Unnecessary

“You are not a God in need of anything we can give…”        You Are God Alone

Reflecting on the song lyrics for Sunday worship a couple weeks ago, I grasped an amazing facet of God’s character; He never asks, “What do I get from you now that you have me?” If He did ask, the answer would be, “Nothing,” but the point is, He never asks. His actions and statements consistently inform the world, “I am free.”

People are wary of “free” things because they often come with strings attached. A “free” trial expires if you don’t buy the product. A “free” dessert comes only if you answer a survey.

When Jesus died, He gave forgiveness, love, hope, peace, and so much more … for free. These were characteristics of His nature which no one could obtain until He gave Himself away. He doesn’t provide us with a “free” trial of Christianity, hoping we’ll buy the real version three months later. He doesn’t ask us to be anyone special or do anything extraordinary to receive Him.

But that means a person could take everything God has to offer and run, without growing as a Christian and serving God?!

Yes, that’s exactly what could happen.

I would argue that a person who treats God cheaply like this for a lifetime didn’t understand His free gift and therefore, probably couldn’t have actually taken it, but that’s beside the point. Freely giving comes with risks.

In today’s world, we don’t give things away for free because of the risk involved: people ripping you off, taking advantage of you, and encouraging others to do the same. God risked His life and lost it for the world. He lost it gladly. It was part of His plan.

Free doesn’t mean cheap; free things are frequently priceless. I’ve never paid a person to encourage me, but their words do priceless things to my heart, spirit, and life. I’ve never paid for a hug, but it gives me the priceless feeling of friendship, which in its genuine form is also free. Sunsets are free … there are many more examples.

God doesn’t need anything from us in exchange for His free gift. He doesn’t even “need our hearts and lives,” like I’ve heard some evangelicals claim. He doesn’t need our worship – if He really needed it, He could form His own rock band.

Instead, God loves us. Being needed is not being loved. In fact, it is so far from being loved that it might as well be hate. Being needed means your presence is necessary, whether you’d like to be there or not; it means being inconvenienced; it means being asked to meet demands, deadlines, and expectations. Being needed means collective failure if you can’t do it and results in pride if you can. Sadly, saying we need God is often the way we convince ourselves we love Him.

Being needed is not being loved.

We are not necessary to God’s existence. We can’t be there for Him. He doesn’t inconvenience us or ask us to meet His expectations. He doesn’t fail when we don’t accept His free gift, and we can’t be proud if we do.

I’m guilty of suspicion in relationships. This character flaw has never been more obvious to me than during the past several months, partially because I’m surrounded by the most genuine love I’ve ever experienced (that of my church) and partially because I’m actually trying for the first time to establish good relationships.

My fall-back thought at the initiation of a relationship is, “What do you need from me?” My second thought logically follows, “Can I give you what you need?” So, I realize a person’s need, perceive that I can’t meet it, and back out of a relationship, or keep it at an acquaintance level. Or I’m pushed aside first for being unable to meet their needs before I can determine to back out.

But God’s relationship with me isn’t like that.

PraiseUN1
 Sunset Worship

 

After practicing “You Are God Alone” two nights in a row in my bed, I finally grasped the meaning of the line, “You are not a God in need of anything we can give,” and all these thoughts followed.

Because God doesn’t need – it’s not part of His nature – I can honestly see the supernatural grace He possesses in selecting me. He wants me in spite of myself. He alone can genuinely love me because He genuinely doesn’t need me.

When I truly grasp that passion and desire, I want to give and praise and thank and love and live for Him – not because it’s my obligation, not because He needs it, not because He’ll love me any more than He already does, not even because I owe it to Him, though I do – simply because … how could I not???

 

Switching Gears

Girl on Train SG
“Girl on Train”

This past week, I attended T4G, an amazing, challenging Christian conference about the gospel, leadership, Christian heritage, the fundamentals of the faith, current issues, and so much more. Any godly immersion is always a positive, but still overwhelming experience for me because there is so much I still have to know! And yet, I already have all the answers to all of the world’s most pressing questions.

I’m not sure if all of the allusions of this poem, written two or so years ago when I was very young, confused, and excited, work within my biblical theological framework currently, and I suppose at some point all analogies crumble, but when this mostly forgotten, slightly rough draft, modern piece composed on a train trip back to Detroit popped up on my Facebook feed today, I felt extremely grateful.

Going back to the moment that God filled my mind makes everything I perceive within or outside of my understanding pale, causing me to change my focus and creating a larger room in my excitement and questions for the greater glory; God chose me, and I am God’s forever and forever.

