Sleep is elusive at 60. Whereas babies and children used to wake me in the middle of the night, and after that, teenagers coming in late, now getting up for the bathroom does. Once I’m awake, it’s hard to get back to sleep. And then there are the unexplained wake up calls, the ones that wake me from sound sleep for no reason I’m sure of except to get me up. So I do. I get coffee and head to my spot on the sofa.
But last night I couldn’t fall asleep at all. I arranged my pillows and covers and rolled over and rearranged my pillows and covers and rolled over again. I listened to music for a while. I listened to an audiobook. I tried to pray myself to sleep–that often works–but realized as I prayed that the tension I’d been having with a friend was on my mind. I wondered if it was keeping me awake, and if I was the one causing our most recent disconnect, which naturally led me to wonder about the others we’d had.
“God, is it me?”
I’ve invested a lot in this relationship, and in the interest of getting along, I’d learned to let a lot of issues slide. So had she. But deep down, I’d always thought she was the real problem, until one day a few years ago it became obvious that I was. Well, at least that I was just as much to blame as she was. And maybe more. That was a hard season.
Regardless of who was to blame this time, figuring out who was more to blame overall had become important to me. I seemed to spend a lot of time mulling it over. And I never could find an answer that felt right or true.
So last night when I was praying-so-that-I-could-fall-asleep, not really praying-to-be-talking-to-God, I prayed for this friend. I prayed for good health and success and joy and many more one-size-fits-all blessings, and then, I began thinking about our most recent hiccup. And I realized, Dang, the hiccups are getting habitual, and I’m kind of exhausted. Shouldn’t two people who say they know God get along? Shouldn’t peace and love characterize us? Shouldn’t we be able to hit that sweet spot? Was this relationship really worth all this?
“What do you think, God?”
My heart squeezed at the thought of what he might say, and my right eye stung because I was teary and because I’d run into a tree branch that afternoon with my eyes open. My right eye had gotten a significant poke by a stiff twig at the end of a branch and had burned and watered the rest of the day. I was able to finish measuring and drawing our existing churchyard, but the fun of creating a landscaping plan was gone. It would have to wait until I could see well enough to dream it up again.
I’ve journaled quite a bit about this relationship. It matters to me. The disconnects between us have been troubling, and I’ve tried to figure out what I was doing wrong or what she was doing wrong or what I could do better or what she could do better. I’d thought about what happened in our childhoods and in our more recent pasts to make us reactive. Recently I read through a complicated personality book to try to find clues. What was it about our personalities that made getting along hard? And where did I need to grow in order to be my healthiest self? Where did she?
It was hard to say.
I thought I’d figured out which personalities we had and what our strengths and weaknesses were and what we looked like when we were healthy and unhealthy. But what would enable us to live in the healthy zones of our personalities and not in the red flag zones?Where was the magic potion at the end of the book to actually give us health and maturity, peace and joy?
There were a lot of words about becoming our truest selves by tapping into our essence. There were more words about how understanding your personality was helpful because when you did, you could see how it might take you down negative paths, and you could then make choices not to go there. You could basically choose against your personality type. My head started to hurt after that.
Mostly I just wondered where was the power in knowing any of it? Because now that I’ve read the whole book, I sure feel like I know a lot, and still, I can feel the haze of my red flag zone up ahead, the way the gas heater in the bathroom glows at night, giving me a heads up about where the door is. How do I steer clear of danger zones?
As I lay awake and pondered all of these thoughts, I realized, I just can’t see. I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t understand what I don’t understand. I’ve tried and tried and thought and thought and prayed and asked, and I just don’t have the answer. But one thing seems obvious. Besides not having understanding, I also don’t have the power to fix us. So naturally, I thought about God, since he’s got plenty. And I wondered why asking him for help hadn’t seemed to help. Those hiccups were coming pretty regular.
And then I thought, well, maybe I’d only thought I’d gotten down deep with God on this. Maybe I really hadn’t. Maybe I’d only imagined I was sincerely asking for help and wisdom. Maybe I wasn’t really, you know, earnest about it. Not really.
So I got earnest. Any thought I’d had of praying-to-fall-asleep was gone. I was praying-to-call-down-the-Father-Son-and-Holy-Ghost. I was wide awake by then and earnest enough to get on my knees. Without getting into too many more details (some of them involving snot), let me just say that one thing was certain, I was sincere. I really wanted to know. I begged God to help me see.
