Thursday, February 23, 2012
I Give Up Self Sufficiency
A year and a half ago, as I hugged my coworkers goodbye for the last time before moving one thousand miles away to Atlanta, my boss handed me a card. Inside was the most wonderful note thanking me for all of the hard work I’d put into my job over the years. My boss was a woman who I admired more than almost anyone I had ever met, and her words were so precious to me. But at the end of the card…the very last line, in fact…she wrote something that I haven’t forgotten. She said, “We’ll miss you here. But we know that God has bigger and better things for you, and we can’t wait to see what those things are!”
Although those words were meant as a blessing, my heart sank the second I read them. I didn’t believe with any part of me that I was moving on to bigger and better things. I knew what I was moving on to. I was 8 months pregnant with our second daughter, and I could see an endless string of days at home stretching out before me. Of course, the work I would do at home with my children would be important, but it suddenly seemed so insignificant in comparison with the life I had been living in the working world—a life where I was making an obvious difference, helping people, showing them God’s love. There was a big part of me that wondered if God had forgotten me. Or if it was some cruel joke that just as I was where I had always wanted to be, He moved us away.
And so, believing wholeheartedly that God had either forgotten or didn’t care about my desire to do something good and important with my life, I forged off to take matters into my own hands. We soon settled into Atlanta, I had our baby girl, Caroline, and then I began to sign up for every possible thing I came across—looking, I suppose, for the bigger and better. I became a room mother for Molly’s class and I took on a part time job tutoring in the evenings. I became a part of moms groups and playgroups and library groups and church groups and neighborhood groups—sometimes stepping into leadership positions without even a thought. And as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to be completely overwhelmed. Not only that, but I wasn’t satisfied. I wasn’t feeling appreciated or like I was really making a difference. I was just the schlep who was doing all of the things that no one else wanted to do.
It was at this low point that God broke in and showed me what I was doing. I had taken it on myself to build up my life and establish my reputation—apart from Him. In refusing to believe that God could possibly be at work in me, moving me on to the bigger and better without a burgeoning career or position of importance in the world, I’d come to rely fully on myself. As long as I was advancing in a way that was expected, I had been willing to follow God. But as soon as advancement meant trusting God to use me in a much less visible situation, I had bailed.
I spent a lot of time asking God about this place I found myself in. A place that, to me, felt like absolute nothingness. I wondered how God could want me to become nothing. To not utilize the gifts and talents I thought he’d given me. God didn’t answer these questions. But he definitely did talk to me. He told me to let things go. All of the things that I was grasping so tightly, trying to use to create an identity for myself…he told me to let them go. He told me to make space in my life so that there was room for Him to enter in. He promised me that if I made this space and trusted Him to be enough, that He would be.
And so, very reluctantly, that is what I began to do. I made space. It meant not signing up for gymnastics AND soccer. It meant not volunteering for every opportunity that came along. It meant having entire afternoons, days, and weekends where we had no plans. This was really scary at first. I feared the long days, and I hated the conversations that began with, “So what have you been up to this weekend?” I had to become okay with answering, “”Not much,” which was humbling. As our neighbors jetted off, day after day, to ballet lessons and piano lessons and soccer practice, I wondered if I was depriving my children. I wondered if I was depriving myself! But, still, God would whisper, in those moments where doubt and insecurity crept in, to wait, to stand firm, to not pick up the idol of self-sufficiency that I’d just decided to lay down.
And then something amazing began to happen. Into all of those empty places like the long afternoons and the open weekends, God began to fill, to become sufficient. Spending so much free time outside in our front yard meant that our house became the place for all of the neighborhood kids to congregate in the afternoons. Sometimes we have 10 or 15 children in our yard, and we are building relationships with them that we never would have if we were always going off in 5 other directions. We’ve also become a stopping point for many of our older neighbors who walk their dogs in the afternoon. They walk past, we pet their dogs, and we chat…sometimes for a long time. Though I thought that making space would relegate me to loneliness and deprive me of adult company, it has turned out that I often have more company than I know what to do with. I have learned things I never would have otherwise…things like who is having surgery, who is sick, and who is just having a hard time. And in the midst of all of this, I see that God has given me a place, an important position. I am the one who is always around. I am the one who knows about the hard things. I am the one who has time to care. I love that God is making me this person.
But that is never the role I had for myself. That, to me, was not the bigger and better that I’d hoped for. I was too focused on becoming someone (not sure who) and something (not sure what) to see what God was so clearly trying to show me…that he has a role for me right now, ministering in his kingdom. It wasn’t until I agreed to let my plans fall away that I could see what God had for me. And realize that his plans are not just enough, but perfect.
So, this Lenten season, I give up self-sufficiency. I give up self-sufficiency because I am beginning to believe the things I’ve heard about our God all of these years: That he loves me. That he knows me…deeply, truly, and completely. That he has plans for me—a destiny that he has crafted uniquely for me. And that nothing, absolutely nothing that I could dream up for myself could ever compare to the life that God wants to give me.