With weak prayers and little faith,
with a broken and divided heart,
I draw near to you,
knowing that you, though gentle and kind,
will not suffer sin to persist
in your presence.
Clichés are funny things. On the one hand, I tend to avoid them because they feel too simplistic, too trite. I expect that any cliché I use will be met with eye rolls and exhaustion. On the other hand, clichés do convey truth. As some have pointed out, clichés are quoted for good reason: they often express reality clearly and simply.
So when I consider the cliche, “Home is where the heart is,” I wince a bit, but I find the sentiment rings true, as illustrated by this past week.
Near the beginning of last week, we here in New Orleans began monitoring Hurricane Zeta as she sped toward the city. After a summer full of storms and close calls, we considered Zeta’s size and speed and decided to stay put, expecting more of an inconvenience than a catastrophe. And in large part, that’s what we got. Zeta battered us with wind and rain, knocked out power for much of the area, then left, leaving us a bit disheveled but largely unharmed.
We woke the next morning to clear, cool weather, to a sense of peace where chaos had appeared just hours before. While many on our campus were without power, those with the means to serve shared gifts of coffee and warm food, of power outlets and light. Community came together, thankful for God’s protection and joyful because of his gift of friendship. We enjoyed the day, laughing and eating and simply being together. While many of the buildings we occupied were dark and cold due to power outages, I felt at home even there because of the warmth of community.
People opened their homes throughout the next few days, hosting friends for Halloween parties, offering hot showers and working kitchens for needy families, and providing places of rest in the midst of a stressful season. The Halloween season can often focus on fear, but it became an opportunity for fellowship and safety this year. Though nights were spent in powerless buildings, days were filled with the warmth of friendship.
I’m thankful for the people God’s placed in my life during this season. This year has been filled with hard questions, difficult decisions, troubling circumstances, confusing journeys, and a host of other things that have often caused stress and anxiety. But in a year filled with so much fear, when so much has been shaken, I’m thankful that home endures because community endures.
Horror stories capitalize on the unnatural.
I’ve been reading a book about a haunted house, and I’ve been struck with how simple the recipe has been for creating the setting. So far, the author has simply taken things that are good, sacred, or safe, and he’s inverted them in some way. Mealtimes, normally times of nourishment and fellowship, become settings for chaos and division. Chapels, normally places of peace and holiness, become places of disquiet and depravity. Bedrooms, normally places of rest and safety, become places of fear and danger. In many ways, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant, the author turns the natural into the unnatural, and the result is largely unsettling.
You’ve likely seen instances of this in horror stories before. A cross or a crucifix is turned upside down to denote the subversion of faith. A common household tool becomes a menacing weapon. Innocent beginnings can lead to terrifying places as these stories undermine the things we often take for granted. And even if you don’t engage such media, you can’t deny its popularity. Humans seem fascinated with tales of the unnatural.
While I think such fascination can become unhealthy, I believe some good may come from our interest in the unnatural. Consider, for example, the focus of much horror. In seemingly every case, horror turns our attention to the ways things can go wrong in the world. In fact, the most frightening stories are those that reflect reality, highlighting the actual horrors produced by this world. Granted, horror stories often sensationalize the real world inspirations, but the real world inspirations exist. Thus, although horror often deals in extremes and in caricatures, it operates on a deeply unsettling truth: our world is not all love and light. Darkness lies strong across the globe. Evil pervades our existence. Life is marked by the unnatural.
The unnatural aspects of horror, then, can act as reminders that the world is not the way it was created to be. These stories introduce unease into our sense of calm, shattering any illusions that this world is tame or safe. And when we see the darker aspects of the world, we begin to recognize our need for a hope that can overcome the world, a hope that can only be found in Christ.
When horror focuses our attention on the unnatural, we might do well to ask what the natural state of things might be. And the answer to that question may be found nicely in a Christian worldview. We have a story that deals with all of reality and a protagonist who doesn’t shy away from the darkness but instead confronts it and overcomes it. We have the only source of true and lasting hope that the darkness is not ultimate, that the unnatural state need not be permanent. And so we tell the story, the story that makes sense of other stories, even the darker ones. And we hope, even when face to face with the darkest of evils, for we know the one who has already overcome it all.
