July 4, 2020

One Last Gasp

A few nights ago, I passed through the room where my husband sat watching television. I stopped and stood mesmerized – gripped by the depiction of a woman drowning. It was so graphic that I had a sense of struggle within me as I saw her fight against the sea that wouldn’t let her surface. I remembered the times as a small child my throat and nose burned from the accidental intake of pool or lake water and the sense of panic I felt until an adult hand would reach down and pluck me to safety.

For this woman there was no rescue. The seawater filled her lungs. Her eyes bulged with the realization of her impending death. Then she ceased her struggle and sank into a murky abyss.

I could think of a lot of ways I wouldn’t want to die. Drowning is right at the top of the list. Nevertheless, I realized that in a spiritual sense drowning is the very thing that has been causing such a fight in me for nearly a year.

What is it that has me fighting so hard?

Control.

The desire for control is undeniably part of the human condition, more apparent in some than in others. Perhaps my inordinate desire for it arises from having none as a child. I watched as the adults around me surrendered themselves to alcohol and financial ruin and our family life to chaos and despair. Sometime around the age of eleven, I began to have the idea that I could have a better life down the road if I started working for it.

In hindsight the idea that we as humans have as much control as we think we do is delusional, but having it as a goal at least gave me something to do and focused my energies positively. I strived as a student. I created what order I could at home by cooking and cleaning after school. I worked various jobs and saved money toward college. It was also about the time I began seeking after God.

When I handed my life over to Christ in 1975 I knew it was the most significant event of my fourteen years, but I immediately went about applying the same work ethic to my relationship with him as I did everything else. In my mind, I had to merit the salvation he’d so freely given me and earn any future blessings. I approached Bible study, prayer and church attendance with determination. They were on my daily agenda to be checked off along with homework, housekeeping, cooking and running off to whatever job I was working at the time.

Control over myself and others was the motive for everything I did. I was quiet and shy for fear I’d do or say something stupid or wrong. I isolated myself from friends for fear that I’d get in trouble with them. I controlled younger siblings by threatening to flush them down the toilet for fear their rowdiness would push parents to anger and more drinking.

Over the years I discovered that trying to control other people doesn’t work out well. They resent it. Later, I came to a turning point with one of my young children. I’d been striving hard to conform her to my image, only make her better. I wanted her to love school and have every opportunity and encouragement that I’d wanted. No, she was an artist, a lover of the outdoors and so active she wouldn’t sit still for stories or any of the teaching I wanted to lavish on her.

In frustration, I confessed my failures and my daughter’s resistance to my friend Joan. “Lisa, learn to enjoy her uniqueness,” she said. “God made her that way. Quit trying to control her.” Joan’s words surprised and stung me, but I did take them to heart realizing that the desire to control others is the arrogant claim to be their God.

Oh, I’m so ashamed to admit this, but I’ve also wanted to control God. When I pray, I want to hear his voice. When I read his word, I want his wisdom to flood me. When I serve him, I want to feel his pleasure. When I am confused, I want his explanation of things. I want all these things now. I want to control the circumstances he allows in my life, so I work hard to force outcomes I desire. I want to control his access to me and everything I hold dear, so I hold them back, giving lesser offerings as Cain did. “I want that sheep you are holding in your arms,” says the Lord.

I say, “Here are some nice grapes; have these instead.” After all, I worked hard to grow them.

Working backward from more extraneous issues I discover that I’m still secretly claiming rights to myself. What I really want is to be my own god. I want to live and not die.

Didn’t Paul say in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me?” Am I not dead? In Christ I am. In experience, however, I keep trying to live out of habit. Like the proverbial chicken separated from its head that still runs and flaps its wings, I fool myself into believing I live and am in control.

Those of us who want to be our own gods don’t necessarily give ourselves to open rebellion. We can as easily defy God’s will for us with ceremonious morality. The point is, whether we try to grasp sovereignty over our lives in law keeping or debauchery, we clutch the key to the vault of our precious things just out of God’s reach. We may even walk along the edge of the abyss of his will, but refuse to jump.

There are a few precious things that God has identified in my life over the past year. To give them up, or be willing to give them up, means dying to myself. It means acknowledging his Godness and my deadness. It means drowning in a manner of speaking. He wants what I do not want to surrender. Some of it is so personal I can’t share, but some I will.

