The Lord who is my shepherd knows my path. When I was lost in darkness, he was there With purposes of love and not of wrath, Compassionate and kind and full of care. He knew how long the wandering would last And all that would be lost along the way. He sets all seasons—future, present, past— Sustaining through the night, bringing the day. Our Lord is always working, always good, Always aware of us, our faults, our haste. Before him, we are always understood, And with him, there is never any waste. We make our messes. He is not surprised. His purposes will still be realized.
When I look back, I do not see successes. At least, I do not see them easily. Instead, I see a mind that second-guesses And find that failure fits more feasibly. When I look back, I do not see your mercies, Or seeing them, still feel they are not true. All good seems covered up in controversies, In all the ways I failed and still fail you. When I look back, I see the circumstances That roll like waves across a wind-swept sea. I do not see the Son, the second-chances, The grace that still abounds for those like me. When I look back, I must distrust the lies That claim truth is determined by my eyes.
OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an anxiety disorder that affects my thoughts and actions and that attaches to what I care about. Scrupulosity, as I mentioned in part one, is a religious form of OCD. In my experience, OCD most often latched onto my relationships. I noticed it in romantic relationships as it convinced me God didn’t want me to date the people I wanted to date. I noticed it in my friendships as it convinced me God wanted me to step away from certain people or to cancel certain plans. I noticed it in my approach to community as it convinced me I needed to confess my thoughts and attitudes to anyone I might have wronged by those thoughts and attitudes. I noticed it in my work as it told me I needed to turn down jobs, stop writing, and pass on opportunities to get experience in my field. In each case, I thought I was being tested like Abraham was. I thought God was testing my faith by asking me to give up good things and trust him, to die to myself and be sanctified. And in my head, it checked out. If I was feeling conviction and if the Lord was giving me directions regarding which steps to take in response to that conviction, then I didn’t need to understand it or like it, I just needed to trust and obey.
Initially, questioning my thoughts and feelings felt sinful. I genuinely believed I was pushing back against God’s work by looking into OCD. But as my friend explained more of what OCD is and how it can show up, my experiences began to make sense. Where I thought God was convicting me, I began to recognize anxiety. Where I thought God was directing me, I began to recognize intrusive thoughts and some bad theology. Where I’d struggled to see any fruit from the steps I was taking, I could now see why: God wasn’t actually the one behind these directions. I thought my problem was spiritual, but it turned out to be biological. And because it was biological, I began to hope. Maybe God hadn’t been closing doors all these years; maybe it was me all along. And maybe, in time, some of those doors could be opened again.
Where was God in all of this? If he wasn’t the one leading me to take all these uncomfortable steps, why did he allow it go on for so long, especially when it caused so much hurt for me and for others? Admittedly, while I know the answer to the first question (he was here all along), I don’t fully know the answer to the second question. But I believe he is sovereign, even over my OCD and over the timing of this season, and I believe he allowed me to wander, to wrestle, and to fall how and when I did. And I believe the season wasn’t wasted.
So what’s my proof this season wasn’t wasted? What did God do in this time, and what has he been doing since? More than I know. But here are a few things I think I can discern.
God taught me that I can be okay in silence and solitude. While the reasons for withdrawing from people weren’t healthy, the lesson learned there was needed. For years, I’d grown used to busyness. I thought I knew how to rest, but really I was only ceasing from my normal work to engage in recreation. As I felt compelled to step away from friends and family and to just be by myself with the Lord, I found that God was present there and that I could find rest apart from the things I used to distract myself with.
God taught me that his provision doesn’t depend on my effort. I backed out of job opportunities, turned down classes where I could get teaching experience, stopped using my talents, stepped away from friendships, rejected someone I wanted to pursue a relationship with, and initiated conversations that could have created further division and discomfort. In spite of all of this, the Lord has provided for me. He’s given me friends who were faithful even when I was difficult. He’s given me teaching opportunities even when I thought the doors might not open again. He’s sustained me. He’s restored friendships and opportunities I was afraid were lost. As I’ve begun to work through this season and to explore how my mind and heart work, I’ve been met with an immense amount of grace. God’s proven himself faithful and good over and over again, providing for my needs and giving good gifts along the way.
