Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Favorite Things

The other day my daughters were introduced to "The Sound of Music". You know the one. Julie Andrews twirling around without a care in the world as she sings at the top of her voice about the hills being alive and how her heart wants to sing.

One of their favorite parts was the scene where all the children are in Maria's room thanks to a very loud thunderstorm outside. The younger kids especially are scared to pieces when the bright flashes of lightning strike and the thunder claps beyond the safety of that little bedroom.

To make the kids feel better and help them forget their anxious feelings about the storm outside, Maria teaches them that famous song called, "My Favorite Things". Before you know it, the kids are singing and dancing with smiles on their faces just at the thought of some of their favorite things such as snowflakes and kittens. It's true. Thinking about the best things in our lives brings joy, no matter how big or small that favorite thing may be.

A friend of mine shared that her church was having a very unusual service recently as they go thru a study on the book of Genesis. The week before, they had studied about Abraham and Isaac and the account of when the Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice the most precious thing in his life: his only son, Isaac. You know the story. At the very last second before Abraham plunges the knife into the chest of his son lying on the altar, an angel stops him and points out a ram nearby which the Lord provided in place of Isaac. It was just a test.

The next week at my friend's church, they were going to be given a small piece of wood. Each person was to write the name of something (or someone) they knew the Lord was calling them to give up for Him. It could be anything, good or bad. Anything that was holding back their hearts from honoring the Lord above all else with full abandon. After writing it down, each person was supposed to walk to the front of the room and toss their piece of wood into a fire, symbolizing the spiritual significance of laying down their idols upon the altar.

Now please understand. There was nothing weird going on here. And it wasn't just another (albiet clever) way to hammer home legalism in these church members. It was designed to be a powerful picture, something they would remember vividly, of the day they literally threw into the fire to be burned whatever it is that may be keeping them from the relationship God longs to have with each one of us. I thought it was one of the coolest things I've ever heard about a church doing and wished I could've been there myself that day.

This got me thinking. If I had been one of the children dancing and singing with Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, what would I have listed as some of my favorite things? And if I were to look closer at what I came up with, would I find anything that's taken up disproportionate importance in my life as compared to my walk with Jesus? Would any of my "favorite things" (although none of them evil in and of themselves) qualify as an idol I was not willing to burn at the altar of commitment to a deeper walk with Jesus?

It was a difficult question to ponder.

You see, I've already been asked to sacrifice something that was so precious to me I fought tooth and nail not to give it up. I held on stubbornly and refused to loosen my grip on something that most Christian circles would say is definitely a good thing and couldn't possibly be among the things God asks us to give up for His glory. No way. I tried to convince myself I was definitely NOT hearing His voice telling me to bring this particular piece of wood to the altar. It couldn't be.

And yet, it was.

After a long, painful struggle, I was finally, FINALLY ready to toss my idol into the fire. It broke my heart to do it. It felt like a crushing blow to my chest until there were times I literally had to stop and catch my breath. It took me down to nothing to give it up. I felt like I was burning right along with it.

It was my marriage.

My marriage?! What kind of God asks a "good girl" to trust Him and get a divorce?! I couldn't understand it. But nevertheless, He made it undeniably clear that's what He was asking me to give up, and I knew if I did I would undoubtedly experience a walk with Him more intimate than I had ever known. Because He would be the only One I had left.

Over the last several months, I've thought a lot about Abraham. The relief he must've felt when he saw that ram tangled in the bushes must've been so great he likely fell to the ground, his knees buckling at the emotion of realizing he would not have to sacrifice his beloved son. What a tremendous experience to see God provide a way out and Abraham be allowed to keep Isaac with him in this life.

God did that for Abraham.

But not for me.

There was no "ram" provided in place of my marriage's death. Oh, I tried to bring along my own "rams". This counselor. That pastor. This mentor. That accountability group. Each time, the rams I brought to substitute for the death of my marriage slipped from my grasp, leaving me with nothing on the altar, nothing to toss into the fire, but the thing I thought it would kill me to give up.

So what happens when God DOESN'T provide the ram? Where do we go after we watch the one thing we thought we couldn't possibly live without disintegrate in the fire before our eyes? Who do we become when that precious thing is stripped from us?

I didn't know then, but I've learned it firsthand.

We become HIS "favorite thing". We become the precious piece of His heart He values above all others. We become the daughter (or son) He would move mountains to rescue, to protect, to love.

As I watched the flames dying out and saw that nothing but charred embers remained of my marriage, I will admit I had some moments along the way where I was downright furious that God didn't provide the ram. I mean, that's what He's SUPPOSED to do, right? I didn't REALLY want to give up my marriage! He was supposed to come in and save the day and change lives and restore what was broken so I could give Him all the glory and praise. That was the deal. And I would've given Him all the credit til the day I die for saving what was a hopeless mess. It would've been my song for the rest of my days to declare how He made all things new.

I finally turned from that dying fire, the smoke gently whirling up into the sky which I thought could never possibly be blue again. And then.

As the ashes scattered at my feet and a breeze blew them away, I remembered Jesus' words to His disciples as they, too, gave up the most precious thing in their world, having Jesus physically present with them. Just before He ascended into heaven, He said, "

"My peace I give you. My peace I leave with you."

Peace. The one thing that had been so elusive in my marriage and so brief in its visits. I couldn't be wrapped in peace as long as I was stubbornly holding onto things I thought were better. But the moment I gave that thing up, I felt His peace in ways I can't even express.

I wish this for my daughters. I long for them to know this peace that passes all understanding. I want them, too, to feel God's smile upon them and understand how precious they are to Him. I want them to know they BELONG to Him, that they MATTER to Him, that He NEVER will grow weary of them. And yet I know that often this type of intimate understanding only comes after tossing into the fire our most precious things. And that part makes me hurt to think of my daughters having to do someday. So I ask the Lord every day to spare them of this kind of pain. To find a way into the deepest part of their hearts WITHOUT the suffering that tends to prepare us for hearing His voice more clearly.

I don't know what He will choose to use in their lives. But I do know this: He longs for us to know
Him in more than just a casual relationship. And He will ask us to give up anything, ANYTHING that we hang onto for the security and belonging that only HE can provide. And He is GOOD.

And that conclusion, that assurance that we belong to a LOVING Father, makes it okay. Not fun, not painless, not anything short of agonizing. But okay because I know the end of the story. I know Who will be there after the last ember of my sacrifice fades away.

I don't believe God caused my divorce. I believe it made Him incredibly sad to see. I believe He mourned deeply that day just as I did. But I also believe my pain has not been wasted. He has used and will continue to use this awful, painful reality called divorce to make me better. I don't know how He does it, but He redeems broken stories like mine.

So what should be written on your little piece of wood for the fire? Is today the day you finally set fire to it and get back the room in your heart it's been stealing? Don't wait. There is joy unspeakable waiting on the other side of that flame.

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