“Accept my love
And trust that where I will bring you,
the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.”
-Henri J.M. Nouwen, With Open Hands; reprinted in You Are the Beloved, p. 33
Last week I wrote about hope. And almost immediately crashed hard into my own futility, failure, and doubt.
The morning after I posted, I awoke shaking and with a sense of cold dread for no solid reason. Trying to parse it out, I wrote in my journal, I’m terrified ‘God’s best’ for me is second best — deprivation, lack. That God has given me these deep desires…only to leave them unfulfilled, to show me God is all-powerful and I am nothing. This is the Calvinist God I grew up with: a God whose main goal in having a relationship with me is for me to recognize that I’m nothing but a worm* next to his sovereign glory.
(* Or a spider, if we want to go all Jonathan Edwards, but since I like spiders, I’m sticking with worm.)
That evening, after a rough day, I wrote, I still feel like you’re playing mind games to mollify and placate me while you keep stringing me along. I want to expect that you will answer my prayers and I can’t expect that. How am I supposed to trust anything you say?
And now I have to backtrack three weeks, to a Saturday afternoon.
I needed a specific item for my home, and on the way to the store that I knew carried this item, I decided to take the scenic route. I do that a lot; I’m a big fan of scenic routes, long drives through the countryside, heading down unfamiliar roads with my GPS off just to see where I end up.
I was feeling pretty good, optimistic. It was a beautiful afternoon and a beautiful drive, and I turned the music off — a new practice in my life — and chatted with God. As I headed back into town, though, anxiety hit out of nowhere and so powerfully that I started shaking. I had the adamant sense that if I went to that store at that moment in time, I would run into the one person I most wanted not to see, and the encounter would not go well for me. I felt this so strongly that I said out loud, “This isn’t just about this person, is it? Is something really terrible going to happen in that store, and this is your way of diverting me from it?”
But a few days earlier, I had been writing in my journal about how I can discern God’s voice from my own desires and from Satan’s voice. (This is also new: that I’ve begun to view Satan as an actual enemy bent on harming me, rather than a metaphor or a romantic anti-hero in the vein — pun intended — of a young Ville Valo. But that’s the subject for another post. For now I’ll just say that I’m still uneasy talking about Satan, but I can’t deny that there is a force outside of myself that seeks to sabotage and hurt me.)
Anyway, what I realized is that ideas, insights, knowledge, and information from God — things that have subsequently checked out — have always carried with them a sense of peace, even when they aren’t what I want to hear or they seem like bad news. As I cogitate later, I might talk myself into doubting, but initially the peace is there. So if whatever message I’m getting causes me to feel immediately anxious, panicky, scared, and/or filled with dread, then it’s not from God.
As I remembered this, I realized that the urgency and panic with which I felt compelled to go home or to the park or anywhere but this store meant the message wasn’t from God. But why would Satan care whether or not I went shopping, let alone try to stop me?
Well, the first thing I saw as I walked into the store was a rack of Christian books. And every single title screamed my name.
I hadn’t even heard of half of these authors (although I did meet one of them years ago, and he was very kind), and I knew none of the books. But if my name had been written in flashing neon lights above the rack, it couldn’t have been clearer to me that I needed to see what was in these books — and I needed to see it so badly that something outside myself had done its level best to divert me from this particular store on this particular day.