"I will wait for the Lord, who has turned away..."
This post has been on my heart for a while now.
Recently, in conversation with a friend, she recounted what pushed her into a deeper relationship with God. Until early college, she had been a part of faith only incidentally, without any intent, only out of habit and mostly without meaning. I asked her what changed. She told me how her boyfriend had broken her heart. The day after the break up she turned to her Bible and found Philippians 4:6. Be anxious about nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ. Already emotionally fragile, this put her crying again. They were the words she needed to hear, the promise, the hope, the hand at the end of the rope. When all her strength was gone, when her heart was in tumult, there she found something beyond herself.
Another friend of mine found herself in similar circumstances. She was deeply involved in her church, committed to a life in pursuit of God, and in love. Then, she too found herself heartbroken. The hope, the promise, the hand, all seemed gone. Her strength was gone, her heart was in tumult; there she found a God she wasn't sure she could trust anymore.
These two lives arrived at the same crossroads from different directions. Through deeply emotional experiences, they found everything they'd put their trust in had failed. All they believed, though different, couldn't adequately account for the broken place they found themselves in. It was a new beginning in a way. The end of one thing brought many things to an end, and something had to fill the vacancy. In both lives, a moment in time, a life experience, brought everything into question, and they were forced to choose between holding on to old beliefs that couldn't explain their present circumstances or exchanging them all for a new view of the world. All they trusted in had let them down, so where would they put their trust now?
I've been rereading CS Lewis' The Four Loves. In it, he refers to Augustine's Confessions and paraphrases it: Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him...This is what comes, he says, of giving one's heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be only for the Beloved [God] who will never pass away.
Augustine's conclusion seems logical and spiritual and right. Whatever we love will die, or end, or let us down. So love nothing, no one, except God, who will never die, never end, never fail. This seems to be common sense for those who want to avoid heartache. If one can guard against the deep suffering of being let down, is this not the better choice? With both of my friends, this is the conclusion one comes to: "Everything has failed me, so I will find a new faith, something I have not trusted in before that may prove more trustworthy." I see the sense in that.
It is often in the moments when all is lost, that we begin to grasp at something real. Yet, I would say only one of my friends fits this description. I wrote often because there are also times when everything only appears to fail. It takes a keen mind and a faithful heart to distinguish between an appearance and true failure. There are times that all seems worthless but it only needs to change, not be abandoned. The house must be rebuilt, or the foundation replaced, but the land is still good. Yet, we often believe that we must find a new location altogether.
Here two more insights from Lewis arise. In his most famous work, Mere Christianity, I believe he calls God "The Great Iconoclast." An iconoclast is one who shatters images, icons. For God, Lewis says, this means that he is always breaking down our images and understandings of Him so that a clearer image can replace it, a better understanding can prevail, a finer picture emerge. Is this what God has done when "everything has failed"? We must consider the possibility. And, before we abandon God, we must entertain the possibility that God would let us down in such profound, heartbreaking ways because he relentlessly expects to be known as he is, not as we would want him to be ("the God of the intact heart"). We must be willing to know God as he is, not according to what we prefer. This pursuit will always keep us humble.
A second insight from Lewis comes from an essay entitled "The Obstinacy of Belief" in The World's Last Night. He uses this example: a friend has agreed to meet you at a pub at 8 pm. You arrive early, order a drink and wait. You're feeling impatient by ten after. By 8:30 your concerned but also put out. Two explanations are in your head: (1) your friend is inconsiderate. (2) your friend is delayed by something beyond his control. Now, the option you decide to believe is guided most by your history with that friend: has he stood you up before? is she regularly late in arriving? is he always early? is she dependable like the dawn? You know the character of an individual often from the first impression and soon, clearly, through ongoing experience. By 9 pm, you've had a few drinks and this generally reliable friend has become the object of your scorn. You pay your tab and head for the door. Outside, your friend arrives, breathless. And with a most honorable explanation. In the moment that faith was lost, just after you had given up, your own faithlessness is stripped naked. All that anger and personal insult reveals you to be a poor friend, reveals you to be cynical and untrusting.
So it is with God, Lewis turns it to us. We must go on believing in the face of our deepest circumstances, we must go on trusting in the longest trial, for it may be that in the moment we walk out the door, God is arriving. Or maybe we leave and turn the corner, just as he crests the hill, and we've missed him altogether.
