I have been a bit grumbly lately. Well, more than a bit, if truth be told. A lot grumbly.
Tired. Stressed. Worried. Dare I whisper it, afraid.
I keep reminding myself that I’m living in a season of major transition, so my emotional responses are normal. They are to be expected, right?
Yet, in the quiet moments of honest reflection, I admit I’m not so sure I really believe that.
In the quiet moments of prayer, when I cry out to God to meet my needs and I fail to discover his presence or his peace, it doesn’t take my mind long to go to the place of doubting that God is even listening at all. Are You There God? It’s Me, Bonnie is the snappy title that comes to mind to describe what I’m feeling.
I am in a season of enormous transition; that is for sure. My oldest son has recently graduated from college and has just accepted a position that will take him far, far away from his mama. I posted a photo on Facebook today of the final “first day of school” that I will experience with my youngest daughter, or any of my children, for that matter. My precious dog just underwent surgery to remove her spleen and the mass that was growing inside it. And I have just started a new job.
And that was just this week.
There’s an emotional sterility in the words “my dog had surgery” or “my son’s job will take him far away from home.” Missing from statements like these are the accounts of heartache and confusion and anguish that have accompanied each of these situations over the past few months. Missing are the log-sheet of hours spent consulting with the vet or brainstorming with my son or lying awake at night as sleep eludes me or praying on my knees for resolution.
These are the times when it is far too easy to grumble. It is too easy to whine, to fret the small stuff and fear the future, and at times, even sink into feelings of hopelessness. These are the times when the negative thoughts begin and if we’re not careful, we convince ourselves that everyone else has it so much better, or easier, or sweeter than we do.
These are the times when worry turns into grumbling.
Yesterday, waiting for my very-delayed train to arrive in the station, a beautiful quote from Henri Nouwen was waiting for me in my in-box.
“If you know you are the Beloved, you can live with an enormous amount of success and an enormous amount of failure without losing your identity. Because your identity is that you are the Beloved…the question becomes “Can I live a life of faith in the world and trust that it will bear fruit?’”
I know these words well. That is to say, my copy of Nouwen’s work Life of the Beloved is underlined and dog-eared and highlighted in the many places where his words have deeply moved me to a new understanding of the truth of God’s love for me. But sometimes this forgetful soul needs to be reminded of even the most beautiful truth, or see it from another angle to learn something fresh from it.
As I read those words on the train platform, this profound question welled up inside me and struck me full in the face: do I really believe that I am The Beloved? Because if I really believed deep down in my core, each and every day of my life, that I was God’s Beloved, would I really get so worried about all these things? Would I really allow all this disruption to have such a hold over me?
It strikes me that what lies at the heart of worry is my disbelief that God really loves me enough to make a difference in the turmoil of my life. It is a disbelief that he is all I need, that he will supply all my needs. It is essentially a disbelief in the entire catalogue of God’s promises to me, his Beloved.
And I realize that at the heart of all of my grumbling about what I don’t have and what’s inconveniencing me and making me anxious is really the fact that in that moment, I want those other things more than I want God. God’s word for that is an ugly one, but here it is – idolatry. The very word makes me recoil, yet I know I have to look it full in the face if I want to understand the battle raging in my heart.
It’s not very pretty, is it? Disbelief and idolatry. So much for being a follower of Christ, saved by grace and growing in faith!
But if I want to move beyond this stuck place in which I find myself, I have to understand what is happening inside my heart and mind. And I discovered, the only way to move beyond the stuck place is to confess all the mess to God.
Confession isn’t always the easiest thing to do. I think we often approach confession with fear and trepidation, wondering if God will strike us dead if we admit to something he already knows about anyway. Odd, isn’t it?
I didn’t grow up with a liturgical church background, reciting designated prayers for things like confession. More often than not, I find myself fumbling with the words, uttering lots of “I’m sorry’s” and “please forgive me’s” and still feeling like I haven’t quite moved to a place of restored relationship with God. But yesterday, sitting on the train platform, it was the words of the Confession, which I have only recently learned, that came immediately to mind.
I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed…
In the silence that followed, I brought substance to those three words: thought, word, and deed, bringing to mind fresh examples from the past few days and weeks of how my thoughts, words, and deeds had been offensive to a holy God.
By what I have done, and by what I have left undone…
The words are simple, and because I know them so well, they could fade into the background and stand instead as the framework on which to structure my thoughts and my confession. What might God have done through me if I hadn’t been so self-focused?
I have not loved you with my whole heart.
And there it is, the deep, ugly heart of the matter.
Disbelief and Idolatry.
These are the two real issues I had been grappling with amidst all the disruption in my life. It took some time sitting with my thoughts, identifying and confessing these false heart and mind attitudes. (It was a good thing the train was so late!) Confession paved the way for me to choose to believe that I am God’s Beloved and in response, to choose to put him above all else. Confession paved the way for me to choose to trust that God is still at work in my life even amidst the turmoil and uncertainty. Confession restored my soul.
Confession, as it turned out, was what I needed all along.