To pray and not lose heart is no small task,
To come before the throne without a mask,
Revealing all your deepest doubts and fears
And failures, then to still step forth and ask
For help and hope. You tremble, feeling tears
As faith, formed over long, uncertain years,
Stands face to face with yet another test
That threatens to undo you. But he hears
The weakness in your voice and offers rest.
He knows your heart is breaking, calls you blessed
And calls for faith again, promising peace
In perseverance, that his way is best.
And so you pray in hope, and you release
Control of circumstances, so to cease
From all burdensome worries and to bask
In grace before the lamb with crimson fleece.
I’m beginning to wonder if faithfulness often feels like failure.
Recently, some trusted individuals told me they associate me with faithfulness. While I’m humbled, I don’t feel very faithful; I feel more like a failure. I look at my walk with the Lord and see all the times I waver, all the times I doubt, all the times I second-guess my way and misstep. I see the conviction of the Lord, his discipline in my life. I see all the ways I struggle to submit to his lordship, all the ways I feel disappointed by his plan for my life, all the ways I wish things were different. I feel more faithless than faithful, more fearful than full of faith.
True, I’m thankful. I see the ways he’s blessed me in this season. I can see some of the wisdom in my present location and how he’s enabled me to do what he’s called me to do. I know he’s at work, and I can detect hints and whispers of that work as I pursue faithfulness. I am not abandoned or lost. He knows where I am and knows what he’s doing. I can count it all joy when I meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2-4).
I guess I assumed faithfulness would look more like boldness or strength than timidity or weakness. But both boldness and strength are found not in the individual but in the Lord of the individual. Christ is the source of contentment, the certainty of salvation, the power in weakness. If we stand, we stand in him.
I want to be faithful to him in all things, so I pray for faith to grow, for love to deepen, and for hope to endure. I pray for contentment when I’m disappointed, for wisdom when I’m confused, and for peace when I’m troubled. I’m challenged by the truth that faithfulness is often tied to obedience, and I pray for strength to obey, to walk by faith when I can’t see the way. I pray that I would abide in Christ and would be a witness in this season to his power, mercy, and grace.
In short, I pray often and seek him, confessing my inability and trusting in his sufficiency. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe faithfulness is not defined by having the answers but by following the one who does, not by having the strength in oneself but in obeying the one who is strong, not by being capable oneself but by surrendering to the God who is. Maybe God is glorified more by continued repentance and surrender than by a perfectly executed journey. Maybe faithfulness really does feel like failure sometimes.
I wait for you, often impatiently.
Passionate and shortsighted is my soul,
Resistant to the truth of your control.
My faith wars with my fears consistently.
I pray for grace to give up while I grip
More tightly to what you require of me,
Thinking of faith as eyes widen to see
Any way out. A trembling heart and lip
Often appear instead of steadfastness,
Longing for Egypt in the Promised Land,
Reaching for idols as you hold my hand.
Spirit, sustain me. Help me see past this.
Teach me to rest in your ability
And wait in rev’rence and humility.
Last week, I had my last counseling appointment.
For roughly a year, I’ve been going to counseling through the counseling center at my school. I entered nervously, uncertain of what to expect but certain that I needed help. I noticed myself becoming more isolated and distant than I could remember being. Social circles were shifting around me, stresses and emotions were stacking up inside me, and I found myself feeling disconnected and lonely and stuck. I knew there was a problem, but I couldn’t seem to fix it. I was surviving, but I wasn’t doing well.
Counseling, in many ways, was exactly the thing I needed. There, I could voice the things that weighed upon me and receive help in processing through it. I could share my fears, my anxieties, and my shame and receive encouragement and perspective. My counselor helped to put names to the things that bothered me, thereby helping me both to identify and to understand the more difficult aspects of my life. Though I’m not sure I could list all the ways God used counseling in my life, a few reflections stand out.
- I accept my emotions and am a bit more open about them now.
