“If you knew you would succeed, and only fear was holding you back, what would you do for God?”
I know the answer, pastor. The sermon notes I received at the door repeat the question in black ink with the bold title “Contemplative Question” at the top. I don’t need to contemplate the question. I don’t know how to accept the answer.
A few weeks later, my fierce friend with the green eyes listens as I struggle to craft an acceptance speech for the answer.
“What does this look like for you?” she asks. “What does it mean for you to deal with this?”
“Umm…” I hum, looking at the Starbucks’ ceiling. The answer isn’t there. My heart is pounding because I know where it is. “I…I think it means giving this to God, and actually meaning it this time.”
“You can’t give it to God if you’re holding it back here,” she laughs, miming a heart held in her hands and clutching it back like I might snatch at it from across the table. “You can’t say, ‘Here God, it’s yours!’ and keep it back! He’s gonna ask, ‘Can I really have it…? Can I have it now?'”
Can He have it now?
And so, I try again, to give it to God. To take my hands off. I want to throw up. We’ve done this before.
“I don’t know if this is good for You to have,” I’ll say in a couple of days. “You’ve got so much going on right now, like ISIS. Maybe You focus on ISIS and the economy and Zika. It’s really not important that we deal with this right now when so much is happening.”
“I want to deal with it,” He says. “Please let me have it. You said I could.”
“Yeah, but…Ebola. And human trafficking. Let’s be busy, God and just leave this for now. Letting someone love me isn’t as important as me selflessly loving other people, right?”
If I play the giving martyr like a good religious girl, maybe He’ll drop it and we can get back to numbness. He doesn’t.
There are three of us, sitting on my front porch. Draped in fleece blankets we stripped from the couch, we huddle together against the chill September night wind. We’re not trying to stay warm. We’re trying to hold our sister up because her heart is bleeding, the pain is vicious, and strong souls can collapse under such pain.
When hope is disappointed, when the one who loves you says he has changed his mind, when you prepare a funeral for the dreams you held, when you’re precious heart is sinfully abused like a cheap toy. When you refer yourself for treatment for the gnawed and gaping void they carved through you, and approach the hospital’s reception desk to say “I think its broken. It’s all broken.”
And we three had tried to anesthetize the aching gaping with gin and tonics, maybe a long walk, a few wise words, but when night comes, the wind off the lake blows raw against wounds. We’re all three of us patching up the dripping slashes. Different hurts at the hands of different people, and not one of us was spared. Weeping together, for each other, is a better anesthetic than the gin. And later, I play the role of Job’s friends, and ask “Why? Why do we even bother? Why would I ever, ever sign myself up for this after everything?”
“Because,” she sniffs. “Love is a good gift from God. Trusting Him with our hearts is an act of worship, and it will be well worth it, even if you’re feeling afraid now.”
When I was little, I was afraid of everything, so I tackled the things that scared me like an angry, bullied kid who finally decides enough is enough. I was afraid of heights, so I went cliff diving. I was afraid of being alone, so I traveled all over the world, alone. I’m still terrified of sharks, so I swim in the deep water. Tackling fears felt like control regained, but the greatest fear, the one that has been confirmed again and again…that only grew.
It grew as he looked me in the eyes, saying I was beautiful, but not enough. He knew he had dealt a flaying scourge across my living, warm heart, but he wasn’t really sorry, and he wasn’t really going to stop. When he promised he would treat me like a sister, and then tried to treat me like more, but not really. When he showed up at my house six months later, and took a new girl to the end of my dock for a romantic sunset date. When I wasn’t worthy of respect anymore.
When another ‘he’ changed his mind about me, and decided that the best way to convey that change of heart was to take me to places so scary and darkly dangerous that I would regret ever loving him. When he hated himself so, so much, that hate was the only language he knew. When he saw I was worthy of love, and with regret in his eyes, but determined brokenness in his heart, sought a harsh word to break me.
When my sister had to leave because he’s been beating her for years behind closed doors.When she was left at the alter. When addiction took her place, and he wasn’t going to stop. When she sends a snapshot of a text, and I have no real response to that level of brokenness. When the fresh air hits the rough, raw, nerve-exposed edges of my own heart and I panic.
“It will be well worth it, even if you’re afraid now…”
Yeah, I’m afraid of letting someone love me. I’m afraid of loving someone. And no amount of jumping off of cliffs or swimming in deep water will heal this.
The answer that wasn’t on the Starbuck’s ceiling is surrender.
Surrender means that I know what possibly maybe is waiting in the arena, but I am going back onto the burning sand, with sword in hand, and fighting for something that has sent me bloody and gaping to the hospital before.
It means, that when the man across the room locks eyes with me and smiles, I don’t slam my eyes to the floor like I’m dropping the iron gate across the entrance of this fortress. It means I smile too. It means I look at people in the eye, and count the colors in their irises before considering the conversation over. It means being seen and not slipping out the back of the room before a voice asks me how my week was.
It doesn’t mean giving the benefit of the doubt. It means giving the benefit of seeing and being known, no side helping of doubt at all. It means that wisdom is exercised instead of cynicism, belief instead of bitterness, faith instead of fear. It means letting Him have it all and trusting He loves me so much, I will be ok.
He grabs the blanket off of the couch and sits with me in the cold. He doesn’t give me the quote from Spiderman about courage and the absence of fear. He gives me His strong arm to lean against and whispers: “What could happen for the Kingdom, you, all of us, if you let yourself be loved in spite of fear?”
It will be well worth it…