My Friday Night With God (and Other Realizations)
I went with the women of my church to the Jackie Hill Perry “Glory” conference last weekend and had a really good time with God. Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place, at the right time, with a ready heart.
I’ve been to so many church conferences and women’s retreats and missions trips over the years that, while I often expect to be encouraged, I have stopped expecting God to “change my life forever” or do some big “revival” for me. Expecting a trip to fix what I’m going through has usually left me feeling disappointed (and besides, aren’t we supposed to not “chase the emotional high”?) so I have lowered my expectations over the years.
Well, while I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Glory conference “changed my life forever”, I can say that God made Himself very real to me on Friday night in a way that I haven’t experienced in a very long time.
It wasn’t any one thing that was said or worship that was extra “Holy Spirit-led”, at least not more than the typical conference you go on (although it was all very good). But we started our first Worship session and I prayed for my heart to be open, and a few minutes in I felt tears streaming down my face. I cried through the whole first worship session, something I don’t like to do because I get very self-conscious, but it didn’t feel sad or frustrated as it often does, but more peaceful.
As Jackie Hill Perry went through the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac, I didn’t feel any burning in my heart or think “she is speaking to me!”. But near the end she was connecting the story with Jesus and she spoke about how the ram sacrifice at the end of the story is still not a sufficient sacrifice, but it points to Jesus, who WAS the all sufficient sacrifice… the only one who was able to take all our sin and cover it, once and for all, the only one who was enough.
These words sat in my heart as we went into the worship session to end the night, and as I sifted through what that meant for me in my life, I felt myself sobbing uncontrollably. The music was loud and everyone was singing and I somehow didn’t feel self-conscious about this dramatic display of emotion, I was just sitting in God’s presence and worshiping like I haven’t been able to in years. I felt myself pouring out to God all my distress about my own inadequacy, and feeling intense relief as this assurance that Jesus’ sacrifice is more enough for me washed through my soul.
I’ve been struggling for a while through a spiritual desert, which has led to me becoming (what I’ve been calling) “a spiritual dweeb”. I feel like I haven’t been hearing from God, or that if He does speak to me I’m numb to it; I have made very little time to read Scripture and pray privately over the past few years (the main time I spend with God is during designated Life Groups with other people), and lack of time with God makes me feel guilty, and that means that the times when I do get away and pray I feel like I have to apologize for taking so long to do it, and then I still feel this distance with God even then, and yet I still go a month without any quiet time, and I know I have the time if I just make it, but I always forget, and then another month goes by and I feel guilty about that, and on and on.
And through this cycle I’ve come to the the uncomfortable realization that I am just not enough. I can’t do it. I can’t be good enough, I can’t make myself do the things I want to do, I can’t get better. I can’t do it.
And that is countered with this constant voice in my head that says I have to be enough. I have to fix myself. I have to make better choices, I have to be smarter about my finances, I have to get off the couch and spend time with God, I have to be a good Christian and be Godly… I have the ability to change my life for myself and so it is my responsibility to JUST DO BETTER.
Well, several years ago I had a God moment where I heard Him say that it is not about me fixing myself, it is about me throwing myself on His mercy when I can’t run the race anymore… and He might not magically work His spirit through my legs to keep me moving so that I can say “look what God is doing through me!”. More often than not, He just sits with me and rests. “His grace is sufficient” doesn’t mean that God will be my superpower… it means that when I’m broken and weary and can’t go on, resting in Him is enough. Telling him that I’m broken and weary is enough. When I give Him my last ounce of strength and then collapse, His grace covers that and doesn’t demand more.
But I still struggle with this. Telling myself “I don’t have to fix myself” feels like I’m taking an out to be lazy. Like I just don’t want to do the work and I’m giving myself permission to opt out of responsibility.
When I was a teller at my bank several years ago, we were required to get a certain quota of “referrals” (times that we spoke to a customer about a product and it led to them meeting with a CSR or loan officer to discuss said product) per quarter. It was done in the least salesy way possible, but I really stress about that kind of thing. I suck at it. And I just couldn’t do it well enough.
