One of my biggest issues right now is how lonely I've found myself while away from my family at school. So much of what I'm familiar with has stripped away. My sense of security has been left behind, several months ago. It's like removing an old venear to find the scratched and stained surface that I was able to forget about. Being around my family and the business of work and school and spending time with my kids and wife, working around the house, spending time with my friends, all those things were like patches permitting me to ignore the glaring insufficiencies that lay underneath.
I've found that I spend much my time believing in my own sufficiency, which has stunted my spiritual growth. I know that I am a man in need of a savior, more than ever and sometimes cry out to God for comfort and to make me feel a little less empty. The holes are normally filled by my wife and kids, I think. Now I'm forced to face these things, this emptiness, because its unbearable. I remember this feeling when I was on my cutter as a young Seaman Apprentice. I had believed at the time that I could be filled with my own accomplishment and respect for being a member of the armed forces. I looked to that uniform as a sort of veneer, but realized that I felt empty there too. I went in search of things to fill that void, things I regret now, but even more, I regret that those things did fill the void, to a very small meaningless extent anyway. They were temporary patches that concealed the root of the problem from me.
When I gave up that uniform, I felt like a part of me had died. The Coast Guard had been a major part of my personal identity, and still is in some ways. There are so many other things that I fill the void with too. So many meaningless things, and some lovely beautiful things too have I used to make me feel whole. But these things were misplaced. All the time, I've been chasing after so many nominally important accomplishments and material items to make me feel complete, but none of them did. And when they didn't, I got angry at them for letting me down, but I had assigned them to positions in my life that they were never meant to be in.
My wife, my children, they are some of God's greatest gifts to me. I cannot imagine how horrible I would feel if they were lost to me. I have always heard that one's family or possessions, or career or hobbies or extracurricular activities could become gods to them, and I was cautious. I didn't want them to be gods to me, I knew that there was only one God and that he should be my “all in all” and always thought that I had done well to do that. I read books about this, and heeded the warnings in the Bible about men who had put people and things before God just to have them stripped away, and feared this would happen so I tried to be more and more careful. What I didn't realize is that my fear of having these things taken from me made me cling to them like I should have clung to Christ. We were not made to be alone, we were made to enjoy God and experience his presence in our lives, but that need for companionship I unwittingly extended to my family in a way that put them before God in my life, and I never even realized it.
Actually, I'm still in the process of realizing it. I am very lonely here, away from my support system. It is a terrible feeling, being alone, but a necessary experience. Here, my family cannot fill the void and I am always looking for ways to fill it, ways that are not God's ways. I've tried walking downtown and ministering to homeless. I've tried building relationships with classmates. I've tried totally absorbing myself with school work, but I've only grown more weary in the process. I realize the hole is there, and I realize the things I'm doing to fill it and I realize that its an emptiness that only God can fill but I have two problems, at least, that I keep running head-long into:
- Out of pride, I try to fill it myself. I read my Bible to try and cram God into me through my eyes and brain and when that doesn't work, I do one of the other things that I've mentioned
- I ask God to fill me, but I don't feel Him doing it, so I get depressed or angry at Him.
I understand number one and I know how this is has created a problem for me. Number two, though, I don't know what else to do, or what not to do. I have the notion that I am not to do anything but that God will fill me upon asking Him, and might feel better for a moment or two, but its a fleeting sensation that leads me to believe that I'm still trying to do something, but don't know what.
I think Spurgeon encountered the same sort of paradoxical problem. He spoke of his loneliness and how he hated London when he had first gone by the request of the church to preach there. He knew he had been called there, and hated being there, but stayed all the same. I can relate to that. I do not like the Bay Area at all. There are too many people, it is too impersonal and everything moves far too quickly. I feel as if no matter how quickly I move or how hard I strive, I am always going to fall behind the rest of the pack. I have really never felt more out of place except for perhaps boot camp.
I can still remember the brokeness I felt when I first came to the realization over 12 years ago, while getting yelled at by my company commander that I was in a place where nobody loved me. I hurt, but I was determined to be tougher than that because, even saying that now, I feel like the worst kind of momma's-boy whiner. “Life is tough. Get used to it. Suck it up!” is what I would tell myself. And it worked much of the time. I learned to kill emotions before they had outward manifestations, and that served me well both in the Coast Guard and on the streets as a paramedic.
Now, though, this stuff feels magnified, and I'm allowed enough time to actually think about it and for things to occur to me during my commute on the train or while laying in bed at night. And it confuses me. I think of Christian in Pilgrim's progress, how he left his family behind to voyage to the celestial city, and how, early in his journey, he was slowed by the Mire of Despondency, or something like that, and the burden he was carrying on his back was too heavy for him to move beyond it. By this point, he was definitely a Christian, and he definitely was saved by grace through faith in Christ's sufficiency, but that burden! Oh the burden! It was too heavy for him. At this stage of my life, having been a Christian for so many years, knowing my scripture so well, and working so hard to be a disciple, I find myself in the same place as this newly minted Christ follower!
That is where my problem lies, though, I am sure. I know that striving and working will not get me any closer to God because I've already been forgiven, but my prideful heart still hungers to do part of the work itself. My prideful heart wants to show Christ that His bloodshed wasn't wasted on me because I'm a talented and hard working guy who can do it himself. I have ideas and strategies and big plans for His kingdom! To what end! To glorify myself in His eyes? Its a farse! His righteousness and glory were somehow imparted to me on the cross, yet I think I can add to that? Do I think I can raise the level of the oceans by carrying 5 gallon buckets of water a hundred miles from my home to the coast too?!
I want to rest in Him! I want real rest! I need rest! In Him only can I find it, and in Him only can I be assured of salvation and worthiness. He doesn't need me for his glory! He is already glorified! How I love him! If only I could love Him more! I thirst to experience him in tangible ways and to invite him into the deepest most hidden parts of my soul, but I fear that when he sees what is there I will be ashamed! I know that darkness that lingers there and I don't even want to see it, let alone allow my heavenly father peer into these secret places where pride and anger and pain and sorrow sit stagnant and rotting.
But I see what's happening here. I can see that the veneer is being stripped away through this experience, that God is sanding me down, exposing the raw wood, where every flaw can be seen and worked out through His loving, knowing touch. I keep resisting, like a child refusing to let his dad remove a splinter from his finger because he's afraid it will hurt. I keep brushing Him off and telling Him that I want to carry my own baggage for a while, that its not his responsibility. He holds out his enormous mighty arms and offers but I can't, I just can't let Him. Oh that God would just take it from me, with force!
And I pray that I can abide by these words tonight:
Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.
(Psalm 55:22 ESV)