Writing has always been a passion, but I cut my education short when I married young and started a business with my husband. Twenty-some years of life later, I believed I could finally take it up again as long as I still worked my day job and managed all my other obligations. I plunged in, working hard and enjoying it for a few years.

Last year, a tsunami of sorts hit. Various family members moved in and out of my house due to serious illness or job loss. Another experienced the end of a relationship. As I finished one writing program, my mentor recommended me for another more advanced one. In the midst of family upheaval I scrambled to apply and prepare a book proposal.

I sulked for two weeks when I didn’t get into the program. Then I started to rewrite wondering how the circumstances of my life would allow me time, concentration and energy to complete a book, but my stubborn desire to control the situation kicked practicality out the window. I put blinders on and forged ahead.

Perhaps I was too stubborn. The project took an emotional and relational toll. Recently, I realized that had Christ come to me and said, “You’re paying me lip service with your life. Give up this writing; it is more precious to you than I am,” I would have been hard pressed to do it.

On the surface, most people would characterize me as serene. Below the surface, however, I wage battles. I don’t want to hand over my things or change directions. I don’t want to go down a different path – the one Christ chooses for me. I like the path I choose, the path of life.  I don’t want to die.

Recently, I heard the story of a Chinese couple with a 10-year-old daughter. The woman became pregnant again, this time with a son violating China’s one-child policy. Eight months into her pregnancy officials seized the woman, beat her and kicked her in the stomach. Then they dragged her to the hospital where her baby was killed with a lethal injection. The distraught husband waited outside for their dead child to be born and wondered how they would explain it all to their daughter.

Compare this to another story. A year ago, I awoke at 3:00 a.m. and waited while my mother prepared to leave for the hospital and the open-heart surgery that would result in eight bypasses. Her entire body was bathed in antiseptic and she knew that she was about to undergo could as easily kill her as it could save her life.

She briefly shed tears that morning and I saw her hands shaking as she gathered her things, but she went to the hospital willingly. Once there, I watched her emerge in her hospital gown, lie down on the bed that would be her home for days to come and offer her body to needles and ports, knowing ventilators, saws and heart-lung machines awaited her in another room.

What is the major difference in these two stories? Both accounts involved hospitals, doctors and a vulnerable woman as the center of focus. Yet the outcome was vastly different. For the Chinese woman, doctors intended a grisly destruction. For my mom, doctors intended a masterful restoration. Am I willing to place myself into the hands of God knowing that my destruction is actually his restoration?

Oh, that I would see God’s intent in all that he does and wants to do in my life. When he asks me to give myself and what I cherish over to him its for his glory and so that I might have his life.

In John 6:54 Jesus said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him at the last day.” This statement prompted some frantic discussion among those following him. In saying this, Christ seemed to be defying God’s law. Jews were forbidden from even tasting blood because it contained the life. Ah yes, Jesus’ point entirely. He intended that we have his.

When they heard this, his followers said, “This is a hard saying,” and Scripture records that many turned back and walked with him no more.”

The things Christ will ask us to do. They often make no sense. They may seem contrary to what we’ve always believed. He wends his way into the most guarded corners of our treasure storehouse and puts his finger on what we cherish most. Sometimes he makes us give them up. Sometimes, as with Abraham, he leads us just to the point of sacrificing our Isaac and stays our hand at the last minute.

These are not the acts of a capricious God, but the passionate pursuit of those for whom he is jealous. A few mornings back I lay on the floor spent after wrestling with him over a treasure or two he is demanding. Okay, I’ve been working hard for this, but you can have the writing. You can end it or advance it. You can speak mediocrity over it or you can breath life into it. I take my hands off. It is yours.

It dawned on me that the pain sprang not from handing this over, but from the loss of myself, my perceived sovereignty. He doesn’t so much want me to lose things I love; he wants me to lose my life – my pathetic, arrogant, self-centered, fearful, small life so that I can finally experience the rich, full beauty of his.

They never get easier – these periodic drownings. I struggle and flail frantically. Finally, I take one last gasp and die a little death, but he is there waiting to breath his life into me and he will be there the next time as well.

