“Love will not grow if you check out and give in to the seductive call of bitterness and cynicism. We have to hang in there with the story that God has permitted in our lives. As we endure, as we keep showing up for life when it makes no sense, we learn to love, and God shows up too.”~Paul Miller
I think I’m in over my head.
I received a new book today by Paul Miller. He is the author of A Praying Life, which was a tremendous, tremendous book. I’ve been looking forward to his next book, A Loving Life, for awhile–and was excited to read it when I received it today.
I’m 23 pages in, and I’m unexpectedly wrecked. Not what I expected. But maybe exactly what I need.
I did not know that the book was going to dive deep into the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz….a story I already find hard to read after the destruction of my marriage. I knew the book was going to be–as the title states–a book about living a loving life. And I want to be known as living a life that, however imperfectly, demonstrates the love of God.
But I didn’t know that it would get to the core of my soul, examining bitterness and cynicism; examining how to live a loving life when you are abandoned. Whew.
When I read the quote at the top of this post, I was reduced to tears. Wrecked. For many reasons.
For one….I’m the queen of checking out. Oh, my. The author talks about checking out of life. Yes, I know that action very well; too well. He also speaks of checking out of life and into the cycle of bitterness and cynicism. Cynicism is my default mode. I have to work hard to keep out of that gear. It is a seductive call, the call to bitterness and cynicism. Maybe you know this well in your life, too. Where it’s easier to be cynical than it is to believe truth of God’s Word, because the truth exposes us for who we really are–and exposes our situations for what they really are. And bitterness–isn’t it easier to be bitter than it is to be loving when we are hurting?
But it is that next line that got me: “We have to hang in there with the story that God has permitted in our lives.” Wow. Whew. We can’t check out–that’s not God’s call on any of our lives. Instead, we are called to hang in there. To hang in there with the story–THAT GOD HAS PERMITTED IN OUR LIVES. Good grief. We each have a story. God is writing the stories of our lives. You have a story; I have a story. And sometimes that story includes tremendous joy; other times that story includes tremendous suffering. Job-like suffering. But whatever storyline your life and my life takes, it is a story line that God has permitted!
This both greatly encourages and greatly disturbs me. First, it disturbs me because I don’t understand. I don’t understand why, in my situation, I would see and experience what I have experienced; do the terrible things I have done, and lost all that I have lost in the imprisonment of my husband due to the sins he committed. I don’t understand. It hurts. And maybe you don’t understand either. Maybe the cry of your heart is often like mine: “Why God, O Why?”
But then, I am strangely encouraged. If God has permitted this story in my life, doesn’t it follow in logic that He–who is above all and in all–sees and knows and is in control? If He has allowed it, then it MUST be for His purposes, and His purposes would never be to ultimately destroy me. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It hurts. And I have often felt destroyed. Often. But you know what? I’m not. Instead, I have known God’s grace in ways that I NEVER would have, had these events not been a part of the story line He has permitted for my life. Tears.
The last sentence of Miller’s paragraph is this: “As we endure, as we keep showing up for life when it makes no sense, we learn to love, and God shows up too.”
My heart beat faster at the words “as we keep showing up for life when it makes no sense”, because that’s it exactly. That’s exactly what it is like, what it has been like, and–on some days–what it will be like in the future. I wanted to check out. I wanted to sleep and never awaken. But by His grace and ONLY by His grace, I have kept showing up for life, even when it didn’t make sense to. And through this long process–I have learned to love better. I have learned to love my crew better. I have learned to love my church and community better. And most of all, I have learned to love God better. Oh, I’m far from perfect, just ask any of my kids! I have far to go. But I can tell that where there was once hardness of heart, there is a new tenderness and love that I could never have manufactured on my own. Ever.
And God shows up. He does. No, I don’t always sense His presence. But I assure you He is here with me. How do I know? Well, it’s like this. I am like Thomas who doubted Christ’s resurrection. He demanded proof. I, too have demanded proof–in my pride and stubbornness. But one day I realized that my life is proof. My life is proof that God is real. And He is here. With me. With my crew.
He will not abandon us.