Epiphanies, Struggles and Being An Object of God's Mercy

Occasionally I find a book so helpful and inspiring that I want to read it more than once. Actually, there have been many books that I've felt like I wanted to read again the minute I finished them. But there are only a few that I have gone back and read multiple times. One was Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp. That book was so challenging spiritually; I read it four times. Another book I've read twice and am now reading for the third time is When People Are Big and God Is Small by Edward Welch.

If you ever decide to pick this book up and read it yourself, don't give up on it if you feel like it starts out slowly. The further you go, the deeper the insight you will gain. But be prepared. It will expose the self-absorption that is in all of us. I'm reading it right now with my small group and several have made the comment that they have never thought of themselves as self-absorbed before, but the book has exposed the root of certain thoughts and attitudes never previously put under the microscope. We tend to define self-centeredness in the extremes or in the obvious. And, of course, we are not often looking for this trait in ourselves. We tend to be much more aware of it in other people.

According to Welch, it isn't that we should think less of ourselves, it's that we should think about ourselves less. We should need people less (for our own longings) and love them more (unselfishly). Why? Because we were created in God's image and for His glory.

This means that the essence of imaging God is to rejoice in God's presence, to love Him above all else, and to live for His glory, not our own. The most basic question of human existence becomes "How can I bring glory to God?" -- not "How will God meet my psychological longings?" These differences create very different tugs on our hearts: one constantly pulls us outward toward God, the other first pulls inward toward ourselves (pg. 158).

This book has helped me tremendously and I would venture to say this won't even be the last time I read it. I read to learn and gain insight into what I may not see in myself on my own. At times I have even prayed for God to expose what He sees in my heart that I am blind to. It would be easier not to look at it, but I want to know. And I certainly don't want to be the only one who doesn't see something in myself! So I try not to consciously choose denial. And I try to examine my motives, even my motives for doing something good. I don't want to do things for the wrong reasons. I want a pure heart. But I know I can never have a pure heart unless I ask God to expose what isn't pure.

I love this book because it addresses my longing for the acceptance and approval of others in a completely different way than most books -- even some Christian books. This book won't help you think more highly of yourself because that isn't the biblical answer to the problem. Welch focuses the reader on God and glorifying Him instead of our own needs and how we can get people to meet our needs.

One of the ways Welch does this is by identifying through Scripture what our real needs are and where we have elevated our desires to the category of psychological needs. This is huge for me. Let me explain.

All my life I have believed that I NEEDED to be understood by other people. I have allowed that NEED to be a driving force in my life. And it has only recently dawned on me that because I have elevated a desire to a NEED, I have gone to great lengths (especially in certain relationships), attempting to be more fully understood. And in doing so, I have come across as trying to force others to see things my way. I could just reject that observation as untrue (because it is a misperception of my desire). I know that the driving force in me is to be understood, not to be right. But the last thing I want to do is dig my heels in and refuse to consider how my personality and delivery is perceived by others. Where I can possibly change something in me that leads to being misunderstood, I want to be willing to change.

But here is my recent epiphany (and the book has helped me see this ... finally): I do not NEED to be understood. The core problem is that I have elevated a desire to a need. At some point in my life, I formed a belief that I couldn't be at peace if I was misunderstood and I have allowed that to consume me and drive me. So many times John has asked me, "Why do you care?" And I frequently say, "I don't know. I just do." But the reason has been exposed. Suddenly, I see it as clear as day. The reason is that I have elevated a desire to a need.

A lightbulb has gone on or God has flipped a switch in my brain. I really don't know which. But suddenly I feel at peace with being misunderstood. The desire to be understood -- especially by significant people in my life -- is not wrong. But it's not a need. Not only will I survive without understanding, but I can be content and untroubled in the face of it. I feel like something has been crucified in me (or maybe an idol has been destroyed). Either way, it's liberating. I can't describe the freedom this epiphany has brought to me mentally and emotionally.