God’s showed me that he cares about my desires in a way I didn’t know was possible. I’d heard Psalm 37:4 before: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I always read that verse as if it came with an asterisk, though. Sure, it was true. It’s the word of God, after all. But I didn’t really believe it was true for me. Or at least not in this season. My desires to write, to teach, to pursue a relationship, to talk to my friends—each of these desires seemed to be required of me at some point in my experience. I could affirm that they were good things, that they weren’t sinful things, that they could glorify God. But I believed God had called me to give them up. As I worked with a mentor, I realized I had a misunderstanding of self-sacrifice. I was “dying to the wrong things,” to quote Peter Scazzero (read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality for more on this idea). And as I began to grow in my understanding of God’s goodness, I began to take steps back toward those things I’d left behind, and I watched God restore the things I’d laid aside and lost. He has granted the desires of my heart, and he continues to do so, drawing me ever deeper into gratitude and delight in him.
God taught me to think differently about faith and sovereignty. I used to think walking by faith meant getting clear directions from God and then following those directions in spite of what you saw or felt or thought. I’m learning, however, that walking by faith is more like exercising wisdom and trusting God with the unknowns of life. It’s not necessarily about receiving some specific divine guidance as much as learning to walk in faith that he’s at work in and around you, guiding your steps as you seek to honor him in your decisions and redeeming your mistakes when you misstep or fail. Similarly, I used to think of sovereignty as more of a conceptual thing related to decisions and directions and wills. I’m learning that sovereignty encompasses everything, our good decisions and our bad, our joyful seasons and our seasons of suffering. The “all things” in Romans 8:28 really does mean all things, even those things that feel so beyond our control.
In short, this journey has been one of adjustments, some major and some minor. I’m rethinking my assumptions, examining my thoughts and feelings, and pursuing growth on many fronts, and I think I’m finding some success. I’m new to all of this. I’m very much still learning how to walk. But I’m seeing fruit in this season that I believe has grown from the soil of difficult seasons. I’m seeing God at work, and I’m finding peace and joy as I try to join him in that work. I’m making progress, by his grace, and learning to trust in his sovereign care for me.
I once saw a Chick-fil-A employee yell at customers in the drive-through line.
The employee sounded frustrated. It was around lunch time, so Chick-fil-A was busy. Employees were outside taking orders on both lines before the customers merged into one lane to wind around toward the window to pick up their orders. As is the nature of drive-through lines, the traffic was very stop-and-go, so a lot of customers were on their phones while in line, resulting in a number of customers caught off guard when the line started moving.
I heard the employee yell, “Pull forward!” as she motioned for the cars to keep moving, but her overall tone was more peeved than patient. She made a couple of other remarks that further reflected her mood, each one surprising me and, admittedly, somewhat disturbing me. Her comments and tone seemed out of character for a Chick-fil-A employee.
Experience has taught us that Chick-fil-A employees behave differently than employees elsewhere. There’s a calmness to their demeanor, a patience to their interactions, and a genuineness to their service. We know them to be held to a higher standard, and we’ve come to expect that high quality of character when we visit a Chick-fil-A. So when I saw an employee who seemed to act in a way that ran contrary to that standard, the experience struck me as wrong. Things aren’t supposed to be this way, right? Something’s off here.
You can find the same kind of experience when you pay attention to how we as Christians sometimes act online. Christians, those people who are supposed to look like Jesus in the world, the group that is supposed to reflect a different set of values and a different approach to life, sometimes act in ways that seem contrary to the way Christ acted. Rather than reflecting humility, we demonstrate arrogance. Rather than embracing lowliness, we fight for power. Rather than loving the body of believers, we slander and bite and draw dividing lines within the fold. When we consider the standard, however, we should feel the same sense of surprise as we feel when he hear a Chick-fil-A employee shout at customers. We should be a bit disturbed at the dissonance between the character of Christ and the behavior of his people.
And I think the critique should start with oneself. I am often a fearful man, doubtful of my Lord’s goodness and unfaithful to his commandments. I am often an arrogant man, desiring recognition and glory and kicking against anything that might reveal my weakness. I am often a sinful man, choosing self over God and others.
By grace, however, I’m not lost in my sin. The Lord has saved me and remade me, and he enables me to follow him. I fall short, but I find encouragement to keep walking. I fail, but I find mercy for my failures. As I see all the varied ways I fall short of the glory of God, I find fresh ways the Lord meets me with love. And I pray I will be conformed more and more to the character of Christ, that I might better reflect him day by day.
If your power is made perfect in weakness, then why do I feel only the greatness of my weakness and do not perceive your power here? How long will I feel lost in my lack instead of found in your love? How often will my faith give way to my fear?
Could all this be part of the process of progress?
The train is now departing. I stand upon the platform and I wonder, Did I choose rightly when I chose to stay? Is this the better way? What life would now be starting If I had stepped aboard and joined the thunder Of racing steel and distant storms, away From where I stand today?
But who could say?
Life is a series of decisions, Of written words without revisions. I wish I never made mistakes. I often do. Yet on clear tracks and in collisions, You meet our needs with good provisions. Through all that mends and all that breaks, You remain you.