“God, is it me? I mean, of course I don’t want you to tell me it’s me, but really, I kind of do, too. I feel blind, like I’m groping in the dark, and I want answers, even if the answer is that I’m the problem. I want to see me as you see me. How can I get any better if you don’t show me? And while I’m at it, why won’t you show me?”
I thought it oddly coincidental that my eye hurt like heck at that moment, all that salt water irritating the injury no doubt. Somewhere Jesus said something about removing a log in your eye so you can see clearly to take out the speck in someone else’s. I imagined that my eye would hurt like this had there really been a log in it, or even just a splinter. I wondered if I had a log, spiritually speaking, and couldn’t see it, even though I really wanted to.
After what felt like a long time, I finally looked at the clock, expecting it to be the wee hours of the morning. But it was only 11:36 p.m. Hardly the wee hours.
And it was awfully early to get up for the next day when this day wasn’t even over yet, but I was wide awake. Over the last year or two, I’ve been awakened so often in the middle of the night, it has sort of become a habit to skip the time I might languish in bed, fighting my way back to sleep, and just get up and go with it. In fact, call me crazy, but I’ve also had the idea that God was waking me up to hang out. I think of it like boot camp, with him as the sergeant, because I’m awakened without warning and at random hours. It’s happened enough that it’s become a habit to make coffee and make myself comfortable and ask what’s up? This time since it wasn’t the wee hours yet, I skipped the coffee.
I decided to read the passages for the next day from my One Year Bible, thinking I’d go ahead and “get it over with,” hardly the right attitude, but, well, honest. I’d been reading in Hosea this week, and these words were next,
Come let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds. 6:1
Well that resonated. I was feeling torn up and wounded. I noticed as I read that God was the one who had done the injuring, and that he would be the one to heal it and bind it up. I didn’t like how this made God sound. Sometimes I feel embarrassed for God and how he writes, like, Wow, do you know how this makes you look? Are you really wanting to say that? But there it was: “He has torn us to pieces…he has injured us….”
I had just read in Psalm 125 the day before about how God surrounds his people with protection, the way the mountains surround Jerusalem and protect it. I noticed how this protection wasn’t just for one day in the future–it was for right now, too. “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” But didn’t bad things often happen? I’ve just had money stolen from my car, parked outside my garage, this very week. I’ve just had a falling out with my friend. I’ve just nearly lost an eye. Where was his protection “both now and forevermore”?
I thought about how nothing should get past God’s surrounding protection. But there are definitely times when trouble gets in. So were his claims about protecting me true or not? I thought about that. I thought about how all my time reading his words was really a waste of time if I couldn’t count on what he said to be dependable and true. And maybe the deeper question was, did I believe that he was dependable and true?
How do I think about you, God?
My troubles were either a part of his protection and provision–or they weren’t. And if they weren’t, then his words in Psalm 125 were a lie, which meant that he didn’t surround me with protection “now and forevermore.” Troubles slipped in because he didn’t pay attention. His protection was more like good wishes at Christmas. He wasn’t powerful. He wasn’t careful. He didn’t love me. Whoa. Now that was disturbing.
So what was the alternative to believing he didn’t care and his words weren’t true? Believing this: my troubles were his provision and protection, too. They would work in me something that I couldn’t. Something that I needed.
Needless to say, I didn’t like that either.
But I was reminded of what Romans says about trials proving character and giving hope. I thought again about what I’d just read in Hosea, too, that God was the one who tears and injures, and he is the one who heals and binds up. Was the tearing and injuring part of the healing and binding up, the strengthening that happens after? I didn’t know. But that’s how it works in weight training: muscles get stronger when they’re torn. Breaking them down has to happen so they can build back better.
For some reason I remembered the conversation Aslan had with Aravis in The Horse and His Boy, the part when he told her he was the lion who terrified and wounded her. He told her that the scratches from him were “tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood” equal to the one’s her stepmother’s slave had been given because Aravis had tricked her when in her care and run away. “You needed to know what it felt like,” Aslan said.
Aslan wounded Aravis deliberately for love, in order to teach her to love. Wasn’t Jesus wounded deliberately for love in order to teach us the same thing?
And then I remembered The North Wind, a female representation of God in At the Back of the North Wind. She did many good things and sometimes things that seemed terrible to Diamond, the boy who rode on her back, but the terrible things produced great good. Once she blew so hard that she wrecked a ship. When Diamond asked why she had done it, The North Wind said that this would be hard for him to understand, but there were people on the ship she loved, and that the shipwreck was part of her love of them.