This epiphany came through reading Chapter 8: Biblically Examine Your Felt Needs. (Why it took me three times to get it, I don't know. But this time I am reading on the heels of recent frustration and a stronger desire to outgrow this compulsion.)

This morning I had another epiphany while reading Chapter 9: Know Your Real Needs.

As I've written before on my blog, I struggle with prayer. I thank God all the time for His mercy, His faithfulness in my life and the blessings He has poured out on me that I am so undeserving of. There is no struggle in thankfulness for me. But I struggle with the petitioning part of prayer. I always have. There is something in me that resists asking God over and over for the same things. It's not pride. I don't have a struggle asking for help from God or anyone. And I believe He is powerful enough to change any circumstances no matter how great or small, if He chooses to. But many times He doesn't seem to choose to.

I've watched many people in my life pray fervently and believe with all their heart for healing that never came. I have not struggled with accepting God's will. I have to honestly tell you that I am not even inclined to question Him. And I know this is very unusual, but I can't remember ever being angry at God. Some people say it's okay to be angry with God. But in my mind, to be angry with God is arrogant. Being angry with God suggests that I am judging Him and His actions as unjust or unloving. No matter how I have struggled to understand His will in my life, I have never felt it appropriate to be angry. I accept that He sees and understands things I don't. And I believe He knows best. I guess it is that belief that keeps me from judging Him based on an outcome that doesn't meet my expectations. I feel very unworthy of any of my blessings. And I do not feel entitled to a thing He has done for me.

But in spite of all that, I don't understand why He wants me to ask over and over for the same thing when He already knows what the outcome is going to be and what is best.

I especially struggle with this when it comes to physical healing. So many times I have watched people die (especially from cancer) in spite of all the many prayers being sent up for a physical healing. And often these deaths are premature. Yet I've heard numerous people -- people I have tremendous respect for spiritually -- insist that it is always God's will for us to be healed. And I've heard scriptures quoted that certainly do seem to support that belief. But I don't see how that can be true in this life. Death is a part of life in a fallen world. If it was always God's will to heal our bodies, no believer would ever experience physical death. Probably in part due to some painful experiences in my past, I believe this mindset puts the responsibility (or blame) on the person if they are not healed. If we say that "if our faith is strong enough" it is always God's will to heal us, then it must be a person's own fault if they don't receive that healing.

I watched my mom die of cancer while being told by everyone around her that it was not God's will for her to die; that she was going to be physically healed. My mom talked to me about how this made her feel several times. She told me that if it was God's will to take her -- even prematurely -- she accepted His will. She was thankful for the blessed life God had given her even if it was cut very short (she was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 48). But when everyone started insisting that it was God's will for her to be healed and the healing did not come, she started to blame herself. I know she believed God could heal her. But I will never forget her telling me, in tears, "I feel like it must be my fault." It troubled me that my mom was robbed of the peace she could have had in accepting God's will because everyone around her insisted they knew what God's will was. Apparently it wasn't God's will (since she died). Or it seems to me that you have to blame someone for it not happening. As I said in my book, I don't believe God ever told a single person that He was going to heal my mother physically. God is not a liar. I know all of those impressions and experiences came from loving hearts. I've never been angry at anyone. But the experience made an impression on me that remains to this day -- more than twenty years later.

That and other situations concerning physical healing have left me confused on the subject. And I guess there is a part of me that feels like I'm just setting myself up for a harder fall if I "expect a miracle." I have more peace in my heart when praying, "God, Your will be done. Not mine. Give me the grace I need to accept Your will." But this attitude is not a reflection of a lack of faith. I don't know what more faith a person could have than to submit themselves to God's will and not question Him because things don't go their way.

As you know if you're reading my blog with any frequency, I am once again engaged in this struggle with physical healing and what is or is not God's will for my loved ones battling cancer. I pray regularly for friends; that God will remove pain or not let someone suffer or that their bodies will be healed. On Facebook, I read a comment from one loving Christian friend to another friend saying that she knew God would not let her loved one suffer because she was such a good woman. But the Bible doesn't tell us that if we're good people we won't have to suffer. And if we believe that, then wouldn't we believe the opposite; that people who suffer must have done something to deserve it?

