Surprised by a Good Father

One thing I love about God is that He keeps blowing up the box I try to contain Him in.

Just in the last few months, He has challenged my idea of Him, tested my trust, and brought my faith to a new level.

I think my default picture of God as a Father is one who is loving and proud and caring but who is not always around. I believe in God’s power and I know He is capable of the impossible. But somehow, without even realizing it, I separate myself from that power and assume He would not actually do those things. So I believe that God could do anything, but apparently not that He necessarily would. It turns out this a very small container.

This default assumption of mine appears to be the root of many of my reactions. Especially the attitude I adopt when God asks me to do something. After the initial denial and tantrum, my reaction is usually: “Right. Well then, I will get on that” along with the fear of being alone in it. And fear of God’s disappoint when I fail. (Of course, all of this is ridiculous and ungrounded). It is like I assume, after the wonderful moment together when He gives me the task, He leaves to go do other important things, leaving me to the work He gave me to do. (Where do I get these ideas?)

A short while ago, God blessed my mom with a house. The old house had become a source of worry and God was challenging her to leave it behind. So, she had been planning to move and was working toward that goal, but financially and practically, it seemed impossible any time soon. I new God would work something out, but I never imagined it would be like this. He gave her a house. And it is all she needs and even ever wanted!

I was completely blown away by God’s goodness. How could it be that He would arrange it in this way? Of course, I knew He could do these things but never expected Him to! God blew up my box again. But in my heart, I expected a catch. I didn’t want to but I doubted the blessing and God’s goodness. And then, some time later, it seemed that the catch did come. I won’t get into details, but something came up that could have prevented my mom from moving into what had seemed earlier as an obvious blessing. And I was wrecked. It surprised me how wrecked I was. I thought I had a stronger trust in God than that. But as I was crying out to God, being honest with Him about how He felt cruel and unfair, He showed me a bit of understanding. I may trust Him with a my own life, but it is much harder to trust Him with the people I love most. I doubted His goodness. I believe that God’s love is far beyond my understanding. But somehow I overlooked that the same is true of His goodness. God’s goodness does not play by our rules of fairness or standards or entitlements. He is good because He wants to be good, not because He wants something in return. So then, why do I always think that way? God’s goodness doesn’t come with a catch. So I did my best to trust Him, even if the situation did not make sense. But then, God gave us another miracle. The problem dissolved and my mom could move in! And this time, the box was blown and a stronger foundation was unearthed.

Sometimes, things are just good.

And then, there is another layer to this.

A thought dropped on me while singing Good Good Father at church last week. You know how in John’s gospel he refers to himself as ‘the disciple Jesus loved’? It seems that people often joke about it since it seems like a prideful thing to say. And at the end of the gospel, he is like ‘oh yeah, and by the way, the disciple Jesus loved? That’s me.’

But what if it wasn’t pride? What if John’s identity was so wrapped up in this truth that he was the one loved by Jesus? What if this was his identity? So much so that his name really was a kind of ‘by the way’ sort of thing. So in that way, it isn’t pride at all. It seemed that John might have struggled with pride in his early years following Jesus, but he probably wrote the Gospel at the end of his life. And it is so consistent with how John writes about love in his letters!

I decided that I want to be this way. To be so grounded in the love of Jesus. The love of a good Father. I want to have my identity so wrapped up in being a ‘disciple Jesus loves’ and the ‘loved daughter of the Father’ that I forget my own name.

Lingering Easter

I know that Easter is well over but there is something that I can’t quite shake from it this year. I was talking with some friends about what Jesus did for us, you know, the typical Easter story. I’ve heard it a million times and sometimes I can forget it is actually my reason for living. We were discussing how Jesus was fully God and fully human—and how we can never understand how that works. And that led to this mind-blowing thing: Jesus had the power to escape the punishment of the cross if He wanted to. He could have easily come down from the cross. This is one of the things that makes the gospel so beautiful. Jesus not only endured extreme pain, suffering, and death on our behalf, He chose to when He had the power not to.

But another connection dropped into my mind. One that I have never thought about before. Jesus chose to die for us but He also chose to feel all of it. If He had the power to come down from the cross, He probably had the power to diminish the pain He felt. Jesus could have died and got the job done, but just lessen the pain a little. Why not? But this would have cheapened it, wouldn’t it? There is no way we can comprehend the anguish He endured in our place. The physical, emotional, and spiritual torment of taking on the sins of all of history, present, and future. To become sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God [2Corinthians 5:21]. And He chose to feel it all. That is the extent of His love. He didn’t want to show us cheap love. He wanted to show us real love. The kind that bleeds and sweats and hurts.