Switching Trains

It wasn’t the first time I was on the train at 5am today –
and, like every day, I had a ticket for the early trip
and left in the morning, going backward.
I didn’t intend to be traveling backward – I never do –
but I asked one passenger which way the train was facing
– he pointed –
then, I noticed his glasses slipping off his nose,
his upside-down newspaper.
His shirt was inside-out.
I didn’t follow his finger.
Dare I trust an idiot’s directions?

Not many people talk on the early morning train, going backward.
The wrong corners of buildings appear first.
I never see the warning signs.
The trees run away.
It’s dizzying – so dizzying
but it mesmerizes me into complacency –
I just stay there.

Moving is admitting a mistake.
Switching seats screams for stares.
And, in the awkward train jolts of the uneven aisle, I might
fall.
I might drop my baggage.
My precious things might break; my neatly-foldeds might scatter.
Never!
No, I have to stay there, whizzing backward, ashamed to turn around.

She has moved into my space. Very gracefully, it seems.
Baggage all intact, she sits across from me, facing forward.
She smiles.
I put one on, too.
Eye to eye to eye to eye.
Our knees knock.
She smiles again.
I take mine off.

It’s awkward to be face-to-face with a forward, smiling passenger
when I’m going backward.
I try not to look up and meet her eyes.
She obviously asked intelligent questions.
Listened.
I was the idiot.
She says, cheerily, “I’ll be going to the dining car. You?”
“I don’t.”
And then, she’s gone, baggage still intact.

Another woman gets on and sits next to me.
She obviously doesn’t mind the early morning train,
going backward.
She doesn’t speak, but I’m satisfied. She is like me.
Our minds have married into the dizziness
mesmerizing our synopses, clipping and reattaching the grey brain matter.
“What do you take the train for?” she asks.
I was happy with quiet, but now I say, confidently,
“I always take this train.”
She is happy with quiet now.

By and by, she says,
“I get mental treatments at the hospital that way a ways.
I’m dying.
I have to take this train.”
I am suddenly startled with the quiet.
Our minds have not married.
She has to be here?
Don’t we all choose to board?

I tug the conductor’s sleeve.
“Do I have a ticket for tomorrow’s train, too?”
Do I have to stay here?
He’s confused.
“You have the ticket. I just run the train.”
He turns around and continues running the train.
I’m sick of seeing the trees avoid me.
The odd corners are wrong.
I don’t understand the signs.

Blurred Scenery SG
“Peaceful Scene Blurred”

Dizzy, I get up and walk toward the bathroom.
With my hands, I turn the faucet on.
I splash water on my face.
Head down.
When I look in the mirror, I see
water droplets sparkling down my cheeks,
catching on my bangs, plinking into the sink like diamonds in a wishing well,
slipping down the drain.
Gone.
The mirror tells me that my glasses are sliding off my nose.
My hat is backward.
I’m only wearing one earring.

The train stops.
I hold tight to my baggage because I feel I’m getting off.
“Watcha doing?” the conductor shouts, angrily.
He tries to grab my arm.
“We’ll take-off again!”

Suddenly, I have switched. Very ungracefully, it seems.
I’m on another train now, trembling.
I’ve dropped a suitcase – it just fell from my watery hands.
My clothes unfolded.
Something broke.

Stumbling around, I hear,
“You may not want to stand there.”
Pushing my glasses up my nose, I see
a Man lay down his LIFE magazine.
“You’d be standing backward.” He says.
I can’t speak.
“Are these your things?” He bends down to pick up
my baggage.
He doesn’t flinch at the weight, the missing,
the broken.
He says, “Sit close to Me.
I’ll take your baggage.”

Originally posted on Tuesday Thursday Pen.

 

Loving Isn’t For You?!

Heart Cookies LIFY
Heart Cookies

On Valentine’s Day weekend, I made heart-shaped cookies with the people at the home where I work as a caregiver. We watched Titanic, epic love story of the 20th Century, and colored glittery valentines. As days go at the home, Valentine’s Day went well. I like days where the home feels cozy, warm, and loving.

Sometimes going out of the home ruins that feeling.

Sometimes we’re out in public together and someone walks a wide circle around us. Or someone gets quiet and hurries past us. Or adults pull their staring children away from us.

I want to cry because these people are often so unloved by the world. I watch them as they’re thrilled to be able to even pick up a crayon and draw a light, crooked line on a heart, or dump a cup of sugar into a bowl for cookies. I see all the effort that it takes them, and I want to accuse God;

“YOU made them unable to walk and talk.”