I don't want people to suffer and I don't want to suffer either. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't pray these prayers. I'm just explaining my struggle. My mind has been plagued with these thoughts lately. But this morning I read this:

Instead of the image of God being a place inside you -- a hollow core that is passive and easily damaged -- the image-as-bringing-glory-to-God is found in the way we live.... Ultimately, the awesome responsibility and glorious privilege of image-bearing is expressed as simple acts of obedience that have eternal implications. Imaging God is loving Him and loving your neighbor. In the same way that God's holy love and justice are manifested in concrete acts, so should ours be. Wherever you find faith and trust, you will find people imaging God:
  • In meeting with God's people, for God's glory.
  • In praying for each other and the world, for God's glory.
  • In listening to a spouse rather than being defensive, for God's glory.
  • In enjoying marital sexuality, for God's glory.
  • In parenting, for God's glory.
As I read this list (specifically the second example), I had the answer to my question. The answer is: I pray because it glorifies God. To make it about the things I have made it about is to make it about me. I needed the reminder that it's all about Him. My purpose in life is to glorify Him.

And then in church this morning, we sang this song (Michael W. Smith):

I'm coming back to the heart of worship,
And it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
And it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus

I've sung this song many times. The first time I remember singing it was in chapel at Lipscomb, at a time when I was very confused and in a lot of pain. Every time I sing this song, I am taken back to that time in my life. Not taken back TO the pain, but reminded of my miraculous deliverance. Although I had no way of knowing it, God was about to display His mercy in my life in ways that would astound me. I never could have imagined the life and especially the husband He gave me.

He didn't show me mercy because I had such great faith or because I was in any way deserving. I believe He did it to make the riches of His glory known to this object of mercy (Romans 9:23). And I believe He displayed His mercy in me for the purpose of touching the lives of others through me.

I talked to yet another person (a reader of my book whom I have never met) on the phone Friday night for almost three hours. John doesn't understand how I am able to do this. But my book was a mission for me and when it results in someone wanting to speak to me personally, I try to make myself available. This particular person told me that looking at my picture made her weep. She said she could tell that I was normal and happy just by seeing my face in the picture and she asked God how that could be. (She spent many years in one of the churches affiliated with the one I was raised in and is carrying the heavy baggage.) She said that getting mixed up with the group had caused her to lose everything precious in her life and she felt stupid for having been sucked in, yet she was still afraid that God would remove His covering from her life for leaving. This fear had been so deeply instilled in her (about leaving the group) that she could hardly believe the happiness she saw in my countenance. I could tell it had profoundly affected her and caused her to want to talk to me. I told her that God has not done what He's done for me simply to bless me. He intends for my testimony to touch the lives of others.

I prayed for her when I went to bed and I thanked God for displaying His mercy in my life. Every time I hear from someone like her, I feel thankful for what I have gone through -- suffering and all -- because my life and all its struggles can be a testimony of God's deliverance and love.

I knew my next post was going to be extra long because all of the things on my mind are connected. I knew I wouldn't be able to gloss over any part of what God has been showing me. I know some of you can't always make it to the end of these lengthy posts. And I understand. But if you have made it all the way to the end,

God Bless You!

AND I sincerely hope something I have shared has encouraged you.

Comments

Betty Kirschner said…
fjShari, I read the entire post and found it wonderful.
I have always believed, "Thy will be done."
When my sister was in the emergency room after the accident one the doctors who was a friend of my sister and her husband asked if he could say a prayer.

He prayed, "Thy Will Be Done," and all the machines stopped. This experience has always played an important part in my faith and life.

Thank you for your posts, I find them inspiring.
Love always,
Betty
Shari said…
Wow.

Thank you for sharing that with me, Betty. And thank you for letting me know you enjoy my blog. It means a lot to me.

Love you,
Shari
Both profound and simple: to glorify God even when we don't understand. Thoughtful post,Shari.

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