Tuesday, April 29, 2003

A Word On Fear

I've been thinking a lot about fear lately. To be honest, thinking isn't the right word. Motivated by fear might be better…or paralyzed. Fear of the future. Fear of the unknown. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of not being in control. I have come to realize that I have a lot of fears. As my 30th birthday has come and gone, I fear I'll never marry. Or if I do, that I will fail at it. I fear I'll never be a size six. I fear I'll let down my friends, family, church, fill-in-the-blank. I fear I'll let God down. This book has brought about many fears: I'm afraid my book won't be published. I'm afraid that if it does, no one will buy it. Or if they do, only from the bargain bin, and not from the best-seller display. I fear talking about it because some might not like what I have to say. I fear not talking about it because God has given me much to say.

I've been thinking how the experience of divorce has filled so many of us with fear. We fear because the ones who were supposed to demonstrate to us that love is an unconditional choice showed us that it is a fleeting, fickle feeling. We fear because we desperately desire to construct that which we have yet to experience and we easily doubt the adequacy of our materials. We fear because the risk it takes to be vulnerable and loved means intentionally allowing someone the freedom to hurt us, and we have experienced enough hurt to last our lifetime. We fear because we don't want to be the one responsible for making our own children feel what we felt. We fear because if we divorce, we become all we've lived our lives to avoid. We fear because we mistakenly believe that God is not capable of holding our marriage together when we lack the strength or desire to do so ourselves. We fear because we are placing our trust in our own abilities, when we serve a God who requires that we must acknowledge our utter inability to control our circumstances.

But you know what I'm realizing? Fear is self-centered. Fear is not trusting that God is in control. Fear is not having faith. I seem to recall that God is in control. Jeremiah 29:11-12 says: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity." (NIV). I seem to recall that God has a plan that makes sense to Him, even when it doesn't make sense to me. I recall that Romans 8:28 promises that "…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (NIV). You know what else I recall? My weaknesses often serve as a backtop to display his strengths. 2 Corinthians 4:7 explains, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (NIV). Imagine a pitcher filled with water. When the pitcher is perfect, the pitcher is all one sees. But if that pitcher were to be slashed with a knife, the water would flow out, making the water the focus. Only in our imperfections, our failures, does God's grace and mercy become clear.

That still doesn't keep me from striving from perfection. I am comforted by the fact that the apostle Paul struggled with this too. He wrote in Philippians 3:12-13, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" (NIV). No matter what our fear, we need to realize that is only through God that we can do anything worthwhile. As 2 Corinthians 3:5 says, "not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." (NIV). Nonetheless, I want to be perfect. The world tells me that if I am perfect, I am then worthy of love and acceptance. Never mind that it's impossible. Never mind that my worthiness of love has nothing to do with my abilities or accomplishments. I am worthy of love because God loves me.

I John 4:18 builds on this point. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears in not made perfect in love (NIV)". Doesn't that make your head spin?! I know I'm not perfect, but I also know that God loves me. Perfect love is divine. It is an attribute of God. Fear is one of Satan's greatest weapons. He can't take away our salvation, but he can try to take away our effectiveness. If we dwell on our fears, we are forfeiting our ability to be used of God. God has filled me with a passion to write this book. If God has purposed me to do this work, than how can I not succeed?

No matter if I fail.
God loves me.
No matter if others reject me.
God loves me.
No matter if I mess up.
God loves me.
No matter if let others down.
God loves me.
No matter…
God loves me.
Excuse me, I have some writing to do.

© Jen Abbas, 2003

Thursday, February 06, 2003

A Word on Trust

2/6/03 (A word on trust…a peek into Jen's journal)

Today I found out that a friend of mine from Iowa moved to Grand Rapids. It got me thinking about all that God has brought me through in the last six years. I'm in such a wonderful place spiritual and otherwise now, that I forget sometimes the hard path it took to get here. Here's a look back at the harder days…

August 22, 1997
I really struggle with trusting God sometimes. I suppose that I could blame it on the insecurity of going through two divorces growing up, but I am a child of God now, and I know He will never leave me nor forsake me. Does that mean He will never frustrate me? No. Lead me down a very quiet and still (read: lonely) path? No. Does that mean that as a Christian, I won't have to struggle anymore? No, no, of course not. I know this, but sometimes it's really hard to accept it, believe it, really feel it.

I forget sometimes that God's best may not fit with my desires. I forget that I am the created, not the creator. I forget that I accepted Jesus as my Lord, not just my Savior. And I forget that I can't possibly understand all the great complexities of His way. However, that never stops me from trying, from wanting to think I can figure it all out. I think for me, understanding, or at least having an explanation, helps me accept the difficult consequences of following where Christ leads me.

Right now, He has led me to a small town in Iowa-away from the city I love, the friends I cherish, the church home I finally found, the small group I need, and my dream for my life. I don't know why I'm here. I can come up with a thousand possibilities, but God has never spoken to me in an audible voice and said, "Jen, THIS is why I brought you here." And I don't think He will. Instead, I think He simply wants me to obey Him and be willing to be used for all the reasons He has me here. I don't think He wants me to cling to my desire to return to Wisconsin-it may very well be His plan for later, but not for now. I think He wants me to see my life through His eyes. But you know, it's awfully hard to see a vision of eternity when your eyes are blurry from the tears of today.