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    There is a politician who is running for the U.S. Senate from the state of Delaware who has mentioned being privy to ‘ classified’ information’ about China’s one-baby policy. When pushed about her sources, she did give her sources she stated, “There’s much I want to say. I wish I wasn’t privy to some of the classified information that I am privy to.”

    “A country that forces women to have abortions and mandates that you can only have one child and will not allow you the freedom to read the Bible, you think they can be our friend?” she asked. “We have to look at our history and realize that if they pretend to be our friend it’s because they’ve got something up their sleeve.”
    O’Donnell’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to questions about the comments.
    At the debate, opponent Jan Ting countered that China has the potential to become a more Democratic country and an important ally.
    “I think our China policy has to be handled very carefully,” Ting said. “We have the capability of making an enemy or a friend out of China.”
    When Ting challenged O’Donnell’s claim about having secret information, O’Donnell didn’t answer specifically but suggested she had received it through nonprofit groups she worked with that frequently sent missionaries there.”
    http://www.newsok.com/christine-odonnell-said-china-plotting-to-take-over-us/article/3501301

    My question is this: can you share your source for the story on forced abortion in China with us, please?
    Thanks if you can.

  2. Thanks Lisa for sharing so openly with us. You have touched on something I’ve also been pondering over. I am in the on-going process of learning the grace of yielding to God and to others. You pointed out the inner battle that is usually not recognized by others, and yet we know its going on. And it’s God’s loving hand at work in our lives, showing us what we need to lose in order to gain. Thanks so much.

  3. Lisa,

    Thank you for this posting, it is very thought provoking.

    One of my favorite priests used to say that he had to learn. “God is God; and I am not.”

    Christine,

    Here’s a link to that story about the abortion in China. That one is public info

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2010/oct/10102109.html

  4. Let me try to connect this post with the previous one with a quote from Mark Galli’s book, Jesus Mean And Wild. Galli says,

    “As Jesus draws near, so rises the storm. The reasons for the increasing storm are many. When Jesus draws near, he draws near as Lord, and he implicitly challenges all other lords. These lords do not care to be toppled from their pedestals, and during a crisis, when their lordship is challenged, they will demand ever greater devotion. The closer Jesus gets, the more violent the storm within. It gets to the point that either we must die or Jesus must die, and our souls fight ferociously for self-preservation.”

    So true. Our natural reaction to the threat of death is to fight for life. That’s why Jesus says we must pick up our cross. It takes a willingness on our part to die to self. Either we must die, or Jesus in us must die. This is a great post and a great quote dealing with a topic none of us really want to face.

    Thank you, Lisa, for your openness and vulnerability.

  5. Luther talks about the old Adam in us being drowned daily in our baptism.

  6. The storm rages when Jesus comes. That is so true. The fight within is something so profound but, Jesus really is in there toppling over all of our gods. Thanks for the post!

  7. patrick – you took the words right out of my mouth. we need to daily drown that old adam and allow the new man to rise forth, for as luther said, “the old adam is a good swimmer”.

  8. Thank you, Lisa. May we learn to celebrate these baptismal drownings that through his great grace lead to newness of life.

  9. I cried with you and for you recognising myself too.

    “Love so amazing,so Divine demands my soul,my life ,my all.”

    “….. Nothing within or around us has significance or power enough to move us to so exalted a life, but the Lord Jesus Christ CAN and DOES…..” Rev. W. Graham Scroggie

  10. You dared to write what few will believe. As a fellow writer, your words resonated deeply with me. For the readers with the ears to hear I pray they will heed the wisdom you shared. The words of life mean death to the gods within us.

