Of Nothing

(With many apologies after a long break, I’m back and hope to be more regular in my posting this year!)

I first came face-to-face with my nothingness in Cambodia. I went there full of hope and good intentions, sure that we were going to improve lives and change the world. What followed were years of disappointment, failure, and hard knocks. Unfortunately those tough times did relatively little to shake my confidence in myself as Something. I still had a lot to offer. The problem was everybody else—including God. They just weren’t cooperating with all my good efforts!

What finally did me in was a cat. One very small kitten. Too small, in fact. The vet gave me formula, warning she’d need to be fed every two hours, adding with a shake of the head not to get my hopes up. But my spirit shook an invisible fist at him, and at any other nay-sayer; but most of all I shook my fist at God. “YOU have let me down,” I railed. “I’ll take it from here. I’ll show You.”

After three days of ’round the clock feedings, the tiny thing finally died. Exhausted and crushed, I sobbed to my husband, “I couldn’t even make the world better for one little cat!”

His answer was simple, and revolutionary. “It isn’t your world.”

This was the first step in my journey toward realizing that I am not God. Somehow I had gotten the idea that if I just tried hard, thought hard, behaved right, prayed right, I could control outcomes and guarantee results.

That was about five years ago. I have been slow to learn. But over time God has been chipping away at my in-born impulse to take His place.

Will my worry make a relative’s surgery go any better or worse? No. Will lying awake at night playing out endless scenarios unravel a knotty situation? No. Will rehearsing imaginary conversations in my head make someone change or fix a relationship? No.

Why? Because I am nothing. I am powerless. I am not in control. That person, relationship, problem, situation, is not mine to carry.

The good news is that in counter-point to my nothing there is an Everything. There is God. He is in control. All these things belong to Him. He carries each burden. He holds all things together. He sustains all things by His powerful word. Him. Not me.

I don’t know that handing these things over to God changes the outcomes. It isn’t a magic bullet or a guarantee that all will be as I wish. But I do know that it changes me. I admit my nothingness. I kneel in submission to His sovereignty. I wait for His guidance. I learn what it means to trust.

I begin to live out Jesus’ invitation “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Whatever weighs you down as you enter this new year, I hope you join me in laying it down. It isn’t yours, or mine, to carry. This requires some crushing, some dying. But in the end, I truly have nothing (myself) to lose, and Everything to gain.

“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matt. 11:28–30, MSG

Handling It

Feb28I frequently hear people say that God won’t send us more than we can handle, and I’m coming to think that’s a terribly unsound bit of theology.

I have been very distracted the last few months. With the end of our sabbatical looming, I felt the pressure of questions unanswered, decisions pending, the future in general waiting to be sorted and straightened out. And, armed with almost a year of rest, prayer, and reflection, I set out to “handle” it.

The problem is that, in truth, we are utterly powerless. From the next breath we take, to our next meal, to next week, we don’t really control anything. But we are so deceived about the scope of our abilities that we actually think we determine our own destiny.

And so we struggle and scheme and worry, trying to handle things. We lose sleep, our minds churn, we fret and frazzle ourselves devising endless scenarios and solutions.

In the past weeks I have been a foolish sheep, scrambling off on my own to discover “greener” pastures. I have been Martha, worried and bothered by many things. I have been Peter sinking in the water—focused on the waves, the wind, the storm.

I got so busy trying to figure things out that I forgot my most basic responsibility: to keep my eyes fixed on Him—to surrender, to trust, to rest. I forgot to let Him handle it.

Now, I know what you are going to say. “I can’t just do nothing. If I stop now everything will come crashing in on me. I’m barely keeping my head above water as it is.”

I understand. I, too, am a problem-solver and a fixer. I have this optimistic idea that if I just try hard enough—work, think, even pray hard enough—that I will be able to unravel all the uncertainties and see the path clearly before me.

But the truth is, that simply is not within my power. My sole responsibility is to keep my eyes, heart, mind focused exclusively on Him—and sometimes that’s even a bit more than I can manage. All those other things that clamor for my energy and attention are diversions.

I am not saying our various roles and responsibilities are unimportant. I am simply suggesting that the surest way to excel in those areas is to stop striving so hard and simply sit at Jesus’ feet. It might seem like we are shirking our duties, but in actuality, spending time in His presence is the only way to be the best spouse, parent, worker, friend, we can be.

I am not saying He expects me to be inert. I think He asks me to come to Him minute by minute, moving when He does, only as far as He shows me and no further. He desires me to be utterly dependent on Him, and patient with His process and His timing. Every decision, every step should be His call.

This is not particularly comfortable. We prefer to have a bit more say in the matter. How tempting it is to step in and take control! “Don’t worry God, this is a no-brainer. I’ve got this one; I’ll take it from here. I can handle it.”

I believe God sends us things we can’t handle every day. But we are too stubborn to realize it, and we exhaust ourselves trying to manage in our own strength. We miss the joy, confidence, and peace that could be ours if we just kept Him as our center and our focus, and allowed Him to handle things.