It’s been a rough year for everyone, but it feels especially bad in very personal ways in my house. Changes are coming in 2021, some of them overwhelming. To weather them and prosper, I need to lighten my load, be willing to do without things I have known and that I’ve counted on. Some things I can keep, but many more will go: things I’ve loved and still do. I have to admit, I don’t know which is which. Things I count dear – precious, actually – will be once and for all cast upon the waters, forced to proceed without my hand on the rudder. Letting go is never an easy task, but when He shows me, God help me, I will.
Our year started the way each year has started (and ended) for the 9 1/2 years I’ve been in Idaho. First of all, assimilate though I try, I’m not us, I’m them. I’m not and never will be from here. Sometimes I am both refugee and pariah.
Beyond that, in 2020 external factions outside our agency ramped up efforts to dissolve it to slake the thirst of some folks with naked, overweening hubris.
Then too, I lost an election in May (to different factions of the same ilk as the first), the Professor came down with a scary case of COVID in July and we had to self-isolate for 1-1/2 months, a seemingly perfect job prospect tanked, and this week I got an ominous email summoning me to come to a little-jay-jesus meeting next week.
Adding insult to injury, a first-ever beach vacation we planned for December is officially off, victim of a resurgence of COVID here and there. Dang, I needed a vacation.
I needed to pretend 2020 didn’t happen, dig my toes into the sand, and listen to the ocean. Now the only waves I’ll hear will roar through computer speakers.
I don’t tell you these things to provoke pity or ask you to pray to turn around anything, but to share some things that despite this very rotten year give me hope. Things I’ve learned about myself and Him.
First, depression will overtake me in the wake of these things if I allow it. The presence of God is all around me to keep them at bay, but I have to want Him more than I want to indulge myself. I’ve finally learned that self-pity must be precious to me too, for all the trouble I’ve had ridding myself of it. I’ve learned that nasty things that happen are not just crosses to bear, but invitations to know Him more. They’re an opportunity to make room for Him in my heart by casting things and/or my misplaced affections for them on the waters to be carried away to the Sea of Forgetfulness.
There was time not long ago when I shook my fist at God in the face of such things and honestly, I toyed with doing that again yesterday and even this morning. But about forty years ago I told God I wanted to know Him. Not about Him, but truly know Him – understand His heart. I earnestly said, whatever You have for me, God, I want it. The blessings and the heartaches. I want to be like King David, Corrie Ten Boom, and AW Tozer. I want to hear Your voice, for our hearts to move as one. I want You to remove anything within me that keeps me from knowing You.
This year (and what could happen next year) assures me He took me at my word.
AW Tozer wrote:
“Before the Lord God made man upon the earth He first prepared for him by creating a world of useful and pleasant things for his sustenance and delight. In the Genesis account of the creation, these are called simply “things”. They were made for man’s uses, but they were meant always to be external to the man and subservient to him. In the deep heart of the man was a shrine where none but God was worthy to come. Within Him was God; without, a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him.
But sin has introduced complications and has made those very gifts of God a potential source of ruin to the soul… Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne… Our Lord referred to this tyranny of things when He said to His disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it’… The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things. The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. These are the ‘poor in spirit’…”
A new life in a new state free from the regulatory and tax excesses of California was a gift. So too was this job I now have, serving local governments, farmers and ranchers, providing for my family, and our good health. All of them are blessings (with some downsides) that can be twisted if I enthrone them and quickly stripped from me. I asked for it. I must be ever-ready to release them, just as I was to embrace them.
Moses’ mother circumvented a terrible edict to kill Hebrew boys by making a boat of reeds and placing her only son into the waters, launching him into his destiny. Abraham made ready his son Isaac to sacrifice, opening the way for the provision of God and a different sacrifice. Jesus was crucified on the ugliest day to make way for a better day.
Who knows why 2020 has happened to us in these ways, but if I relinquish everything, who knows what can happen? He does.
I can do no less than to cast my precious and not-so-precious things – any and all of them – adrift, secure in the knowledge that it will be well with my soul and that through 2020 and today, I have come to know God more and better. That prayer I prayed forty years ago was the catalyst to much joy and also, pain.
I wouldn’t change a thing.