Striving Not to Strive (Endless Cycles That Have to End)

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Some days I feel like life would be much better if we could remove all the “shoulds” and “should haves” out of life.  It would put an end to Broken Record Syndrome, once and for all (you know: “Did I really say that? I can’t believe I said that! I should have said this instead!” on constant repeat after the most fleeting moment of not-perfection).  It would make all these things I should be able to do so much easier.  After all, it is the “should” that is the problem, isn’t it?

I am amazed at this woman I “should” be.  Her house is never dirty.  Her meals always hit the table on time. Her children and husband are finding their health by her sheer will power alone.  She is a force to be reckoned with.  She can get it all done in a day, and have a little time and sanity leftover to lavishly spend on herself, too.  She loads the dishwasher every night, and empties it every morning. Her counters are never cluttered. Her laundry is always folded and neatly put away. Always.  She is perfection.  Most importantly, I am realizing, she is not real.

I have been trying to figure out how to become her for some time now.  Every time I think I have it just about figured out, God’s grace comes to me in the form of a near-nervous-breakdown and a really good cry.  That’s right, God’s grace.  It is God’s grace every single time I reach the end of myself. Every. Single. Time.  It is God’s grace every time some innocent child points out that the Emperor is naked.  How can I be clothed unless I first see my nakedness? How can I surrender if I think I have even a glimmer of a chance of winning the war?

A long time ago, when I still lived in Boston (and my best friend was on a mission trip to Malawi), I had a dream.  In this dream, I was throwing up live bugs (as in, insects.  Yup, gross.  But if I’d warned you, you might have skipped this part).  I was so shaken by the realness of the dream that I woke up instantly, but when I fell back to sleep, I was in the same room, and there was a new Person there, explaining to me that every time I sowed into my life out of insecurity, fear, and anxiety, it was like I was swallowing live bugs, and God wanted to get the bugs out of my life (Aside: I find it very striking that I am presently dealing with the health issues in my family — some of which clearly stem from my side of the genetics — that all relate to gut “bugs,” the beneficial and pathogenic microbes we play host to).  Two weeks later I got my first letter from Heather since her departure to Africa, and she told me that she had a dream where I was throwing up live bugs…and there were bugs all over my shirt).  That one little variation terrified me.  You mean people were going to SEE my bugs?  Somehow I had this  vision of Shem and Japheth walking backwards when they covered up their father Noah’s nakedness, I was sure that is how it is done when God corrects things in our lives.  Not only does He heal us but He spares us all embarrassment, too, right?

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about pleading with God to remove the thorn in his flesh, and God says that His power is made perfect in Paul’s (and all of our) weakness.  I love this verse.  God is strong through our weakness…but I always hated what came next.  “So I delight / boast in my weaknesses (paraphrase).”  You what? Come again, Paul?  Don’t you mean, “I show my weakness to God and allow Him to make me look better?”  Guess what, Melody Joy, this was never about you looking better. Ever. It is about God’s glory, and if my being the weak and broken thing that I am (on my own) glorifies God when others see the astounding things He can do through me, so be it.  But I have never been willing to be naked.  Not really.

So here I am. A few months ago I was a wife and mother to a husband and son with Celiac Disease, just about feeling like maybe I could be the Should Be Woman.  And then suddenly I was impatiently awaiting the arrival of my baby girl through weeks of prodromal labor, finally going into labor when I least expected it, and then getting to juggle adding “nursing mama” to my list of responsibilities.  And I cannot be that woman. I cannot do it all.  To be honest, I cannot even do part of it on my own strength.  Some days it is all I can do just to change diapers and feed my family…if I move in my own strength.  My clean laundry accumulates on unused furniture, and there are way too many items found in my possession that do not have a regular “home,” but instead keep moving from one “not in the way” spot to another.  The emperor is naked.  And for the months since just before my daughter’s birth, I have basically tried to wish clothes onto the emperor.  As though if I were to hope hard enough, the bolts of “invisible” fabric would materialize themselves as real, genuine clothing.  “I know I can’t do it, but maybe if I can just admit that I can’t do it, I’ll suddenly find  that I can!”  Otherwise translated, “Dear God, if I can just figure out how to “surrender” this quickly enough, will you please  spare me from the ground I’ll lose when I stop the car to switch drivers?”  It does not, however, work like that.  If I keep plowing through on my own will power when there is not actually any of “me” left to sustain, I will be sidelined anyway, and probably more significantly than if I just take the time to ask God what His perspective on my situation and how to best proceed so as to glorify Him.  There are many things in the Christian faith that are “both and” type situations, but this is not one of them.  We do not get to surrender and save face.  And that is a good thing.  Seeing just how finite we are, especially contrasted with our paradoxically imminent and transcendent God, is God’s grace.  If we were not confronted with our need for Him (by our own limitations), would we ever admit it of our own volition?

So I am beginning at the beginning.  I am admitting what I can and cannot do, and seeking God for the grace to do even what I “feel capable of.”  I am leaning on Him and His grace instead of just plowing through.  I am allowing Him to order my home, yes, but primarily my heart.  I don’t think I will ever be “good at” this until I don’t care anymore.  Not because God is punishing me for caring what people think, but because as long as that is my focus I will run out (of everything), but when I focus on the God who can do all things in my life due to the death and resurrection of His Son, I will never run out. Not of motivation, nor of anything else.

The Other Side of Surrender

I tried to give my all, but I couldn’t find it
The face most people see, there’s not much behind it
Scrounged up, patched together
I’m frayed and weathered

But on the other side of my surrender
There is peace, and joy, and grace
On the other side of my surrender
There is hope and rest and strength
On the other side of my surrender

How could I try to earn what cannot be measured?
Refusing to believe that I could be treasured
I tried so hard to look the part

But on the other side of my surrender
There is peace and joy and grace
On the other side of my surrender
There is hope and rest and strength
On the other side of my surrender

It’s time for the striving to cease
To let go and just breathe in Your peace
To quiet my heart, to still my thoughts
To be still and know that You are God

To lay down my arms and surrender
To Your peace, Your joy, Your grace
To open up my heart and surrender
To Your hope, Your rest, Your strength
To lay this burden down and surrender
To just stop striving now…
…and surrender.

~Melody Joy, The Other Side of Surrender

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