Historically, I’ve not been very good at acknowledging my feelings. I’ll try to approach situations academically if possible, operating as if emotions shouldn’t have a say in my response. But I’m learning such an approach isn’t feasible. God created us with emotions, and life in his world requires that we come to terms with that truth. Sure, learning to accept emotions and feel them isn’t always easy. Facing difficult emotions and dealing with them can be painful. But there’s a freedom that comes with such growth, a fresh perspective on life and how God means us to live it. I’m still learning, but I’m slowly growing to allow emotions their rightful place in my life.
- I still struggle with my emotions.
Therapy didn’t make life’s difficulties go away. While my counselor did a fantastic job of listening and guiding me toward a healthier mental and emotional state, she didn’t fix my problems. Instead, she reminded me that people never outgrow the growing process. We’ll always be working on something, improving in some area, finding ourselves still lacking in some respect. Growth, both spiritual and mental, is an ongoing process. But while I’m not “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4), I think I’m further along than I was when I started counseling. I’ve achieved some goals, seen measurable success, and have found that the difficulties that often overwhelm me aren’t quite so unique or crushing as they may feel in the moment.
- I love the Lord more than I once did.
Because I’ve been unsure of my emotional intelligence for so long, I’ve tended to lean into more comfortable ways of loving God. I would think of Jesus’s instruction to love the Lord with the heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), and I would see in that a justification for pressing into academics. If I’m not good at feelings, let me prioritize thoughts. But as I reflect on my time in counseling, I’m starting to see that Jesus’s statement isn’t a list of options. Instead, his is a call to love God wholly, bringing every aspect of the self to him in surrender. Counseling has helped me to do this better. As I’ve faced my fears and my anxieties, I’ve seen areas where my faith is weak, where what I affirm mentally isn’t reflected in how I follow Jesus practically. And as I’ve sought to bring my heart into submission to the Lord, the work has entailed a submission of my body as well as I’ve seen how my physical health influences my mental health. I’ve begun to pursue growth on all fronts, learning to love the Lord not just with my mind but with my heart, strength, and soul as well.
The work isn’t complete. I still wrestle with fear and insecurity, with anxiety and doubt, with disappointment and discouragement. I still feel overwhelmed and stuck sometimes. I’m not sure we ever escape such things this side of glory. But counseling gave me perspective and resources to respond to my emotions, and to all situations, with more faith than fear, more courage than cowardliness, and more hope than hopelessness. I thank God for counseling, and I highly recommend it. Whether you feel crushed by the weight of life or you simply want to better understand yourself and your place in this world, counseling can serve you well. I pray you take the step, and I pray God uses it mightily in your life.
Who are you? Majestic Maker of all
That moves and all that remains still. You fill
With fullness all spaces, unperceived, call
Dead things to life, direct with perfect will
Without removing our ability
To truly love and to be loved by you.
You are the true source of tranquility,
The good shepherd, trustworthy, steadfast through
Every scene of the story. You are
The center and the circumference, all-
Encompassing and all-surpassing, far
Beyond, nearer still. Somehow you still call
Our small souls into fellowship and free
Our idol eyes to readjust and see.
I fear loss. The loss of direction, the loss of security, the loss of peace. When I’m at risk of losing something I value, I quickly grow fearful, uncertain of the future. I don’t like the thought of loss.
Loss is strange. You hold so tightly to something, afraid to let it go, afraid to be without it. But loss is a part of life. As seasons change, you move to new places, meet new people, accept new jobs. As you engage the new, you often lose the old. The comfort of the old regularly gives way to uncertainty as you move forward.
Sometimes, however, loss is a great grace. The fear of loss shows me what I value, often exposing idolatry in my heart. From the loss of a working cell phone to the loss of control over a schedule to greater, deeper losses, loss reveals where my treasure lies.
Loss also drives me to the Lord. As I lose my grip on people and things around me, I’m reminded that all that I fear to lose is found in God, fulfilled in him. Comfort, security, direction, purpose, friendship, love, life—all flow from the Lord, the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:16-18).
I know this to be true, but I regularly forget it. Loss, then, is a good thing in my life as it reminds me that the grace of God is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). I can’t keep all that I wish I could keep in this life, but I have all I need in him. So I need not fear loss, though I’m sure I still will. The Lord is good, and, should all else be lost, he will remain good.