“Do you believe?”

The sky was clearer than I remember it being in a long time; I couldn’t pass up a chance like this. 

Rock piles and bulldozers threatened to thwart my plans as they loomed ominously by the entrance to the parking lot. Great, I thought. Another moment, when I wanted nothing more than to spend time with God in His creation, was ruined—just like the time I realized condo-builders stole my favorite spot.

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It was the end of summer, and I was getting ready to go back to college. I had just gone to see Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 with my mom, and I don’t really remember why, but I just wanted to cry, and pray, and pour my heart out to God. I parked my car and walked the mile or two down the bike trail to where a narrow path took me to my favorite spot on earth: a small opening on the shore of the Plymouth bay. It wasn’t a public beach where other people would impose on my time with God. It was rocky; there was no sand. It wasn’t particularly spectacular, but it was quietly beautiful, and it was mine. Okay, not really. But it was a place where I could be alone. And in my mind, for the time that I was there, it was mine. 

But on the day I wanted it the most, it was gone, with no warning. A fence stood where the opening to that path once did. And behind it sat mounds of rubble, piled twenty feet high. I knew what was happening; people with lots of money would someday sit in their bedrooms and kitchens and look out on the bay where I once sat, except on rocks, for free. It was a treasure I had stumbled upon that was all my own, until now. They found it, and they took it, all for themselves.

They stole my spot, I thought bitterly. As the reality of what had happened sunk in, I turned around, and began to shuffle my way back down the bike trail, hoping no one would pass by me for fear they’d see the tears sliding down my cheeks.

How could you let this happen, God, on the day that I needed this the most? And all I wanted was to spend some time with You…

Looking back on it now, it sounds pretty silly. I don’t even remember why I felt like I needed it so bad. It’s not like anything majorly tragic was going on in my life. It was probably just another pity party over being single and not having any idea what I’m doing with my life—probaby something like that, because it usually is.

I think, though, by the time I got back to my car, I had come around and realized it wasn’t my spot I needed, it was God. And I have access to Him anytime, anywhere. And though I would miss my spot, I was thankful for the times I was able to spend there.

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Three years later, I thought, Not again. I thought about turning around and heading home. It’s late, anyway, and it’s dark, and cold. But wait— my car could get through, and there wasn’t any sign saying I couldn’t go in… Be adventurous, I told myself. And so I drove down the dark, dirt road running parallel to the shore of Long Beach. When I parked my car and looked through the windshield at the masterpiece above and around me, I thought, This is too beautiful to watch from inside. I knew it was cold, but even just for a little bit, I needed to be outside to fully enjoy it.

At first, I sat on the concrete wall, and watched the waves. They’re small in the Plymouth Bay, but that’s part of what I like about them. Then, when I looked up and realized I couldn’t crane my neck back any farther without arching my back, I lay down. It felt like I was sitting in a planetarium. There is nothing small about the God that made this. It was as though someone had thrown a dark blanket over a glass dome, and then poked lots of little holes in it to let light through. The stars seemed strangely close, and yet I remembered the universe that stretches far beyond what my eyes can see or my mind can comprehend. More importantly I remembered the God who made the Milky Way, and the milkweed. This God, who is infinite, is concerned with the affairs of finite beings, whom He made. God is big, and yet He is near.

I began to shiver, and was reminded yet again that I am small and fragile. But as I climbed back into my car to escape the cold, and began to cry for reasons similar to why I did that day I realized my favorite spot was gone, I remembered once more that God is big, and He is all I need—and not only that He is big, and enough, but He is also good.

As tears spilled onto somber cheeks, as they so often do, it was as if I heard the Lord ask, “If My Hands can make what you see outside your window, can they not also work everything together for good for you? Do you believe that? If I ask you to be single for the rest of your life, do you believe it’s because I know that’s what’s best for you, and what will bring Me the most glory, and the most good to others as I work in their lives through it? That it is what will show you, specifically and personally, who I really am? Never mind if that is marriage for other people. If it’s singleness for you, will you consider Me worthy? Do you want Me more than you want marriage?” 

