For the last few months I’ve had this phrase on my phone’s background
“Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me”Isaiah 30:15 (The Message paraphrase)
It’s a reminder that I’ve placed before my eyes as frequently as my phone ever is (too often), in the hope that it will eventually soak into my heart. It speaks to my all-too-human impulse to make it happen for myself, to take things into my own hands and bend them to my own will. To make it work… somehow.
The last few months have been breaking that impulse in me. No, wrong word, “breaking” is overly optimistic. They’ve been exposing that impulse and defying it – by the sheer fact of my inability to make it work.
In this situation the “it” is a house, a home. We upped sticks and moved to the city to follow the call of God, confidently assuming that he’d fairly quickly open the door to a new home, and grateful that we could trespass on my parents’ hospitality until he did so.
It honestly hasn’t been that long, and in so many ways we are blessed (So. Much. Privilege). But the rootlessness of it, the mental load, the pressure of the transition – all without the family rhythms to anchor us – have been destabilising and often overwhelming.
If only we could settle down.
Our obvious inability to make that happen for ourselves makes obvious my need to settle down into what was always my true state: dependence.
Waiting reveals our inability to control the pace of our lives.
This is profoundly challenging because many of us have been told from our earliest days that we can make it happen. If we just work hard enough and believe hard enough, then we can make it work. There is, of course, some truth in this; it’s your level of grit that determines your success over and above the natural talent your possess.*
But at a deeper level this impulse towards progress, this over-reaching mastery, needs to be challenged. I’m firmly convinced that they’re some of the “patterns of this world” and the powers of this age (Rom 12:2; Eph 6:12) that must be dethroned. And I like that idea, until it has to be worked out in my own heart.
I had a plan. It wasn’t a strict timeline, but there were goals, a strategy, and some desired outcomes that were at least a little time-bound. I submitted that plan to God and… he didn’t take much notice. I was left with the fresh remembrance that I don’t get to twist his arm, he doesn’t owe me anything; however much I name it, I don’t always get to claim it. The expectant anticipation was turning to bitterness, as an accumulation of disappointments produced that heart-sickening deferral of hope that Proverbs 13:12 talks about.
And then we all got COVID (and not the “minor cold” version), and I was undone further. I wouldn’t say the camel’s back was broken, but she was down on the ground, passed out exhausted.
There’s nothing like illness to reveal to you your inability to control things.
Good health can give you the illusion that you can, but it’s a precarious state. Your capacities are not guaranteed to you. As a professional thinker, the lingering brain fog was problematic and worrying. While I’m grateful that I’m coming out the other side now, to be honest, it scared me to be confronted again with the reality that I can’t just rely on my talents, resources, and the grit that allows me to push harder to make it work – they are simply insufficient.
And that’s what it is, a reality. It’s how things really are. The sense that I could make it happen for myself was a hubristic illusion, an overweening arrogance. Just a few steps short of building my own Tower of Babel – and let’s be honest together, you’d be keen to build it with me, united in our denial of our dependence on God.
This season has been eroding my confidence in my flesh (cf Phil 3:1-4), and surely that is a good thing, however awfully uncomfortable it might feel. I have needed this lesson, and I’m sure I will need it again and again. A little part of me is starting to even want it – a very little part.
Even if I don’t like it, I value the humility this season is cultivating in me. My pride separates me from God, but humility attracts his special favour (Prov 3:34; Jam 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5). I’m in a dangerous place when I’m feeling like I’m on top of things, I’ve got it all together, and I’m equal to all the tasks ahead of me. I like it (oh, how I do), but for me that’s a place of pride, and I know it isn’t good for me.
No neat bow to tie on the top of this one (sorry, not sorry), only an invitation to see things as they really are, to lean into the discomfort of that, and to settle down into humble dependence on God.
* I’m reading Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: Why Passion and Persistence are the Secrets to Success, and I’m convinced (mostly). Overall, I’d say my grit levels are pretty high. I remember saying to a tiny baby in the wee hours of the night, when she still hadn’t figured out how to breastfeed, “we are going to get this, I am not giving up, I am a whole lot more stubborn than you kiddo!”. Maybe I should have been kinder to myself, and her, but grit got me through that season (that and a whole lot of nipple cream).