‘Hard’ truths I didn’t know

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[This blog post is part of a series called 'Hard' truth]

I’ve shared with you several truths I’m so glad I knew before ‘hard’ hit.

I don’t want you to get confused though.  I don’t want you to make the mistake of thinking that standing firmly on theology has protected me from pain and I don’t want you to think that I had every truth locked down before this storm hit.

There are a lot of truths that I thought I knew but it turns out I didn’t know them; not in a way that came through for me.  I’ve been scrambling to learn as I go, but experience is a hard teacher.  Here are some of the things I didn’t know going into this:

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1. Trusting God means getting hurt. Some years ago I wrestled through what it looked like to let my family go.  I knew they were idols.  I longed to lay them at God’s feet and trust them into His hands.

I figured I did a pretty good job letting them go, because thinking about losing them stopped hurting so much and I stopped praying so hungrily and desperately for them to be saved.  I figured that meant I was doing a good job of trusting God.

I think one of the truths I’m learning through all this is that trusting God doesn’t mean you don’t hurt.  On the contrary, I think trusting God means you are not afraid to hurt.  I think trusting God means you can beg boldly with all the emotion in your heart without holding anything back.

I was in a main session at a conference in Italy when I got the news from my sister that my dad only had a few days left.  I could suddenly feel all this pressure building up behind my heart and I honestly felt like I was going to explode if I didn’t get out of there.  I walked outside the room and then outside the building and then I lost it.

Lying face down on the grass outside a hotel in Rome I realized that I hadn’t let go; I realized I didn’t trust God with my dad.  And I knew this because I couldn’t pray with all my heart.  Every word was qualified.  I didn’t know how to talk to God like I was a little girl loosing her dad.  I was terrified to say and feel all the awful things I was trying so hard not to say or feel.

You can tell if something is an idol when you pray for it with ultimatums and anger.  You can also tell if something is an idol when you don’t pray for it with all the emotion you feel.  You hold hopes unspoken in your heart in the name of ‘faith’ out of a desire to protect yourself from disappointment.  I couldn’t pray boldly because I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  I would be too devastated if God failed me.

In the grass that night, breathing in and out the scent of the ground, through my tears, I learned that letting go is giving God my very heart.  There are no corners left for me to govern.  I can’t manage my expectations.  I can’t try to get ahead of whatever might be round the corner.  Trusting God means walking through pain and emotion without fear.

2. There are things written in the Bible that I just straight up do not believe.  That night in the garden I could sense myself holding back but I couldn’t identify the root of unbelief.  Then I remembered what I had read that day in the Word:

“Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:20-25 ESV)

In the dark in Rome, I was forced to face the reality that I am unwilling to believe that passage.  My fear keeps me from faith. I’m terrified of looking like an idiot if I’m wrong and I’m terrified of feeling disappointment with God if things don’t turn out.

The faith we need to pray this way is a gift from God, so there’s no way to turn Him into a vending machine.  So I learned that night what it means to pray like the persistent widow.  I prayed with faith for faith and I trusted my father to God.

In that garden, for one moment I believed God.  For one moment I felt the freedom of trusting Him with every person and detail and emotion and fear in my life.

Writing this tonight I’m not sure if I’m any closer to standing on those things than I was back in July.  But I am sure of this: He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.

Phew.

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Comments

  1. “I couldn’t pray boldly because I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I would be too devastated if God failed me.”

    Interesting. And challenging to me. Because for a while now I’ve felt that prayer is less about asking God for what I want or think I need and more about bringing myself into alignment with God’s will. Because He has a will, and He’s going to do what He does regardless of my own perceptions of my wants and needs — from the most trivial to the most fundamental. And this is good, because He knows what I need so much better than I ever could, but the struggle is letting that happen and not fighting it. So often I find myself wondering, who am I to tell God what I want? Who am I to make any requests or demands? He’s not going to change His plan or His will because I asked Him to. My response to this has been some attempt at self discipline in both my desires and my requests. But, truthfully, it’s also meant that I pray less often. It’s not that I don’t think prayer matters. But I think it doesn’t matter the way I wish it did. It seems to be to be less about asking God to move the mountain and more about understanding that God put the mountain where He wanted it, and if that doesn’t suit me, it’s because I need to get with the program.

    Anyway, I’m sure I’m rambling and probably not conveying what I’m thinking, but thanks for your post. I think this whole series is helpful.

    • Elizabeth, I’ve felt exactly the same way. Sometimes I’ve even thought ‘what’s really the use of praying for what I want, if He’s going to do what He determined anyway??’. But I’ve come across some Bible passages [mainly in the Old Testament] where God ACTUALLY decided to change His opinion and will because someone prayed (The story of Jacob and Jeremiah and the people of Israel are good examples). I’m not saying God is not sovereign or that He is expecting us to pray against His will so He can change it. No. I’m just bringing up Philippians 4:3 when it says “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”. So He wants us to pour our hearts out with every anguish, fear and desire we may have. Will that result in God changing His mind with regard to a particular aspect of our lives? I don’t know. Will He do what’s best for us? For sure. But the intimate relationship that is built by bringing everything to Him is the real deal. :)

  2. Great post! For me, it seems like there’s been a lot of prayers recently have not answered the way I thought or wanted and it’s been hard. I definitely trust in Him, but when it happens often one way, it is easy to be discouraged.

    Like you, I’ve been reminded that I can trust that He will complete a good work in me. Romans 12:12 has also been very encouraing during al of this: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”

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