  11. Lisa,

    I have been reading IM for a year, recently I took the plunge & made a few comments. My first post I felt compelled to respond to was the thread on depression is selfish, perhaps that is telling. I saw last night that you had written and I thought O, I will save her words for morning, when I’m not so tired. I love how open you are, your words pry deep & you speak for me and I would guess for a lot of us, when you write out of your wounds & struggle… I once heard that our core calling is our core wound which sounded good at the time because the first 18 years of my life were a hell of a mess, and I have been unraveled for another 46 years by how deeply it shaped me, I’m still a mess, or like Dan Allender might say, ‘I’m a glorious ruin, but I have hope. Which brings me to a book, I don’t know Tim Farrington (so I’m not trying to plug him) but his book “A Hell of Mercy” might bless you. He wrote: For more than 20 years I had prided myself on surviving as a writer. No matter how bad things got, I would raise my meager quota of pages like the flag at Fort McHenry in “The Star-Spangled Banner”; by the rockets red glare, I would offer my tattered art to the world. It was the symbol of my endurance, if nothing else; and my sense of vocation, of doing the work that God had given me, was my rock. Secretly, I never really let go of the notion that all this faithfulness would lead to a happy ending in the finest literary tradition: I would end up on the best-seller lists… Now, in the brutal clarity of the night, I began for the first time to consider that God had called me not to a path of vindication and the trumpets of succcess but to failure, and to silence. Because silence was the deepest truth of my existence now.”
    I don’t know if I am breaking copyright rules here, and I worry that I have spouted off or that this might come across as I’m trying to fix…I pray that is not the case, I hope that you continue writing, you have a way with words that God uses in my heart.

    • Gail, thank you so much for your book suggestion. I felt badly that I couldn’t respond to some of the comments as this post appeared while I was celebrating my youngest daughter’s birthday. I’m truly touched by the kind words here.

      Recently I read some of Andrew Murray’s work. He said, “Whatever God creates is exquisitely suited to its end.” (I hope I got that right.) It’s a good reminder that God doesn’t waste even the hellish messes of our lives, but uses them for purposes sometimes only he can see.

      There have been so many times I’ve read writings of others that have encouraged, blessed, convicted or moved me to action and I’ve thanked God that person wrote. Indeed, where would we be if no one had answered the call to pen the words of Scripture? I always hope what words I write will have some positive effect.

      Again, thank you.

      • Luther said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”

        Thank you, Lisa, for answering God’s call for you to write. Truly, you are changing the world of all of us iMonks with your words.

      • Lisa, Bless You! Again, I am grateful for your voice: “I’ve also wanted to control God. When I pray, I want to hear his voice. When I read his word, I want his wisdom to flood me. When I serve him, I want to feel his pleasure. When I am confused, I want his explanation of things. I want all these things now. I want to control the circumstances he allows in my life, so I work hard to force outcomes I desire. I want to control his access to me and everything I hold dear, so I hold them back, giving lesser offerings as Cain did. “I want that sheep you are holding in your arms,” says the Lord.
        It is a wonder how you name the struggle I suspect many (if aware) battle! Hope your little girls b-day was delightful! I promise I wont be a pest, but remembered this poem I read a few years ago, it is a little blunt but good sarcasm.

        Dripping Sarcasm ( by Marie Scott)

        Oh, Lord, my heart is complex as it
        sorts through it’s confusion,
        I question WHY your Spirit
        doesn’t unravel the tangles
        with a colossal intrusion.

        I want this pain to evaporate magically,
        that is one of my expectations
        of my self made diety.

        Make it simple, do it quick,
        you are the magician
        do your trick!

        OH, look what I have created,
        a god whose sole purpose
        is to make me blissfully elated.

        And when this god of mine doesn’t
        bring to pass all of my demands,
        then I toss out His principles
        and ignore His commands.

        For I only want a god who only
        comes through for me,
        and if he doesn’t than I will light
        my own fires in the dark to see. (Isaiah 50:11)

        O, Jesus, You are the great Physician,
        forgive me for reducing You to being
        nothing more than my personal magician.

        Help me now to sit quiet in this silent place,
        where I have no experience of felt grace…

  12. I see this post as being about humility. I am reading Joan Chittister’s book The Rule of Benedict and on page 73 she writes, “There is room, humility knows, for all of us in life. We are each an ember of the mind of God and we are each sent to illumine the other through the dark places of life to sanctuaries of truth and peace where God can be God for us because we have relieved ourselves of the ordeal of being god ourselves. We can simply unfold ourselves and become.”

    Thank you, Lisa, for helping to “illumine” us in our dark places.

  13. Oh, there are two long paragraphs on page 74 in the book I mentioned above that speaks even more to what Lisa is writing about. Lisa, if you would like to see them, you can send me a private email and I will send them to you. Chittister talks about what the Bible means when it refers to us becoming “perfect.”