I had a momentous realization on Friday morning of last week.
It started Tuesday night at my women’s book study. We’re reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller and the chapter was about viewing every event of our lives through the lens of God weaving His story. There was a little chart with two columns – one for not believing there was a story and the other for believing there was. With no story, we would be bitter, angry, cynical, and hopeless. With a story, we would be waiting, watching, hoping, praying and submitting.
The question was, Which of these do you see manifest in your life? My initial instinct while preparing for the meeting was that there was a story. Even though I didn’t really understand why God had used the things He had to tell His story in my life, I believed that there was one. But then during the meeting when we were discussing this, I all of a sudden had the thought that I struggled with seeing God’s story in the early years of my marriage. I had struggled so much with my own sin and being a person I didn’t want to be, that it was really hard to see how and why God had chosen that struggle to accomplish His purposes.
I ended up getting really emotional and asked the other women what they thought. One woman said that God never causes us to sin – we choose to sin. Another said that God disciplines us for our own good and that seeing our sin is a form of discipline. The whole time they were talking, I wanted to interrupt and say, “Yeah, but you don’t understand.” I felt like my problem went deeper than that.
After the meeting was over, I had no desire to even attempt light-hearted chit chat so I left abruptly. As I drove home, I wondered, “Why does this still bother me? I mean, I felt like I was over this. It was a hard time but God used it to bring me here.” I could see how my struggle with sin and my consequent accusation that God wasn’t helping me led to my decision to take control of my life. I could see how taking control of my life led to disillusionment and depression, and how that led to my realizing my dependence on God. I could see how it all worked together. Maybe that was all.
I mentioned it to Travis when I got home. He asked the same question I had – “Why does this still bother you? I mean, it’s in the past.” I started giving him an answer, but realized that I had none. I explained the sequence of events to him but it didn’t seem like the answer as to why it still bothered me.
The next morning, I was surprised to find an email in my inbox from a woman I had met during the book study. She said that she had an encouragement for me from the Lord and wanted to confirm my email address. I replied, saying it was the correct one. When I checked my email later that day, the woman said that she knew what it was like to struggle with God’s purpose when your own sin caused the situation. She wrote about how she had been angry with God after her parents died and had slipped into sin out of rebellion and anger. Even though she should have ended up “divorced, miserable and broke,” God’s grace had been “undeniably present” right “in the midst of the situation” and redeemed the situation.
I was again unsettled. I felt like the email signaled that God wanted to say something to me about this situation but why? I had dealt with this… I understood that God used it for my good. That was enough, wasn’t it? I wrote back that I could see how God had used the struggle in my life but that since it was relatively recent, I was just beginning to see that I was still mad at God for putting me through that. I felt like singing the song by The Fray, “Where were you when everything was falling apart? Why’d you have to wait?”
The next morning, I read the reply from the woman to my email and that got me thinking again. I still felt unsettled about the issue, like I was restless and wanted to go shake off the stiffness. I had to get dressed for my coffee date with my friend, Cathy, so I walked into our bedroom, still thinking, and I said, “Well I guess I’m wondering why You had to use my marriage. Why couldn’t You have used a problem at work or something, instead?” I felt God say, “It wouldn’t have broken you enough.” My complete brokenness had been God’s plan and purpose. I needed to come to the end of myself. I understood that I had been accusing God of abandoning me during that time, when He had been there all along. I re-read the woman’s first email, where she talked about God’s grace being undeniably present in the midst of the situation. God had been there. He had seen and gone through it all with me. I cried a little, thanking God for the insight.
Then during coffee with Cathy, I shared my realizations with her but didn’t get the reception I had expected. She said that she didn’t believe God used our sins in order to teach us lessons, that sins were part of living in a fallen world, and that He redeemed and freed us from our sins. She shared about one of her experiences of not seeing God do what she had wanted and how she had realized that she needed to first let go of the bitterness and anger she felt toward Him before she would feel release. She was the one who had been holding on to sin. I told her that in my first year of marriage, I had cried out to God for Him to help me, for Him to sanctify me and give me love for my husband, but that He hadn’t. And then one day, without any correlating realization or experience, things had gotten better. I couldn’t explain it. Why would I have gone through that if He hadn’t planned on using it? Why would He allow me to continue to struggle with sin if He didn’t have a purpose behind it? I don’t think Cathy and I ever really got on the same page—more just like we agreed to disagree. When she left, I felt unsettled again, like something just wasn’t right. I felt that way all day.