It made sense to me then when I read it aloud to my children, because the North Wind was only and completely loving and good. I believed that she could love the people on the ship and let the ship wreck. I didn’t understand how, and she didn’t explain. But I trusted that she knew because I trusted her love. Didn’t I have to do the very same thing when I disciplined my own children, to hurt them in order to help them grow up strong?
A few verses later in Hosea, God describes himself (in another of those “don’t believe I’da told that” parts) as the lion who devours and as the mama bear who attacks his own people (Hosea 13:8). From what I’ve read this week, God’s people were pretty far gone in their sin-and-sex worship during Hosea’s time, even sacrificing their own babies to false gods. God being rough on them to get their attention made sense. He’d tried sending prophets to warn them, but they didn’t listen and wouldn’t see. Was he using pain and suffering to get my attention, too? Would I hear and see?
With all of this pressing in on my head and heart, I decided to believe that God’s protective love included my pain and suffering. As much as I didn’t like it, I couldn’t live with the flipside, that he didn’t really care or watch out for me very well. Or worse, that he was too weak to protect me. Besides, hadn’t he proven himself to me over and over in all the years? And wasn’t I the one who wasn’t motivated to go after him unless I got uncomfortable, and even then, often just to “get it over with”?
So with that lens to look through, the stick in my eye made sense. The hurt with my friend made sense. The money that was stolen made sense. God had let these things come to me as parts of his always-and-forever surrounding, protecting love to get my attention and to work in me something far better than a healthy eye, $100 of cash, and an easy relationship, as important as those things all were.
But what is the far better thing? I want to see, God. Show me?
I looked back at Hosea 6. Hosea writes something about how long it will take before God revives and restores his people, and then I see tucked in, right behind that, the far better thing I was looking for: “that we may live in his presence.” Not “will live,” as in one day. But “may live” as in now.
And there’s more:
Let us know the Lord;
let us press on to know him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth. 6:3
God tears us into pieces and puts us back together so that we can know him, so that we can experience him in his Boot Camp of Love Training, so that we will live in his presence with our eyes and ears open to him, so that we can enjoy him everyday as we press in to know him even more. His appearance is promised as surely as the sun’s rising: “he will appear…he will come to us…”, his refreshment as dependable and saturating as the winter and spring rains.
I can’t help but think about my yard. While spring, summer, and fall, I’m pretty obsessed with it, come winter, I abandon it to the weather until it gets warm again. Already the ground outside on this December day is spongey, thoroughly saturated. Water logged. Are you saying you want to give me that much of yourself? So much I’m soft and sloshy with you?
God doesn’t promise that all my problems will be resolved when I press on to know him more. But he does promise his presence with me and to fill me up with himself, as assuredly and dependably as the sun that will rise tomorrow, as the rains that will come and soak the earth. When I think about all that I really want in life and all that I need of good health and money and relationships, I realize that all of my deepest longing is really and only for this one thing: him.
“Song of My Father” took me upstairs and put me to bed where I slept like a baby all night. It felt like a hug when someone you love says exactly what you need to hear before they turn to leave. It was the perfect end of my get-it-over-with time with God, and while I winced over my earlier condescension with the God-of-the-Universe (forgive me, Abba), I let myself feel overwhelmed by the reminder that he overlooks a lot to love me. He’s used to me, so no surprise, and no big deal. (Song and lyrics at link below.)
Remarkably my eye felt completely normal the next day when I wrote in my journal:
“I got up last night because I couldn’t sleep and hoped to get some words from you. I’d been asking you, begging you really, to open my eyes about me. And what you did was to open my eyes to you. It was sweet to get an altogether different message than the one I was asking and bracing myself for. Rather than dig into me, you reminded me that digging into you and your words is what I need. You are my treasure. You will take my blinders off and show me what I need to see when I need to see it. In the meantime, there’s this delightful party you invite me to…”
Turns out, I did have a log. Zoomed in on me, it blinded me to him. Worrying that I was “the problem” or who was more “the problem” was a kind of misery that kept me in the Me-Pit. Regardless of the details of who had said what and why (which oddly no longer mattered), God was the one who had torn me. He was the one who would heal me. And he would fill me up.
“Song of my Father” is by Urban Rescue.
The personality book mentioned is The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson.
The Horse and His Boy is one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.
At the Back of the North Wind is by George MacDonald.
The passage about suffering, character, and hope is in Romans 5.
Jesus talks about the log and the speck in Luke 6.