But my conscience won’t let me.

The complicated part of my conscience that wants to accuse God for the world’s problems is the same part that proves God’s existence and love. It’s the God-given longing inside of me that screams;

“Things shouldn’t be this way! People shouldn’t have to live with these challenges! The world is cruel to them!”

That’s the desire that God created which groans and cries for love and perfection. It’s the hole in every human that uncomfortably yells, “Something is wrong. Something is missing. There’s something more.” God created this desire in us to cultivate a discontentment for anything less than Himself and heaven.

We’ll all know God and heaven when we see them because they will be the satisfaction of that ingrained craving we all had on earth, that craving for ourselves and everyone around us to be healed and whole, kind and fulfilled, peaceful and happy, loving and loved.

Girl Crying LIFY
Alone

In the meantime, whenever I see something awful, something that should never, ever happen to a child, a nation, a masterpiece, an animal, a friend, and even myself, I need to re-focus on God. Instead of accusing Him, I need to sink into the part of my created being that screams;

“THIS IS WRONG! THIS IS UNFAIR!”

I need to take a deep breath and let those words be true.

The fact that I recognize wrong and injustice proves that there is a right and a just: God. He loves the world.

God created this desire in us to cultivate a discontentment for anything less than Himself and heaven.

Love is most truly love when the people I’m holding crayons in hands for and changing and feeding can’t (and probably won’t) do anything for me in return. God teaches me to genuinely love by allowing people who can’t always return love into my life.

Sometimes people in public do stop and talk with me and the people I support at stores. They normally say something like;

“Wow! I could never do that type of work!”

“I admire you for caring for them! I’m just, it’s… that’s just not for me.”

I want to retort;

“Oh, so you could never love someone that can’t always love you back?”

Or

“What?! Loving and helping people isn’t for you?!”

Sometimes people smile at me and say;

“You know, it must be rewarding.”

And I want to say;

“Rewarding? Like having a plate of the dinner I just made flipped on the floor? Like getting slapped when I help someone pee? Or holding someone back as they throw my head against a wall?”

These answers are contradictory. On one hand, I want to tell others that I love helping and caring for people and that they should be involved and interested, too. On the other hand, I want to point out all the struggles I face when I’m supporting people because I’m selfish and human, too.

Love means continuing to serve when you’re undervalued and overworked.

Jesus and Nicodemus LIFY
Jesus and Nicodemus

Love is allowing your sleep to be interrupted by your fragile friends who are screaming for help as a storm rocks their boat. Love is staying up when Nicodemus comes to talk late at night out of fear of being discovered in your company. Love is not sending the crowds away to go and find their own food. Love is looking on each person with compassion because they need guidance and instruction, and they usually don’t get it in the ways that they need. Love is healing the ear of the man who wants to kill you. Love is being pleased and crushed to bruise and break yourself for the good of others. Love is stretching out your arms and dying in the worst way possible so that people can one day be healed and whole, kind and fulfilled, peaceful and happy, loving and loved.

God teaches us true love by allowing people who don’t always return or appreciate our love into our lives, and He shows us how to love them anyway because that’s what He does for us.

I’m immensely privileged to be allowed to show God’s love to the people who don’t always love me. I’m blessed with a conscience that recognizes the injustices in the world. But most of all, I’m gifted with a God that loves me when I don’t always love Him and rights every injustice in His perfect time.

Meeting God

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel
The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

On February 7th, four years ago, my older sister introduced me to God in our college cafeteria.

I thought I’d already met God, but I was wrong.

As a child, I tried to be a good, obey my parents, and do whatever the occasion required of me to make people happy. By making my parents happy and by making others happy, I was making God happy. If I made God happy, he showed he was pleased by making good things happen; if I did not make God happy, he showed he was displeased by making bad things happen. I felt like those ideals were what I was taught, so my philosophy of God didn’t go much further.

We attended a couple different churches when I was a child, and also, spent some time church-less.

At the end of a service one Sunday, my mom asked;

“Don’t you want to go to heaven?”

Of course I did if it would make her happy with me.

“You should go up and pray. Do you need help?”

I was embarrassed, but proud. “No. That’s ok.”

I got down on my knees in front of the read pew and devoutly closed my eyes:
I’m making my mom happy.

That’s all I remember about the moment that I would hear fed back to me as my “salvation testimony.” I couldn’t remember God crossing my mind that day at all.

