In our Bible Study at church right now we are working through a study called "Detox: Clearing the Way for Spiritual Wellness". It's designed for women specifically, and the chapters are divided up as issues that affect every one of us and keep us from being who God made us to be. We've worked through 2 chapters so far - Fear and Envy. And as you can imagine, it's not lighthearted. Even the chapters I think won't be as convicting end up revealing things in my life and heart that I didn't realize were there. It's connecting a lot of dots for me.
I've been constantly thinking about the relationships that exist between fear and faith, envy and contentment, and the more I mull it over the more the Holy Spirit seems to be opening my eyes. And I'm so thankful for that - when we ask the Lord to reveal things to us, He will! For me, this only happens when I've created space for Him, though. Quiet space. Empty space in my mind. I'm only given this once in my day, naturally - when I'm in the shower. And so I create it again every morning with a quiet time that starts well before my little ones wake up. I read somewhere that it's a good idea to start your quiet time with God by saying "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." (Was it Angie Smith?) I thought that was so beautiful - inviting the Lord to speak, and then sitting quietly. I've practiced this all summer, and have been humbled that my God would speak to me at all, much less open my eyes to things that have brought so much freedom where there was brokenness. He is such a good God.
I didn't think that I struggled with envy when I began our latest Bible Study chapter (which I completed at the beginning of the summer). And then I read the scripture verses that explained what an evil envy is, and how far its destruction reaches in our hearts and spills out into our lives and affects everything. I felt a catch in my spirit as I read about what the woman looks like who does NOT envy. Who is free to live in light of who God is, who isn't chained down by her unmet desires that have wreaked jealous havoc on her soul. That is when I realized that envy had a place in my heart, and was determined to root it out.
What I found wasn't pretty. I was envious of others, but not in obvious ways. A well hidden sin is still sin, though. The Spirit revealed to me that I envied the relationship dynamics of others. I envied the strengths and gifts that other women I admired had, and the ways that God was obviously using them.
The thing I am realizing about envy is that it can be very subtle. It can be born out of a God-given desire. We start with something that is pure - a desire to be used by God... to have spiritual gifts that He will use for His glory and kingdom purposes... companionship and intimacy in marriage... friendships that encourage us... to have children... to raise children that love the Lord... for health... to feel satisfied, protected, loved and full of joy... and yet, when these gifts aren't given to us when we expect them, after we've asked God for them, when they seem like things we have come to deserve, when everyone around us is receiving these gifts and we stand empty handed, the bitter root of jealousy begins to grow.
I had this happen over the summer. I was forcing God's had with a gift I thought I deserved, something I thought every believer was promised and something that I had been asking for for a very long time. It seemed like the time had come for this gift to be given to me, and the more I tried to make it happen, the more frustrated I grew. I saw other women around me who had been given this gift and lived with the joy of it almost daily. It makes me really sad to admit that I found it hard to be happy for them, while I struggled with empty hands and theirs were full. I wouldn't say I was angry at them, but my heart had an ache for what they had and each reminder was painful. A painful reminder that (from my perspective) God was withholding blessing from me.
Instead of running straight to the Lord, I consoled myself. "It's coming", I would say. "Keep working hard at this. Keep praying." But it wasn't something I could force into being. Not by my own strength, not by my own hand. My initial God-given desire, which was intended to be brought before Him, was turning into what I felt was a debt He owed me, a RIGHT that I had.
Eventually things broke apart. What followed was a day or two of the most intense sorrow I have ever felt. I trusted the Lord deep down in my soul, but I couldn't see how things would be pieced back together again. Where I once desired blessing and a good gift, now I just hoped for a little bit of healing. I couldn't stop the tears no matter how much I tried to pull myself together. After a day or so, I decided that God was God, and what He says is True, and because I love Him I will always submit to Him. And that meant laying this all out before Him. I put it on the altar and offered my hopes and dreams and desires to Him as a sacrifice. I told Him that I needed Him, I wanted Him more than I wanted the gift I had been seeking. And if He never gave it to me, I would still love and serve Him with my life and submit to Him in every way, in the absence of this gift. I asked Him to just keep walking with me.
So I gave it up. The dream I had held onto. I died a little that night and I wondered how He would make anything beautiful out of it. But as quickly as things had fallen apart, He came near and began to restore all of the brokenness. I still feel unworthy of how soon He came and made Himself known to me, because it was sheer mercy. One day later and I could feel His Spirit moving in my heart, opening my spiritual eyes to how I had gotten to this place, what I had tried to do on my own, how I had done so much wounding along the way without realizing it as I tried to "help" God's gift along in my life. The way my God-given desire in this area had turned into a right I felt I had to God's blessing. The fact that I had turned the God of the universe into my personal attendant of happiness. Seriously. I shudder at that. My holy God, who has done everything for me that I've ever needed, before I was even born, including the sacrifice of His own Son... treating Him like my personal genie. I had been so arrogant and stubborn.
I am so thankful for the awareness the Spirit gives to us when we honestly seek God. My eyes were opened to my sin, and as I confessed and asked for forgiveness, I realized that my perspective had to change. I'm not owed anything. Everything I have is a gift that is undeserved. My life is not about getting what God says He will (sometimes) give (to some of us). It's about living my life out of loving thanks for what He has already done, even if He doesn't give another good gift. It's enough.
I tended to the one in my life who was directly affected (deeply hurt) by the way I had been living, confessing what I now realized to be true about the things I had done and the ways it had destroyed relationship, and was met with loving forgiveness and gratitude for my new understanding. Hello, mercy. It's nice to see you again. Cool water to this burning soul. More evidence of God's active presence and Spirit in our lives.
And then I claimed the love and forgiveness of Jesus. That it would have no end in my life because He is the source. That I would always have more to pour out to others because it never runs out on me.
If you're still reading, I guess what I'm saying is that I learned this...
- God gives good and perfect gifts, but He gives them in His own perfect time, according to His wisdom and according to the plan He has for our lives. We will seldom understand it, but God doesn't call us to understanding. He calls us to love, to trust, to obedience.
- If I have an unmet God-given desire, I need to faithfully bring it before the Lord. I need to be honest with Him, asking Him to help me live in the tension of wanting what He says He can give, before it has been given to me. Asking Him to help me find contentment and rest in Him in the absence of the blessing. This cultivates a heart of humility, which mirrors that of Christ and brings God glory.
- The harder I chase the blessing, the more I miss the One Who Blesses. The only One who can truly satisfy my soul. The blessings will never fill me up. Yes they bring joy for a while, but God alone sustains my heart.
- Releasing what I desire to God allows me to live out the trust I have in Him. There is great freedom in believing and trusting that my life is unfolding according to His plan for me, and is not dependent upon me or the work I might be able to do to 'help it along'.
- When I find envy showing up in the corners of my heart, I need to listen to that. It says more about my heart, what I believe about God, and how I am choosing to worship Him (or not) than it says about others and what they have. Envy isn't really an issue with others - it's an issue of how I see God and what I believe to be true.
- Freedom from envy comes when I sacrifice my vision for the desires of my heart on the altar, letting them go and refusing to strive towards attaining them. It comes when I cultivate a spirit of humility, waiting patiently on The Lord. Trusting in Him because He is good, He is wise, and He loves me. He gives good gifts to His children, but He also sees the big picture. When I worship Him, I acknowledge that I am not God. And that is a very good place to be.