And it struck me. Who am I to cheapen God’s love? I guard myself and build walls and hide away. All because I am afraid to feel too much, to feel pain, to get hurt. To care too much. I have steeled myself against the hurts of the world to the point of numbness. I have been on this journey with God over the past year in which He is awakening my heart. A journey past obedience to the place of risky love. God has created me as an empath with the ability to feel intensely and deeply. Who am I to waste it when Jesus chose to feel everything? God has issued this challenge to me: to allow myself to be moved to love, to feel everything and not steel myself against it. Because that love that Jesus displayed, that love is my armor.

Words From a Monk

It is not enough to know God as a theory, from what we read in books, or feel some fleeting motions of affections for Him, brief as a wave of feeling, or glimpse of the Divine, which prompts them; OUR FAITH MUST BE ALIVE and we must make it so, and by its means lift ourselves beyond all these passing emotions to worship the Father…

–Brother Lawrence from The Practice of the Presence of God

God Speaks Through Bass Guitar

It is strange to think of myself as an amateur bass player. But I suppose that is the category I fit into now. For the last few months, I have been learning how to play bass guitar. I am told I am good at it for a beginner. For someone who has maybe plucked a guitar string once before in my entire life. The only other contact I have had with guitars is probably just to pick it up to set it aside.

People that know me well know that it is a big deal for me to be on a stage. Or speaking in front of people. Or even being the focus of a conversation. Honestly, when any sort of focus is turned on me, my immediate reaction is to hide. I would much rather be in the background. Unnoticed. It is too terrifying to be the center of attention. Or even on the periphery of the center. Pair this need to be in the background with my (unrealistic) drive for self-perfection. I think that is one reason I am scared to be in front of people or anywhere close to the center of attention. I fear messing up. I fear how people see me. I fear letting people down and disappointing them. These are things I have seen in myself for a long time. And it has been a lengthy journey to even get this far. God is helping me overcome these things. But it seems that maybe, playing bass is the next step.

The other day, I was asked if I was a musician. I hesitated but said I was not. It struck me how strange that was. There was a time when my life was centered around music. It was who I was. And now I don’t even consider myself a musician anymore? Even though I am not very good at the instruments I play right now, does that disqualify me to be a musician? Apparently, I thought it did at that moment. Odd how much I still define myself based on what I do and how well I do it. I am not a scientist or a biologist because I am not working in that field. I am not a missionary because I don’t do typical missionary things. I am not a writer because I am not that good and not an author because I have nothing published. And not an artist. Not a musician. But in truth, I am all of these things.

So. Back to playing bass. Not everyone here knows me well enough to understand it, but for me to be on stage during Sunday night worship, playing an instrument I do not know well, is a enormous deal. It is amazing for me to look back and see how God has grown me in this area. How He is working on me now. From the days when I would say nothing during class or a group discussion at youth group. The times when I would make myself sick from nervousness days before a five-minute presentation in class. To today. Choosing to be in front of other people, doing something I am not very good at.

I suppose it is just another case of God proving me wrong when I say “I would never be able to do that”. And I am challenged, humbled, and encouraged by it all. All this through learning to play the bass guitar.

Shield

I am so afraid of people taking advantage of me or getting hurt by giving too much of myself.

At my core, I think I am probably the gullible sort who trusts too easily and doesn’t really know when to give up on someone. I have learned early that usually doesn’t work out so well and learned to build walls and defenses to protect myself. I have become a very good wall-builder. So good, in fact, that I usually don’t know that they are there or that I have built them in the first place.

For a while now, I have been seeking the balance between loving and healthy boundaries. Loving but not too much. I thought that was where the answer lay.

But what if the secret of keeping people from walking on me but loving them is to choose to love and serve them. Jesus was not a pushover. He was not weak. He did not let people manipulate him or make him do something he didn’t want to. But somehow He still met their every need. This always bothered me. How did He manage this? I know that He is God and had an endless supply of power and all that. But He was still human and got tired. He helped people until He was exhausted. And when He would go somewhere to get some rest away from the crowds, thousands of people would be waiting for Him there too. And guess what? He served them too, without hesitation. He loved even when He was beyond exhausted. How?

Then I read Philippians 2 (one of the best chapters in the whole Bible. Just saying). He emptied Himself, assuming the form of a slave. And then Jesus is love, right? And what is love? Love is not selfish (1 Corinthians 13). Jesus chose to serve and love above His own needs. Above everything else.

This kind of love always struck me as a bit foolish, to be honest. My practical, self-preserving side always whispers something like, ‘well you still need to take care of yourself too’. Which may be true. But Jesus never seemed to think about that. He somehow still made time to pray and be with God. And that was all He needed it seems. I don’t know, but to me, this kind of love is scary. It is loving against my better judgment. It’s vulnerable, revealing, and self-denying. It doesn’t make sense. Especially in a world where personal rights take a front seat to everything. But, I suppose that is where the emptying ourselves comes into play.

