I love life.
I’ve said it often. I love life. Life is beautiful. My life is beautiful and full of such goodness. I just don’t know how to do life this unwell, I don’t know how to surmount the insurmountable and enjoy the good things I’ve been given when my suffering is so overwhelming.
At times it’s felt like I’m living in a bubble in the midst of all this joy and goodness and living, but cut off. There but also so very much not there, not part of it. I can see the goodness and I know it’s good, and I know it’s mine. But I can’t touch it. I’m trapped and it is so very heartbreaking.
I’ve felt guilty for so long, I’ve felt a failure and ungrateful, I’ve wondered if maybe I’m just an unloving dead hearted person, to not be able to love with joyful abandon those so very loveable people and things that have been so generously given to me.
I have felt that I can’t say to my husband and children, my parents and my friends, or even to God, all of whom love me so much and are so precious to me, that I feel so disconnected from them, that living in this body of mine is so hard that there are times that I long for oblivion, for nothingness because living is just too painful. So terrified that I would wound or anger them irrevocably with my ambivalence I dared not speak of it, dared not to say really how very difficult it is. It meant I couldn’t really talk about the depths of either my physical suffering, or the battle for sanity, for life, for hope that living with it means I must fight. I dared not talk about the soul suffering, the battle I fight every day for my heart, for hope. Instead I silenced my cries and looked for ways to simply survive.
And then God took me on this journey into brokenness, into authenticity, into courageous wholehearted broken living. I thought at the beginning it would be a stage that I would get through, that I could process it, learn, grow and move on. But as God has taken my hand and walked with me into my broken places, into my broken body and broken heart, into my broken world, I have come to see him and his world in a new and beautiful light. This isn’t a stage, this is life. Do I love life, real life that involves all the pain and brokenness and failures and mistakes and learning and limitations and strivings and struggles. That involves the incarnate stepping down into all of that and giving of himself, that isn’t fixes but redemption, not getting through but living fully.
Paul learned to be content in all circumstances, and we are often exhorted to do the same. Like a command we can obey, to be content or do contentedness. I used to think that contentment came from submission, from resignation. Now I believe contentment comes from railing and questioning, from lamentation, from weeping and wrestling and struggle. Because contentment is born from losing everything and finding that even in the depths, Jesus is there and he is enough. Contentment cannot be chosen, or squeezed out of us, it must be learned and it must be gifted. In this as in much of our Christian life, we take upon ourselves to do for God those things that are gifts of his grace to us, things that we cannot achieve by ourselves. So often we read a command where we should read a promise, a sweet nothing whispered to us that it will be okay, someday, somehow, because this is God’s business and this is his heart.
So how do I, not ‘love life’ that phrase that often carries connotations of adventure and laughter and being larger than life, but love my life. The real and complete one that I’m living. I don’t want to love parts of my life, or love the life I could have, if only this or that could be changed, tweaked, fixed. And how do I love Life, who is the author and sustainer of my life, who is the very lifeblood of all that is good and pure and life-giving.
I have tried to choose contentedness. I have tried to gain it my argument, by theology, by repression, by positivity, by passivity, by discipline. I have tried to pray it true, I have tried to read it true with my Bible, with great books, with studies. I have tried to sing it true with great and grand songs of worship. I have tried to learn it true with sermons and talks and seminars. And I have come to the end of myself. I cannot be content with this life of sin and suffering, I simply don’t have it in me.
Instead I have begun to simply tell him all that I am unhappy with, all that is unbearable. Instead of choosing contentedness I have cried out questions. I have wept and yelled, I have sulked and I have got angry. I still find this kind of raw and outrageous honesty with God so difficult and frightening. I shrink away, preferring pretence that feels safe, that feels like good Christianity but is actually bad relationship, and a sad small impoverished life.
Instead I finally prayed, God place in my heart a love for the life I have, so I stop loving and mourning for the one I do not. I finally asked him to do this work of loving life, of loving Life, of contentedness, so I can be satisfied in any situation because I am satisfied with Him.
Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
‘… that you may live’
I am a thirsty one. The thirsty ones are alive, we must be because dead things don’t thirst. The Bible says we are dead in our sins until God alone breathes the life of salvation into us by his grace. Dead people don’t thirst. Salvation awakens a thirst in us that only he can satisfy, so why for so long did I not feel thirsty for Him. Why do I still labour away on being the Christian and doing the Christian things, as if I can somehow feed myself and satisfy my own thirst by good Christian living. God alone satisfies our thirst because it is He himself that we are thirsting for.
