Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Being Forced Up The Ladder

This year has, by far, been the MOST difficult year of my life. It has been so difficult, for so many different reasons, that I feel forever changed by it.There are parts of me that will never return to who I was before August of 2011. Those changes are mostly good, but have not come without pain.

In the last few weeks especially though, I feel as if I am being lifted out of a cloud. My desire to write has returned and I am again finding time to put on paper (or blog!) a lot of the themes and illustrations that the Lord puts on my heart. I will probably eventually put into written words the events of this year and how they have specifically changed my life forever, but for now I want to start to share some of the lessons He has taught my heart through it all. I hope you can find encouragement here for whatever struggle you are facing.

Fear of Heights

Some time ago, a friend encouraged me by saying, "God doesn't give you more than you can handle." I have heard this many times before and, although I believe it to be true, I don't think it is true in the way people often take it.

This statement says many good things about God. It speaks to His faithfulness, His gentleness, His LOVE for us.  

However, as humans of flesh and bone, we want- we CRAVE comfort. 

We do.
I do. 

A lot of times, we confuse comfort with blessing, as if those two things are synonymous. They aren't. Because we (I) confuse those words, we end up interpreting the statement above to mean something entirely different than it is intended. We begin to believe the lie that tells us that, "God won't give me any situation that causes me to feel discomfort or inconvenience."

Our precious church (that we will say goodbye to on Sunday) is going through the book of Ruth, both in worship and in our adult bible fellowship time. One of the themes that has been revealed to me in Ruth is the allowing of stress or suffering on Naomi and her family.

 Why would God allow these stresses, even for a brief time? 

 As answers were given, our group discussed Ruth 1:20-21 and Isaiah 54:7-8. People testified of times when God grew them through suffering. I started thinking about a ladder.

 Yep, a ladder. 

 First, I must confess that I have a mild fear of heights and have become paralyzed by fear on a ladder on more than one occasion.

I began thinking about how anyone can step up on the bottom rung of a ladder and feel secure. On the bottom step, you are only about 6 inches off of the ground, right? What is there to fear?

 It is as we progress UP the ladder that fear and anxiety begin to grow. Why is that?

 At the bottom of the ladder, we still have to be standing ON the ladder. We are already depending on the ladder to support us, even if only a little. Why do we have so much MORE fear the higher we get?

The answer is simply this:  at the bottom of the ladder, we are not trusting the ladder at all.

We trust ourselves. 

We trust our ability to protect ourselves from the fall. After all, at 6 little inches off the ground, who wouldn't land on their own feet?

 Right out of high school, I had a boyfriend that I thought was the most perfect man in the world. I was 100% wrong and God knew that. (He also knew there was a beautiful, curly-headed man waiting for me that would one day make me his forever bride, but that is another blog post for another day.) With this not-so-perfect guy, I had a long distance relationship. It seemed to work well right up until the time that I broke code. See, this not-so-perfect guy completely trusted me living 7 hours away from him as long as I was sitting in my living room and never leaving- never interacting with anyone else, never being tempted to stray. One day, I decided that I was created for more than keeping up on daytime television and I registered for college again. That simple act began the downward spiral that would prove to be the demise of that relationship. The truth of the matter was that he didn't trust me at all. He trusted the circumstance. When his trust was tested, it failed and so did our relationship.

For us, it is when we climb the ladder that we begin to realize our limitations. Our trust is tested. 

 At some point, we begin to realize that, to continue up, we have to take our trust from our own ability and place it on this ladder. At some point, we understand that we might not be able to save ourselves from a fall should this ladder fail us. Surrendering to that knowledge is where we face a decision. We can climb down. We can freeze and become paralyzed. We can continue up the ladder and finish our task.

In the same way, it is when we find ourselves spiritually forced up a few rungs of the ladder of life that we suddenly realize how little power we have and how much we need to rely on the character of God to save us. So what do we do?

1. We can climb down. We can refuse to trust God and continue to live a life trusting in ourselves. We will never grow. We will never accomplish the tasks that God has planned for us. With this choice, we will spend our lives always seeking that outcome, that feeling of fullness in fellowship with God that climbing the ladder would have given us. We will only ever bring glory to ourselves and God will remain second.

 2. We can continue climbing and finish our task. The Bible tells us over and over that we are made full only in Christ. In this knowledge, we can trust God and persevere. The 91st Psalm does not tell us that a life hidden in Christ spares us from pain or from discomfort. It states the contrary. It proclaims boldly that these things ARE coming and WHEN they come, we WILL feel His presence. This Psalm is one of many that promise us that, when we abide in Him, we WILL be supplied with HIS strength to continue on. We will enjoy the fullness of fellowship with God, our Creator and Mighty Fortress. This is often not easy to accomplish, but it ALWAYS develops a stronger faith in God and a deeper love for Him.

3. We can freeze and become paralyzed. I think this is what most of us do at some point. As hard as it is to overcome this particular spot on the ladder (spiritually or physically), it is also a GREAT place to find ourselves because it brings us to what we call a crisis of faith. Here, when we can’t decide to trust God, but understand our weakness, we must surrender to either the trust or the fear. When paralyzed from movement and not making a choice, we become stagnant. We do not grow, but we do not find relief from our stresses. We are forced, often by the circumstance itself, to either trust God or not.

If we acknowledge all of the characteristics of God, we will eventually realize the need to press on and we will do so having completely confronted our own weakness. We press on even MORE confident in our need for Jesus and with faith that has become even MORE sure of God’s love for us.

If, however, our choice at this point is to climb down, we will do so in full knowledge of our own weakness and also with full understanding of our need for a Savior. Although this choice often leads to disappointment, increased pain, increased stress, or a myriad of other natural consequences, the stage will have been set to meet this moment again. When we find ourselves in this crisis of faith again, we will remember the pain of not trusting God and, hopefully, will seek to utilize His strength in the next climb.

As a parent, we never want our kids to suffer or struggle. We want them to have ease of life. However, because of the sin they too carry in their hearts, they will sometimes make choices that cause them pain. Often, the MOST loving thing we can do for our children is to allow them to experience natural consequences, so that they don't repeat that choice.

 I believe this is what the Lord, our Father, does for us too. He loves us so much that He sometimes allows us to be forced up the ladder. He knows what awaits us at the top. We may not find ease or convenience waiting for us, for comfort in this life isn’t our most pressing goal. We WILL, however, find the blessing of Jesus at the cross waiting for us every single time.

      Every time we decide to trust God fully through our trial, we will find that 
God has been glorified through our perseverance and faith 
and that the circumstances, however painful, will not overcome us

So, the next time you are feeling pressed to move up the ladder, take a deep breath and don’t look down. Don’t stand there wondering why you are on the ladder or why someone else isn’t being asked to climb. Don’t trust in your ability to control the situation or your ability to protect yourself from pain.

Look up.

Look into the face of God. Look into the deep scars left on the hands of your Savior and trust that the victory has been won. He will not give you more than you can handle, because in HIM there is no earthly struggle that can remove you from His love and the fellowship that awaits us in Heaven.

In that truth, we climb.