Friday morning, I was praying and thinking about what Cathy had said. The unsettled feeling returned. I tried to think through what I meant about God using it for a purpose. I understood it was my sin that caused it, but I kept thinking, God allowed it to happen; He could have stopped it if He had wanted to. Since He didn’t stop it, He must have had a purpose in it. That answer didn’t satisfy me—I still had the unsettled feeling—but I was sick of thinking about it. My brain hurt, I felt like I was going in circles. Finally, I asked God, “Why does it matter how I feel about the situation? What happened, happened, right? The situation is what it is. I mean, does it really matter?” I felt like God said, “Yes.” So reluctantly, I continued to think.
I started typing my thoughts. And the realizations started pouring out of me. I was blaming God for my sin. I was saying that my life would have been fine if God hadn’t caused me to go through that struggle, that I would have been fine without His plan. But the truth was, I was denying that I had desired for my marriage to go my way, to fulfill my own expectations, and for Travis to be the exact husband I wanted him to be. I was denying my selfishness and unbelief in God’s promises and plan.
I had tried to solve my marital problems on my own. I had run to God, yes—but only after all of my own efforts had failed miserably. Once I was done crying, what had I done? I went back to living in my own strength, only to fail again and wonder why God wasn’t blessing me. That’s the real story. It wasn’t that God had abandoned me—He just wouldn’t bless my efforts to live apart from Him.
And why would God bless my efforts to live apart from Him? That wouldn’t be for my eternal good. He would only be reinforcing my natural propensity for self-sufficiency and independence. It was God’s grace to me in that time that I was not successful in sanctification, because I wasn’t seeking Him in the midst of it. I was only seeking the solution to my situation, not the Solution for my soul.
The truth about walking in dependence on God showed up in my journals for the entire three and a half years of this struggle – God was trying to teach me that lesson the whole time. He was telling me the truth. But I refused it. I refused it. I said that it was too easy. Surely there was more to the Christian life than that. God stuck with me, through all of my sin and my misery and my refusal to believe the truth. And finally, I got to the place where I was so broken, exhausted, and disillusioned that I could finally accept the truth. I had to try out all the solutions I could think of to life. I had to test out all of my theories, everything I could think of to be the meaning of life, before I could accept God’s definition and meaning. I would not accept God until I had proven everything else wrong. I was SO pig-headed! God was SO faithful and patient!
As I realized all of this, I started crying. This awesome truth humbled me to the core. Even the way God revealed it to me had His fingerprints all over it. I am absolutely amazed at the way God works in the lives of those He loves. Amazed. This discovery further proves that God’s glory is our joy. The more I think about the situation, the more I am convinced that it could be no other way than this: me being humbled and God being exalted. I need to be needy and God needs to be sufficient. I need to admit my sin and see God in all of His shining, brilliant holiness. I am fickle, finite, and wretched; He is faithful, forgiving, and loving.
It’s funny – it seems counter-intuitive that such release should come from understanding that the whole situation was my fault. I think my flesh was resisting the discovery of the truth for that very reason – it puts the blame squarely on my shoulders. But that is slight compared to how it magnifies God. I had been tarnishing His character and reputation. I had been questioning His goodness, faithfulness and wisdom. I had been doubting His love for me. But now, I see God’s character, reputation, goodness, faithfulness, wisdom and love for me utterly magnified and shining in all its eternal brilliance. There is no reason to doubt His character or purpose - God is even MORE amazing than I could have fathomed! Not only has He used my struggle to bring me into a deeper relationship with Him, He demonstrated utter faithfulness and patience to me when I could not have deserved it less.
This realization has had implications that reach even farther into my Christian walk but I will save that for another post. For now, I will just say Praise the Lord for revealing my sin to me!