God crossed my mind most often on the bad days, when everything went horribly wrong, and someone was mad at me, and I was hurt and scared.

I would go and curl up in the corner of the yard next to the back deck, sitting on the rocks, frightened begging, and ask God:

“I tried so hard to make You happy. Why don’t You love me?”

I always gave God a second chance to change his mind about his feelings toward me:

“I don’t know what I did, but I didn’t mean to make it happen, and I’ll never do it again if it makes You this unhappy. Can You just come down and hug me? Please?”

He never did.

I stopped asking. I stopped going to church, and I stopped trying to make people happy with me.

Not too many years later, I’d slipped far, demanding of my older sister, an amazing strong Christian who consistently set a high standard and a good example;

“Why should I even care what some stupid man did 2,000 years ago?”

I hated men. Honestly, I hated everybody. I’d formed my own brand of religious philosophy:

I hate everybody, and everybody hates me.

My “church service” became doing whatever I could to take care of myself and protect myself because no one else would.

God never struck me dead for hating him, so I believed in his indifference.
I didn’t reject God’s existence; life doesn’t make any sense without understanding a supernatural force is behind the world. No, I just assumed that any God floating around out there had no interest in me. After all, whoever God was, he or she or it hadn’t been into me when I was good nor when I was bad.

I was worse than miserable, and my older sister convinced me to leave home for college.

Skip ahead to the college cafeteria with my older sister, talking about something she’d learned about the creation of the world in one of her doctrine classes.

And God came into my mind.

In my mind’s eye, I saw the world suspended in space, and a hand, two fingers, reaching out to smush it like a grape. I could feel the great and good desire behind that hand, aching to destroy it and start all over again. Like the way artists feel when they paint a masterpiece and some bystander purposely smears it.

But God held the world gently, never crushing it.

World_in_God__s_hand_by_Code_Scythe
“World in God’s Hands” by Code Scythe

I formed two concrete beliefs about God in that moment; God is love and God is forgiveness, but not the way I’d known love and forgiveness.

Love means self-control.

If you truly love someone, you control your needs, desires, wants, and rights when you are around them for their benefit, even if it puts you in a hard, hurtful position. God loved me because God controlled the desire and the right to crush me. For my benefit.

Forgiveness means double-hurt.

When you forgive someone, you can’t just throw the words, “I forgive you” at them. You forgive them by not only accepting the hurt they’ve inflicted on you originally, but also by absorbing your desire, your “right,” to avenge yourself. In essence, you take what they did to hurt you, and you let it hurt you again. You pay for the fact that they hurt you.

I’d wounded Love, and then, I’d stiff-armed Forgiveness.

I realized how rare love and forgiveness are when I saw their true meanings. The realization helped me see God, not as myself or anyone else, but as completely Other.

God is not a man.

The world’s presentation of God as a man confused me as a child. I perceived God as some kind of superman figure: incredibly strong, able to read minds, invisible, full of superpowers, capable of blessing and cursing everyone.

But God isn’t. God isn’t even some ultimate perfection of what mankind would look like at the peak of righteous faultlessness. God is completely Other.

Grasping a handful of the Otherness of God freed me to throw away the motherload of ideas I’d held about why God hadn’t seemed to love me and be around for me. God didn’t operate on my time schedule, and I couldn’t compare God with my dad or my mom or any other person I’d ever known.

God is Love.
God is Forgiveness.
God is Other.

In less than a minute, I knew three things about God.

It wasn’t even like I had a choice whether to accept or reject God. I never remember thinking, “Now I can accept God, or I can reject God.” God was suddenly in my mind, and everything was suddenly different.

“Help me!” I panicked, grabbing my older sister’s hand. “I just met God, and I don’t know what to do!”

Somewhere in my childhood I’d learned the Romans Road and John 3:16, but I couldn’t remember a single verse.

My older sister was so excited. She was jumping up and down and crying. I was crying. Something felt different, but I couldn’t even put my finger on it. We prayed together, but I can’t even remember what I said.

It was the week before Valentine’s Day, and I felt incredibly loved.

You-Are-Loved-MGI only knew four things about God, but I had a feeling that the quantity of things I’d learn about God would grow inexhaustibly.

“Going to heaven” never even played a role in my real introduction to God. I mean, what kind of genuine relationship starts just because you’re so pumped to see someone’s house? Heaven didn’t occur to me until several weeks after I met God, and then I was, like;

“Oh yeah! That’s right! Now I get to see heaven.”

It’s kinda like the sprinkles on top of the frosting already on my cake.