If we choose to love people, it takes the power away from them to manipulate and take advantage of us. We still get hurt. But maybe the sting is taken away because we chose it. Because of love. If we choose to love and choose to serve with that motive, we can be content. We never have the reason to grumble against anyone or feel cheated by someone. We don’t have to guard ourselves. Love acts as our shield.

God Speaks Through Movies

I love going to the cinema. It is a part of Icelandic culture that I have gladly accepted. I have always connected with good stories and good characters, especially those of the fantastical variety. (Hence why I am a proud self-proclaimed Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Doctor Who Geek [yes, with a capital G]). Fantasy provides an outlet for describing spiritual realities and truths in a way we can understand on a deep level. Sometimes, spiritual stuff is difficult to describe in a way our minds can comprehend or describe in words at all (or is that just me?). But when placed in a world of fantasy and fictional characters, it becomes easier to understand, at least on a heart level. This is one of the ways God likes to speak to me.

Over the last month or so, I saw two movies that seemed to hit on the same theme in what God was saying to me: Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts (I thought they were both great films and really enjoyed them!). Both are fantasy on some level and deal with magic. In my opinion, Christians have not had the best reactions to movies like these because of the ‘magic’ element being anti-Christian. But if taken on a fictional basis, I think God has a lot to say through movies like these. Of course, there are a lot of differences in these movies, but there was one theme that I felt God speaking about in both of them.

There is a group of people that have a power that ‘normal’ people do not have. They see the world as it really is, while others are ignorant of what is really happening, not because they are more intelligent but only because they know the truth. The group in each movie take it as their duty to fight against the darkness and protect the world on behalf of those who do not have the power. They see the enemy while others do not, and know what it is. Sound familiar? I thought so too.

I can really identify with this idea since this is kind of my main objective for my life in Iceland: to chase away the darkness and help reclaim the territory inhabited by the enemy. (Sounds like a fantasy movie right?) I have the power of the Holy Spirit so that I can carry out this mission. I am not always the best at it, but I am learning. But this is sometimes what it feels like; that I see the enemy while others are unaware. It feels a bit crazy and a bit secret sometimes. The movies serve as an interesting analogy and encouraged me not to give up the fight, even when it feels like I am living in a different reality bordering on the fantastic.

I suppose that is the difference between the reality of the Christ-follower and the stories of wizards and sorcerers in the movies. We want everyone to know the truth (in fact this is our main objective), while the characters either want to be secret or selective. But every analogy has a breaking point.

I might not be able to manipulate the mirror-dimension or keep a magical zoo in a suitcase (even though I would love that! Seriously, that would be amazing), but I can sure prayer-walk the enemy into a corner until they give up! The power of the Lord in me is infinitely greater than any wizard’s magic.

 

“You dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” –1John 4:4

Hindsight

As I have been reflecting on the past today, I have realized a few things. God has been taking me on a journey toward emotional health this year, showing me destructive patterns that are preventing me from fully living as the person He created me to be. I was thinking of the time before going to DTS and the certainty I had. I remember feeling it was something I had to do at any cost. In my mind, I thought it was only a five-month program I was committing to. Looking back on it, I think my heart knew differently.

That time was one of the hardest struggles I think I ever endured. The issues that it brought up, the fear and surrender, were something that I constantly dealt with. I was terrified. God questioned me with possibilities that were very unlikely, probably to ensure my whole heart was in it. I think I mulled over every single possibility, no matter how absurd. In my head, I thought I would go away for these five months, probably grow a lot and then return to ‘normal’ life and pursue my career as a biologist. God had other plans.

At the time I remember thinking I was overreacting, ashamed I was struggling so much with it. After all, it was only five months away. So why was I struggling like God was asking me to leave home forever? Maybe He was. Maybe my spirit understood something my mind didn’t. So looking back, maybe it wasn’t overreacting. Maybe, at that first stage, I was dealing with the things I would have had to deal with in the future. God was preparing me even before I knew what was coming (not to say I know that now either) so that later when the same issues come up again, it would be less of a struggle.

So, despite my fear, I went to Montana for DTS. I was transformed and it led me to Iceland. Then God changed my plans again. He wanted me to go back to Iceland for a year. And again I was certain. Again I wrestled. Again a year seemed like a lifetime. My head knew a year would probably pass quickly and then I would return to pursue my career as a biologist. But again, my heart knew differently. It felt like I was saying goodbye to life at home forever. But that was ridiculous, right? It is only a year. My heart knew better. In my spirit, I knew it would be longer. I think I see a pattern forming.

With hindsight, I see now that when I said ‘yes’ to DTS I was saying ‘yes’ to a whole new life. I was saying ‘no’ to my own plans, and ‘yes’ to God’s greater plan. My head thought short-term, but my heart knew the long-term. What I felt then was appropriate, not an overreaction. And after four years, I think my head is finally catching up.

Ramblings about my missionary adventures