay.

    LL - Thank you for your kind words. I do need to take time to do just that. I'm encouraged.

  11. i loved what l.l said! i don't really think any measly words that came from me would do a comment on this post justice....

    just know, i'll be praying and trusting with you. i have been there friend, and know i will be again someday. ....

  12. Oh, Kirsten. I am afraid my words are lacking. I am still pushing my way through this exhaustion I can't seem to shake. But, I miss you. I long to sit and groan and ugh over life with you. Not, in a fatalistic way, but as we used to. Knowing that it's okay not to know the answers. With hope.

    Oh - motherhood calls. Gotta run.

  13. Like a stranger to myself
    I take my arms
    and put them around the inevitable.
    Eye to eye
    I choose to meet
    what comes toward me.

    There are passages in life
    without angels.
    Some nights harbor angry dogs.
    There are days without music,
    they drone through my headaches
    which spread out like a limitless plain.

    I cannot laugh.
    I do not have enough depth to cry.
    Everything is a shallow gray.
    I search for the colors of a magical childhood.

    But I know
    that ultimately
    I will grow through those alien moments.
    And growing is keeping the vision, not giving up, experiencing the pain
    here and now.

    —Ulrich Schaffer

  14. Christin -- I wish you were here (or, I wish I was there. It doesn't matter which right now). I have no words anymore either; they seem to have left me. I miss you.

    23 Degrees -- That poem is perfect. I so appreciate when I can find words that give some shape and form to what I cannot. Thank you.