My friend once gave me a journal. On the cover was this verse from Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
I loved the journal. I love the friend. But honestly, the verse… annoyed me. I would read it some mornings and find myself bristling.
God’s word has done a lot of work in me over the years. It has convicted, rebuked, and comforted me. It’s given me direction, motivation, and vision. My saving knowledge of Jesus Christ was birthed from reading Scripture. So, being annoyed with it created dissonance in me and raised a spiritual red flag. I know, I’m genius that way.
One early morning, I caught myself in mid-bristle. Instead of ignoring or wishing it away, I shined my spiritual flashlight on Annoyance. He was in mid-stride, sneaking down the dark corridors of my heart. Why is he there? Tired of this infiltrator, I put myself on the case.
It didn’t take long to get the first lead. The first piece of the puzzle jumped out at me like a red sock in the white load. Clues were everywhere: I have four children. We live in a tiny house. We homeschool. They eat with me, drive with me, do chores with me, … I crave time away. To be alone. Not lonely, mind you. Just alone. From my family. From God.
Here is where I insert a disclaimer about how much I adore my family. My four kids are smart, funny, kind, and the joys of my life. My husband is the bomb. I’m head over heels for him. God has my heart and I love Him more each year.
But still…. please go away.
The verse on my journal says that God is with me wherever I go. Wherever. That means everywhere. I try to shut everyone out of the laundry room, but He sneaks in. I demand my privacy, yet His presence remains. Because He loves me (fake smile). I pretend the annoyance isn’t there and try to receive the comfort in the verse. Nothing. Discouraged, I speak aloud questions that have been forming in my mind for a while, “Why am I not like other Christian women who have cross- stitched this verse on a throw-pillow and hold it close to their hearts? Why am I annoyed that God never leaves me?”
The second part of the case was more complicated. Evidence led to another heart-intruder, one that’s more elusive and mysterious than the first. With shaking hands, I direct my light beam into the dark places of my heart, and find Anger. Caught red-handed. I have a hunch that my bristling symptom is about more than just me wanting some alone time. It’s uglier. It’s rawness is difficult to digest. God says He’s with me all of the time, and yet I’m surrounded by a broken mess. At the crossroads of these two facts is where Anger entered the scene. My leads pan out and the case is blown wide open. I’m angry because God’s there, and not fixing a thing. I imagine a bolder version of myself asking the omnipresent One, “If you are going to be here anyway, could you at least DO something?”
I’m feeling brave and decide to handcuff Annoyance and Anger and bring them to God. In a charade of authority, I tell them, “It’s time to face the music.” When He sees me with the suspects in custody, God shows no sign of frustration or surprise. He puts them in a holding cell and beckons me. Together, we head to the privacy of the laundry room for a debriefing. In His presence, my boldness fades. I wisely hold my side of the story, and listen.
God gently reminds me of who I am. I am sick, I have a terrible disease. With His own blood, He’s cured me, so I will live, but the symptoms linger. These symptoms require 24-hour care. I can’t be left alone. I am too weak to get the things I need.
I had forgotten.
He also reminds me of who He is. He does not need me to entertain Him with my words or actions. He is not present with me because He’s in need of a companion. He’s also not sitting on my couch lifting His feet so I can vacuum around Him. He’s with me because I need Him. He spoon-feeds me nourishment and quenches my thirst. He holds my hand and whispers to me about what it will be like without the disease. He doesn’t intrude on my privacy, robbing me of rest…He remains nearby so I can rest. Because of a love that’s incomprehensible, God’s with me around the clock, but I can refuse His gracious love and perfect care. Talk about scary. That should make me bristle.
These reminders humble me. My fists unclench and my knees bend. My foolish demands are silenced. Gratitude fills the hallways of my heart, and I turn towards Him, stooping low before a gracious, patient, merciful God. My God. The One who can handle the ugliness of my affliction.
In the laundry room, God reminds me of one more thing: I do need time apart from people. Brief breaks from the noise allow me to rest in His care and hear His whispers in my heart. This is healthy. Jesus stole away from His demanding crowd often, but this doesn’t mean that He didn’t, or I don’t, love them. However, when we find ourselves transferring this “I need a break” mentality to our relationship with God, pulling away from His presence, red flags are raised. Ignoring them is dangerous. The enemy is waiting to catch us alone so he can feed us his destructive lies. God, on the other hand, draws us into hiding places with Him so he can take our vitals, adjust our medicine, and offer His unique protection.
I hate that I need reminders. It bugs me that I forget so often, but I do. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one who needs them. However, isn’t that the very nature of this disease? As a result of our illness, symptoms such as alienation, anger, annoyance, and even pain flare up from time to time. All distract us from who God is. They distort our identity and cause hallucinations about what’s real. Delusions about what we need plague us and decrease our appetite for what’s good. Isn’t that Adam and Eve’s story, too? They forgot that they were protected and cared for; nourished and free. They were enamored by the idea that they could fend for themselves. They allowed the serpent to twist what God had told them, and they turned toward the deceiver who promised much, but only brought them a disease with many symptoms. Their greed for power caused them to bristle at God’s authority. Yep, that sounds familiar. Same story, different millenium.
Annoyance and Anger remain in the slammer, for now. But I know I’m too weak, in my condition, to hold them there. Daily, hourly, with each sickly breath, my only hope is to submit to God’s words and presence. Both remind me of my condition and of who He is. He is not a needy or demanding visitor. He’s always at work making use of the brokenness around me for medicinal purposes. I’m ailing, but not dismayed. Weak, but not discouraged. When I slip into a humble patient-gown, I’ve got enough range-of-motion to reach for His hand. I stop pretending to know what’s best for me and I leave my treatment in the hands of the only One qualified for the job. He’s there, He’s fought for my life, and keeps my only enemy at bay.
So, in celebration of my being bristle-free for a while, go ahead and cross-stitch me that pillow. I’ll gladly hold it close to my diseased heart. But please just leave it with my kids at the door. I hear you knocking, but I’m not accepting visitors at the moment. I’m in intensive care, which also serves as our laundry room, but I’ll be out soon. For a few minutes, I’ve quarantined myself, but I’m not alone.
And I’m feeling well.