Psalm 61:1-3 has become my prayer during these tough times:

Hear my cry, O God
listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I,
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

I love that line, "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." David knew lots of struggles: being chased by Saul, the guilt of his affair with Bathsheba, the betrayal of his son, Absalom. And when he felt overwhelmed, he called out to God. Ever notice how so many Psalms start out saying, in essence, "This stinks God! Stop spitting on me. Come on! Use your power and just annihilate my enemies!" But, by the end, his faith in God's goodness and righteousness prevail, and he thanks God for His providence, even though He has yet to provide. David learned to see beyond his circumstances, beyond his concept of time, to learn to depend on and trust God. He stood at the rock that is higher than all of us, and he saw God's perspective.

I need to learn that. I am in the process of learning that. But it is so hard to trust when you are a crossroads and your desires lead you one way, but God pulls you in the other. If you follow your desires, you'll be miserable because you separate yourself from God. Even if you follow God, you may still be miserable during the transition, but you will also have the peace of God which is beyond human understanding. It makes no sense that you can be so unhappy, yet also so totally convinced that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. But it hurts to start walking and watch your desires fall slowly out of sight.

These past few months, I have been standing at the crossroads. I am not ready to give up hope that I may return to Wisconsin someday. I still wake up each morning thinking I am in my old house. I still track time by how long I have until my next visit. I still have not made new friends outside of work. I still haven't found a church. I need to let go. I need to trust that God has a reason for bringing me here and that He may not ever tell me what it is. I need to be willing to be used here. I need to choose to focus on the positive, like the fact that I love my job, I have an incredibly supportive boss and I have lots of time to write.

While I was deciding about whether or not to move, one of my pros was that moving would enable me to write my book. Unfortunately, I have found that more often than not, I didn't have a very positive outlook, and needed to work on changing that before I could write the things I wanted to say. I couldn't write about being content when I was pining for home. I couldn't write about being solely His, when I was selfishly my own. I couldn't write to help my readers, when I wasn't letting Him help me.

I just returned from a trip to Wisconsin to stand up in yet another wedding. This first week back, I've been thinking about how many of my male friends are now married. The longer I'm here, the less likely it is that my single male friends will marry me. And I have great guy friends! I get angry with God that He has taken me away from them to bring me this small town where my chances of meeting someone are pretty slim.

And then I hear God ask me what am I really living for? If I am truly living for Him, I am going to have to be content living only with Him. As singles, we are given a unique opportunity. We can fully live our lives for Him and with Him. There is nothing holding us back. And yet, we are often not satisfied. We want a human companion. We can share our life exclusively with the Giver of life. But we want Him to give us another's life.

It is such a struggle to believe and be satisfied. It is a daily, moment-by-moment choice, and so often I fail. Driving to work this morning, I was reminded of the Exodus. God's intention was to bring the Israelites through the desert and to the Promised Land. He did not mean to leave them in the wasteland. Even though the Israelites could only see the desolation all around them, God saw their destination just in front of them. Even in the midst of the journey, God was trying bless them by daily providing them with their needs. Yet, the Israelites were too bitter to recognize God's grace and their stubbornness actually extended their wandering. They saw the difficulty of the journey. He saw the glory of the destination. I see my own situations. He sees souls needing salvation.

It seems that a lot of us get caught up in that same stubborn thinking. Since we aren't where we want to be (out of debt, settled in our careers, married, etc.), we aren't happy where we are. And I think what God is trying to tell us is that we can't get where we want to be without first being where we are. The lessons we are learning now are better equipping us for what will come our way in the future. Now, I want to be very quick to say that our desires are not an automatic reward for doing good. Marriage is never a right. Financial stability is not a right. Success is not a right. They are blessings that are showered upon both the just and unjust. The Bible is full of examples of godly men and women who did not attain these things. When we focus on attaining these things, we are in danger of creating our own idols-another downfall of those Israelites in the desert. I'm sure that they were tired of walking around, having some nebulous Promised Land eluding them at every step, and a God they couldn't quite seem to please in their own selfish way. All those rules didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense, and I'm sure they felt out-of-control. They were tired of just following along. I'm sure they just wanted to create a little something for themselves-a sense of security, some sort of tangible evidence of themselves. So they made a little golden cow. And we do the same when we fill our lives with the pursuit of things like money, success and family.

As humans, we tend to see our lives in steps: high school, college, 20's, 30's, marriage, parenting, etc. God can see the whole continuum of our life in one step-a step that brings us home to be with Him forever. That is God's Promised Land for us. Not money. Not success. Not family. But we keep getting stuck when we look at the desert around us instead of the God above us.

I don't believe God ever wants us to put our lives on hold. Lately, I've found myself saying, "When I move back to Wisconsin..." But I realize that when I say things like that, I'm already dismissing what I currently have. My life isn't a CD player stuck on pause while I'm here. There's a song that can only be played here, and only if I choose to trust God enough to let him play it. This is all very hard for me to write because I am so convicted by my own words. This whole process of writing has been therapy to me, gently (or even quite pointedly) showing me areas I need to address, hopes to let go, hurts to forgive.

As I'm writing, I hear that quiet voice say, "Jen, I'm trying to bless you here. I know you're not happy, but I love you and I need you here. I can bring back your joy, but you need to accept it."

So here I am. And here you are. As children of divorce, it may be hard for us to trust. But the God who brought the Israelites through the desert will bring us through our rough times. And the God who brought the Israelites to the Promised Land has great things waiting for us. We need to listen to Him, trust Him, and be willing to follow Him.

© Jen Abbas, 1997