I think for a long time I misunderstood the thirst in me. They say that many of us mistake physical thirst for hunger, or simply don’t recognise thirst and so are chronically dehydrated. We are thirsty, but we don’t feel thirsty until we begin to attend to the sensation and learn what it means.
I have long been conscious of my lacking, painfully so. I was aware that I didn’t love God in the way that he deserved and that I wasn’t experiencing all of the blessings that the Bible promises me. I was told that what I needed was more discipline and more strategies. I was plagued with dissatisfaction and it was called discontent and ungrateful. I was advised to read my Bible and pray, have a daily quiet time, find ways to serve, remember the gospel, cultivate thankfulness.
All of these are great and wonderful things, all of them are things that I want and need, but if they are done without an honest and raw, wholehearted relationship with God by his Holy Spirit they are labours that do not satisfy. It is so tempting to try and quench our thirst for God with things that are of him, but are not him, because it is so much less vulnerable.
Intimacy with God requires a frightening honesty with him because he knows our hearts. We can lie or look away from our doubts and questions and struggles, but it doesn’t make them go away, instead it kills our intimacy with God as we deny the elephant in the room that is standing between us.
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
God knows I don’t understand, he knows I can’t. And he knows that is painful and confusing. The Bible is full of people crying out to God in their confusion and in their pain. They accuse God of being slow to act, they decry the fact that the wickedest people of the earth seem to prosper while the good suffer. They lament and cry over their own inability to stop sinning and the damage that their actions have wrought.
We aren’t supposed to get it, and we aren’t supposed to pretend that we do. We should weep and lament, we should question and grapple, we should feel angry and hurt by injustice …. and we should say it all to him.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
Come to the waters”
For me being thirsty has meant stopping all the ways that I was trying to quench my thirst with all those Christian efforts, and instead simply standing before God with all of my anger and hurts and failings, with all of my pain, and finally being honest. I am trusting that when I come to him and listen to him, I will finally understand the thirst that has plagued me and the reason I felt so dissatisfied, and that he will be the water that I need. And as I do that, I am discovering what it really means to live.
Isaiah 55 tells me that God’s thoughts and words and ways pour down like rain on a parched earth, causing dormant life to bud and flourish. New life pours out from us exponentially like seed to be sown and bread to be eaten. God’s thoughts, words and deeds sustain, grow and make us productive. It is a beautiful and vibrant picture of our what it looks like to live in the downpour of God’s presence and relationship, and the life that proliferates when we do. This is not a one time thing, this is living, and it is purposeful.
… so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
God has a purpose in every part of my life. I may not understand or like his choices, I may not be able to see or appreciate the beauty in his purposes, or in what is accomplished at times. But I can rest assured that there is purpose in it all when I am really living with him.
I began my journey into brokenness looking for healing and a way to move through it. Instead I have found true life that encompasses all of my circumstances and struggles. I won’t move on from this, a growing plant must continue to be watered, it will thirst for as long as it grows and it will truly thrive and flourish when it makes its home beside the waters, putting down deep thirsty roots that suck up every drop of water that falls from the sky.
And when I do that, I will go out into the world with joy and God will lead me through my life with peace, and the glory of God that is displayed when I am truly living in Christ causes the very mountains to praise Him, the trees will clap their hands in joy and praise of our Lord.
Even this mortal creation in its bondage to decay will burst forth with joy and praise to God, and his kingdom begins to come. Redemption begins.
In the last verse of Isaiah 55 it says God will replace thorn-bushes with juniper and briers with myrtle. Here is a beautiful picture of the transformation that God brings about in us and through us when we find true living in him.
Thorn-bushes and briers are alive, but they have no beauty, no purpose but to wound and deter. In contrast, Junipers provide food and fuel, wood for shelter and utensils, they bear berries, which flavour and enrich and they have come to represent longevity, strength and fertility instead of the thorns of sin, sorrow and hardship
Myrtle is a beautiful plant that flowers abundantly, especially so when judiciously pruned. It has many medicinal uses and has a clear fresh scent. It is useful, life giving and beautiful, but not only that, to Jews it is the symbol and scent of Eden. The scent comes from the leaves, which taste bitter but are the very fragrance of heaven. How wonderful.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.