Note: A quick Google search revealed that the line “Life is a series of decisions” has been used in many other works. While I didn’t have any specific source in mind when I decided to use that line, I recognize that the wording isn’t original to me.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
2 Corinthians 12:9
His grace is sufficient. But sufficient doesn’t mean that grace makes weakness and suffering nonexistent.
Consider Paul’s life. He writes verse nine immediately after describing his pleading before the Lord that a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, would be taken from him (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). The account of such pleading follows an extended list of Paul’s many sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). And the letter in which we find these sections begins with the admission that Paul’s sufferings were once so great that he and those with him “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). God’s grace sustained him, strengthened him, and enabled him to fulfill the work set before him. But Paul’s life was still filled with tremendous suffering.
I’ve written recently about the longing for rest in difficult seasons, for relief from burdens, for peace in the midst of fear. Life hasn’t been easy for some time. But in the midst of an extended, hard season, God’s grace has been sufficient. He’s given strength for the work, provision for the day, and sweet moments of rest in the busyness. He’s consistently proven himself faithful to be strong in my weakness, often in times when my weakness has seemed too great, the season too hard. He remains wise and good.
I’m learning that sometimes grace doesn’t feel sufficient, but it is. God’s grace may not deliver you from the season you’re in, but it may sustain you through it. It may not keep you from suffering, but it may provide what is needed to endure it. You may be tempted to despair; God’s grace can enable you to hope. You may feel downcast and brokenhearted; God’s grace can cause you to rejoice.
I’m grateful for God’s grace. At times, I wish it did more than sustain. I wish I could be stronger than I am. I wish he would heal and deliver in ways that felt more comfortable. But as I learn to rely on the grace of the Lord, I learn to trust him more fully, to follow him more closely, and to rest in him more completely. And I think that growth is more important than my comfort in this season. So I pray for grace to trust him more, to follow him more, and to rest in him more, thankful that he sustains me.
Sometimes, Faith is stillness in the quiet When you begin to question Whether or not You heard his directions correctly Before. When doubts grow loud In the absence of his voice, When fear fills the silence, When the once clear call Is suddenly less clear And you cannot discern his purposes, He is still God. Hold fast. Wait. Worship. Hope.
Life has been busy for some time. That’s nothing new. Between school, jobs, and ministry, my weeks stay pretty full. I enjoy my work, and I’m grateful for the Lord’s provision. I know the busyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I’ve noticed myself feeling worn lately, looking for a break but not finding one.
But it’s not just busyness that’s been weighing on me. There’s a heaviness to life these days that I can’t quite escape. People I love are walking through great difficulties, times of fierce testing, and prolonged seasons of waiting. Weariness and discouragement affect many of us. We’re working to bear each other’s burdens, but we’re feeling pressed.
And personally, I’ve also been wrestling with more confusion and fear lately than I’m used to. As I’ve tried to discern the Lord’s leading and sought to obey him, I’ve found myself often faltering, often straying, and often feeling more out of step than surefooted. I want to be faithful, but I feel more faithless. I want to be strong, but I feel weak.
What do you do in such times? How do you respond when life seems heavier than normal?
I’m reminded of the words of Jesus:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
A few observations from this passage bring some comfort in this season.
First, rest is found in Jesus. I’m tempted to look to other sources for relief: to entertainment or to escape or to some new experience. But rest isn’t really found anywhere else but in Jesus, in knowing him and joining him in his work.
Second, we’re invited into rest. In spite of our sin, in spite of our doubt, and in spite of our weakness, Jesus loves us and offers us rest. He knows our state, knows our need, and brings relief.
Third, the road does not end here. There is a way forward, a way of good work and learning from the Lord himself. Thus, rest does not necessarily mean we cease to be active, but rather that we learn to follow the lead of the good shepherd (John 10:11). When I’m tempted to believe I’m stuck, that I don’t have anywhere to go, Jesus’s words remind me the path continues on with him.
Though I’m not good at it, I’m trying to learn to rest in Jesus. He is good. He is kind. He is faithful. So we can trust him in our weariness and find rest that satisfies our souls like nothing else.
Make me the man that you want me to be E’en if I do not want to be that man. Teach me to trust you when I cannot see The purpose in the details of your plan. Help me to hope when tempted to despair At circumstances greater than my strength, To trust that, in the darkness, you are there With love beyond all height, depth, width, and length. Show me myself, and make me truly know The greatness of my need and of your grace. Remind me you are with me as I go, And lead according to your path and pace. Lord, search me, try me, know me, make me new. Let all my life be lived in love of you.