This is when I understood the words of Paul to Timothy: Though we are faithless, yet he is faithful. For he cannot deny himself. Faithfulness is God. He cannot be otherwise, cannot deny who he is; he can be no other. Only we can fail in faith. Every failure in our relationship to God will be on our side, every time. Only faithlessness produces a God who cannot be trusted. His complete faithfulness is the reason we must wait until midnight or later, because when he arrives, we shall have proven faithful, having our lamps supplied with enough oil, and waiting in complete confidence that he will arrive, and the reunion will be a celebration. We shall find it worth the wait.
Back in The Four Loves, Lewis responds to Augustine's warnings against loving anything but God: We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he "loved." ... There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will eventually be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Lewis finds that he disagrees with Augustine. Those who seek to love nothing become unable to love. Their hearts are unbreakable, unloving.
This past week, after I'd written this post, I turned on the TV and found Home Alone 2 on cable. The scene was the meeting between Kevin and the Pigeon Lady. She's baring her heart about how she'd been hurt, couldn't trust, been pushed out, afraid to love, a victim of life, now out on the street where pigeons were her only companions. Here's their conversation:
I wasn't always like this.
What were you like before?
I had a job. I had a home. - I had a family.
No. I wanted them. But the man I loved fell out of love with me. That broke my heart. When the chance to be loved came along again...I ran away from it. I stopped trusting people.
No offense, but that seems like sort of a dumb thing to do.
I was afraid of getting my heart broken again. Sometimes you can trust a person...and then, when things are down, they forget about you.
Maybe they're just too busy. Maybe they don't forget about you, but they forget to remember you. People don't mean to forget. My grandfather says if my head wasn't screwed on, I'd leave it on the school bus.
I'm just afraid if I do trust someone, I'll get my heart broken.
I understand. I had a nice pair of Rollerblades. I was afraid to wreck them so I kept them in a box. Do you know what happened? I outgrew them. I never wore them outside. Only in my room a few times.
A person's heart and feelings are very different than skates.
They're kind of the same thing. If you won't use your heart, who cares if it gets broken? If you just keep it to yourself, maybe it'll be like my Rollerblades. When you do decide to try it, it won't be any good.
Whether your heart is wrapped in a coffin--unbreakable--or in a box in the attic--unusable--the outcome is the same--you're heart is dead.
Lewis offers an alternative, the only option we have: We must give to God, surrender, our hearts. We must go on loving and give him our heartache and our fears that would keep us from loving. We must give back to him what was never ours in the first place: our love, our hearts, even our broken hearts.
God will break your heart. Probably more than once. And it will appear as though God has failed you--that he can't be trusted. Sometimes it's part of shattering the image you have made of him that is not him. But how could we trust a God who let us believe wrong things about him? No, that will not do. When God breaks our hearts it is precisely because we can trust him, to know him better, deeper, truer.
Your intact heart is less important than God being the object of your love and trust. We are told that the greatest commandment is to Love God and Love People. Neither love can exist alone; they must happen together. Loving God enables us to love people. Loving people is an expression of our love for God. When we stop loving people because they break our hearts, we no longer can say that we love God. And if we stop loving God because he has broken our hearts, we can no longer honestly tell another person, "I love you"--for it will be a lie. It will only be a mock-up of love, not the real thing.
A broken heart is often the grief over wasted years. An investment is made over time, and that investment is stipped from the heart, leaving it vacant and hollow, the aching emptiness. That's the sadness that both my friends experienced. I'm reminded of a song I heard Chris Tomlin singing with David Crowder: The only lines I remember are these: A lover for the lonely...he brings peace in our madness, comfort in our sadness...he will wipe away the tears, and redeem your wasted years, This is our God.
When we walk out the door of the pub before God arrives, there is no redemption for our wasted time. The hours we spent waiting find no reward. The years we spent serving him, loving others, whatever, cannot be redeemed if we're not there when he arrives (when we see him as he is, not as we had once imagined). And after we leave the pub, all that we do to make up for those years will be added to the sum of wasted years. Only God can redeem them. But we must prove faithful. We must say with Isaiah: "I will wait for the Lord, who has turned away...I will put my hope in him."