Now literally, I was able to do it. I was physically capable of saying to a customer “have you thought about getting online banking?” or “did you realize you’re eligible for our Four Seasons club?”. I heard people do it, I practiced it, I knew how to look for the signs on their profile… there wasn’t a resource or ability I was missing in order to do this. But quarter after quarter I fell below minimal for my quota because I just couldn’t make myself talk to enough people.
My various supervisors worked with me on this; they practiced with me, they coached, they stood beside me and walked through how I could have said it for each transaction… and while I really appreciated all of them going above and beyond to help me, things change for me. I would know the words to say, I knew that it was just another part of my job, but when a customer was in front of me I felt like I was going into pressure paralysis and my tongue would metaphorically freeze up when it came time to ask them about said product. There was no reason for me not to do it, I just would not do it. Could not make myself do it.
This is how I have been feeling about my spiritual walk. Like, I know the things I should do, the things I CAN do, but no matter how much I stress about it or ask for prayer about it or try to fix it, I just can’t make myself do better.
Fast forward to the weekend… a few evenings ago I was pondering my worship time from Friday night and how God spoke to me, and I was trying to trace back this pressure I feel, this need to make myself do better. And I suddenly thought of something that happened with my ex-boyfriend.
When I was dating him, we spent many days and nights arguing over my level of commitment. I wasn’t ready to say I was in love or to say that I was committed to him or to say I wanted to marry him. (Anybody who knows me well knows that that’s characteristic of me; I take a long time to analyze and puzzle things out before I make decisions, whether they be big or small, and I don’t tend to be hasty or impulsive with my commitments.) But while I was unsure about our relationship, he was SO SURE about our relationship that he kept getting frustrated with me for not being on the same page.
So he would push and prod and ask and reason and we would go around and around discussing what my issue was… and then we got into this stupid pattern where he would convince me to PROMISE to be as committed as whatever we were arguing about at the time. He’d say “love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice, so just choose to love me”, and he thought the best way to get me to do that was to PROMISE to love him or PROMISE that I wanted to marry him, and then that promise would mean that I couldn’t back out, so then I would have to love him. By making the promise I would be pushing myself to live the promise.
So I would promise that I was committed, and I would try to live in and believe in that promise, and after a day or two I would start doubting but I’d push the doubts away, and then several days later I wouldn’t be able to take it and I’d have a meltdown and break the promise and say “I can’t do this, it feels dishonest and I have to be honest about how I feel” and then we would go through the whole sick cycle again. It was unhealthy and unwise for both of us.
I’ve had one or two other instances that I’ve thought of where someone suggested I make a commitment to do something I struggled with and include a consequence if I failed, in the hopes that it would push me into that final “I will make this happen” attitude.
And being told that I need to MAKE A PROMISE to do something that I DID NOT KNOW IF I COULD DO in order to make sure I did it because A PROMISE/COMMITMENT IS TOO SACRED TO BREAK… that is such a twisted way to look at promises.
But somehow, I think I’ve internalized the thought that, as a person, I am just so broken and wishy washy and pliable that I HAVE TO DO THAT. My excuses aren’t good enough, I’m not good enough, and the only way to get better is to force or manipulate myself into being a more committed person.
And I am declaring now that that is NOT how God sees me or what He asks me to do! He made me to be a person who cares about honesty and being true and saying what I mean and using disclaimers and trying to find the balance, and He made me as a person who thinks slowly instead of jumping into things. Sure, that trait has flaws with it and sometimes God pushes me to trust Him even when I don’t feel like it or take a leap into something that’s uncomfortable for me. But Jesus knows my heart better than anyone else does, and He keeps reminding me over and over again that it is NOT my job to fix myself. That is something I am supposed to leave to God. So while I hear earthly pressures and feedback telling me to make decisions or choose faster or “JUST DO IT”, I have to remind myself that that is not how my relationship with God works.
I am not enough, it’s true. I don’t even think I have the power to completely surrender myself to God, because who knows if I have some hidden part of me that I’m holding on to unknowingly? But on Friday night I prayed during worship, “Jesus, this is all I have to offer you… my broken, spiritual dweeb self, and I have no idea if I will ever get any better or if I will ever change, but I surrender to You the best way that I am able.”
And it was like He wrapped me in His arms and said, “Jesus’s sacrifice was sufficient, and it completely covers you, you don’t need to do any more. I Am enough for you.”