It’s easy to make a blanket statement to other people that applies to any situation they may be facing: “You should desire God above everything else. He’ll bless you for that.” It’s not so easy to realize I have a hard time accepting that myself. How can I honestly answer the Lord’s question: “Do you believe?”

What is it that I really believe? Is it that if I try to desire God, then He’ll eventually bless me with the thing I want so bad, and struggle with wanting more than Him? That if I try hard enough to put God first, then maybe He’ll bless me with a husband?

What is is that you really believe? That the blessing God promises for seeking Him first, the thing that will be added unto you (Matthew 6:33), is the job you’ve always wanted? The house you’ve dreamed of buying? The children you’ve longed to have?

I’ve heard the stories. “Once I just started focusing on God, and not worrying about getting what I wanted, He brought that man/job/child/fill-in-the-blank into my life when I least expected it.” I’m not trying to make light of that. I don’t doubt God blesses His children with good things that they desire when they’ve first sought Him above all else. But I’m totally missing the point if I say, “Okay, so I just have to focus on God, then I’ll get what I want …  Okay, God, I’m focusing …  Any time, now, really … “

I’ve been there. I’ve waited, and the anticipated blessing hasn’t come. But there have also been times when I’ve gotten what I thought I wanted, only to realize it wasn’t what my heart truly desired. I’m to desire God, because God is what my heart truly desires—I just don’t see that so clearly all the time. I think it’s ministry, or marriage, or money, that I desire. It’s not; it’s God. He is my reward. The rest of the things He may happen to bless me with in this life are just toppings on the sundae, to quote a beloved former professor, Mrs. Sawyer (:)).

“Do not be afraid … . I am … your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1

As I stared up at the sky, fingers whisking away remaining tears from my face, I answered, ”Yes, Lord, I believe.” It may be a proclamation I will have to make again and again, in times when I am tempted to believe anything but the truth: that He is not good, that He does not have good in store for me, that He is not worthy of my worship, and that I want other things more than I want Him. And maybe it will take another glimpse at the sky on a cold, clear night to be reminded that the One who made the stars also made me, and He is good. He has good in store for me. He is worthy of my worship. And He is the One that I want more than anything or anyone else.

How can you honestly answer the Lord’s question:

“Do you believe?”

Not sure? Try looking up, and maybe you’ll find your answer.

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Elizabethtown

My seventeen-year-old self, this time six years ago, wrote:

“I saw Elizabethtown last night. It stirred up lots of emotions while I was watching it. It did a good job of convincing me that I should believe lies. When I was watching it, I wanted to believe that life was about meeting beautiful people and making shallow attempts at deep connections with them. I wanted to believe that life was about fast-paced, short-lived romance that should mean more than it does.

Last night, just for a while, I wanted to pretend that I believed those lies. I was angry at myself for thinking that way, of course. But, just for a moment, I wanted to pretend that it was okay to have quick, passionate flings, and that they would actually happen to me. I wanted to live a movie life…I wanted to pretend that life was all about great movies, great songs, great books, great people. I wanted to pretend that these things had the power to change the world. Then, I remembered the one thing that really has the power to change the world for good—for eternity; the one thing that really only mattered, and I knew that it was worth it. I didn’t feel it, but I knew it. I feel it now…when I remember what my life’s supposed to be like and the adventure that will come with just following and not having things in my total control, I feel it.

…I wanted to pretend life was about earth and earth was about life… Then I remembered life’s about eternity. I questioned why God made things the way they are. That’s because I’m simple and finite, only an outstretch of this Universal Mastermind who knows why things have to be the way they are.

It will all make sense one day. I don’t know what’s going to happen, exactly. I only have an idea, but I will understand someday. Not fully understand like God does, but I’ll understand enough. From what I know, I’m scared, but I know it will all be okay because I’m on the right side. And I’m scared for those who aren’t. I want them to be. I want to tell them how they can be. I want to have the boldness to do that. I want to be able to trust that God will help me.”

Like the seventeen-year-old me, I can still get wrapped up in movies sometimes. I identify so closely with the main character that I start to say, “That’s me!” I am Jane Eyre. I am Elizabeth Bennett. I am Fraulein Maria. I am the female lead who gets the shaft for the whole story, until just at the very end, the charming man I love, and probably hated at first, sweeps me off my feet and we live happily ever after.

If that’s the case, I’m still waiting for the happily ever after part, or so it seems.

But you see, that’s the danger with getting wrapped up in these stories, somehow convincing myself that they so perfectly represent my life, or the life I think I want to live. It reveals, at the core, one of the biggest lies my heart is so easily tempted to believe: that it can be satisfied with things of this world.

It, in fact, cannot.

I’ve learned that the hard way.

I’m still learning that—and probably will continue to until the day I leave this earth.

How many of us have thought things like, at one point or another, “Once I’m married, I’ll be happy,” or, “Once I’ve settled into a career and a nice suburban, 2-car garage home with a white picket fence, and have 2.5 children and a Golden Retriever, I’ll be happy,” or, “Fill-in-the-blank, and I’ll be happy.”

I have. I’ve actually thought that romance, motherhood, recognition, and adventure would satisfy me…that happiness was unattainable until some or all of those things were attained—as if happiness is the chief end in life.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Is it wrong to want, or have, a spouse, career, children, a comfortable home? No. God gives us wonderful gifts that we should receive with thankfulness. The wrong is in thinking those things will ultimately satisfy us. Essentially, it is wanting those things more than God—because He is the only One who can truly satisfy us; it’s how He made us. It’s idolatry.

I’m not trying to trivialize God, as if His purpose is just to give us warm fuzzies inside. We’re not just looking for a quick fix. There is a longing in our souls that goes much deeper than that. That’s why, in our pursuit of meaningful things, we’re left stunned when there’s still the feeling of something missing.

C.S. Lewis has often been quoted in saying, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

The point is, we weren’t made to be satisfied by this world, or the things in it. It was made for our enjoyment, true, but not our worship. When God first made Adam and Eve, they didn’t struggle with this. They enjoyed the presence of their Creator, in the way things were designed to be. When sin entered the world, that fellowship was broken, and so began the human quest to try to make life work apart from God; it doesn’t. Never has, never will. Any semblance of success at that is just a facade.

I realized that when I watched Elizabethtown. And I’ve since had to be reminded of it in the times I attempt to find my fulfillment in anything but God.

But I also realized it needed to go a step further. While it is absolutely essential to recognize that God alone is worthy of my total worship, and that He alone satisfies, it’s also important to remember that He’s left me here, on earth. I’m not home yet, free from the distractions of this world, from the forces that attempt to lure my heart away. I also realized that other people are stuck in the same trap of trying to stuff themselves silly with things they think will satisfy. And if there are other people like that, I have the responsibility to tell them that it will never work. Further than that, I have the desire to—because I don’t want them to suffer eternal condemnation, and God is worthy of the worship He will receive through redeemed lives that understand He is all they need.

“For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Psalm 107:9-10

In a world where nothing satisfies, what better message to proclaim than one that speaks of the God who does?

Just when I thought as though I had nothing left to give, that I had let God into the deepest recesses of my heart, I hear Him whisper, “Let me go deeper. Invite me in.” 

Overwhelmed.

He loves me enough to go there? To the places I’ve let no one go, have hardly dared to go myself?

Yes.

Well, doesn’t He already know what’s there?

Yes. He knows better than I do.

What’s the point then of voicing it to Him, then? “But it’s too painful to talk about, God. I don’t want to go there.”

Gently, He says, “Come, My child. Tell Me what’s there. Tell Me what hurts.”

“Why, God? You already know…”

“I want to heal you,” He says tenderly. “Let me.”

“…for I am the LORD, your Healer.” Exodus 15:26

Still fighting.

Sometimes I’m ashamed of my struggles. They make me feel like a fool, powerless. Have you ever felt that way?

“I shouldn’t be struggling with this… I know better than this,” I tell myself. Or, I somehow subconsciously convince myself that simply acknowledging the struggle, and confessing it to God, will suddenly make it go away—as if that was the point of it all.

But in thinking that way, I’ve missed something. I’ve missed what the point really is.

God is gracious. I prayed a prayer about a month or so ago, not realizing then the full implications of it being answered. “God, show me what’s in my heart.”  He did.  He still is. 

I thought the answer to that prayer would be that God would open my eyes to the sins I had committed that day, or what I was struggling with at that moment, so that I could confess it right then and move on, leaving it behind me. Oh, naivety. What God had in mind was much bigger than that. And while that prayer has been answered over a longer period of time than I had expected, and the things that God has been revealing to me have been painful to face, I’m thankful. I’m humbled and amazed at the love that God has for me, to show me the deep-seated sins, struggles, issues, idols, hurts, hopes, dreams, and desires within my heart, many of which I was not aware were there, or whose presence I did not want to acknowledge. He has shown me yet again how much I need Him—how much I need Him to forgive the sin. Give strength to fight the struggles. Reveal the truth about the issues. Dethrone the idols. Heal the hurts. Hold the hopes and dreams and desires, and help leave them in His hands, entrusting them to Him. 

I’ve been frustrated. I’ve been tempted to think it’s too exhausting to keep confessing the sin, keep fighting the struggle, keep seeing the truth, keep casting down the idols, keep giving my heart, and all it hopes and dreams for, back to God—for Him to do with as He pleases, trusting what He does will be good because He loves me. I’ve been tempted to give up, to give in. To things like doubt, fear, jealousy. Feeling inadequate. Comparing myself to others. 

It would be easy if I thought or felt those things, and said, “I’m sorry, God, please forgive me,” and then never thought or felt them again. It would be easy to realize I really want something I don’t have, that I’m bitter over not having it, confess it to God, and never want it again. But that usually doesn’t happen. Does He forgive our sin when we ask? Absolutely. 1 John 1:9 tells us so. But does He take away the desire from us at the snap of a finger? No. It’s our job to resist temptation, to put off the old and put on the new, to put to death the desires of the flesh. Will He help us? Yes. But it takes willingness and hard work on our part.

And the beautiful thing is, that as we continue to wage that war, the flesh gets a little bit weaker and weaker on that point, until we struggle with it hardly at all. I can look back on times where certain sin seemed so imminent, felt impossible to overcome. But over time, God gave the victory. Some of the things that were my biggest struggles are just about non-issues now. That comforts me, and gives me courage to fight the things I face today. It took hard work then, and it’ll take hard work now. But victory is in sight.

What brings God more glory? Confessing a sin and never struggling with that specific thing again, or continuing to confess a sin we keep falling into, no matter how good it feels, or how hard it is to fight? I’m leaning towards the latter. 

You see, if I could so easily overcome, it would be tempting to think I’ve done so in my own strength. But it’s humbling to realize how feeble I am, how strong my flesh is, how convincing the lies are that my heart is tempted to believe. It’s humbling to come before my Father with the same sin I just committed two minutes ago, asking Him to forgive me yet again. It’s humbling to acknowledge to Him that I’m trying to hold onto that desire I just surrendered to Him. And yet it is awe-striking and worship-compelling to remember that He’ll forgive every time. He’ll take that desire back every time. He’s never going to leave me, get sick of me, give up on me. He’s got ahold of me, and He’s never letting go. 

It takes making a choice, sometimes over and over and over again, to confess; to let go. Oh, that I would choose, each time, to believe that God is worthy of my love and obedience—a choice that compels me to confess the sin, combat the lies, and embrace the truth, time and time again. A choice that says, “God, I love You more than I love my sin. I love You more than even the seemingly best things my heart could long for, love You enough to be content to go without them, because You are more than enough for me.” A choice that believes that that’s true, and revels in that reality. 

God, You are more than enough. My soul is satisfied in You. In the moments that it’s not, I will keep fighting, because You are worthy.