Friday, 24 March 2017

Three of the Ways I Bargain With God

Maybe some of my readers are not religious, and maybe this post may seem out of character for this blog, but I have felt inspired to write religious posts many times in the past few months and have shied away from following through, worried that it will scare people away and that it was not the message I meant to protray with this blog.

The prompting does not cease.

Please bear with me, as I mean this to be heavy on the personal testimony and light on the preaching. All I have to offer are the insights I have gained through my reading that have touched me on a personal level, and I am, by no means, a scholar or an authority on any of these subjects.

When I first began writing this blog, I wrote about how I first fell in love with reading the Bible. The very first book I read was Sirach, then Isaiah, then Jeremiah. It might seem like a strange place to start, the Old Testament that is, but I have fallen in love with reading the Old Testament and have uncovered some beautiful revelations and insights from these old, seemingly obsolete, writings.

Right now, I am reading Exodus, after recently finishing Genesis. From the surface, a lot of these two books are bleak. They speak about the Fathers of our Faith, Abraham, and Isaac, and Moses, how they were often lacking in faith and righteousness. They recount judgement and exile, slavery and plagues, but I have come to understand a lot about God's goodness and over-arching plan even at the darkest of times.

Today, I read about the eighth and ninth plagues God sent over the Egyptians to soften Pharaoh's heart into releasing the Israelite slaves. Each of the plagues specifically combats one, or more, of the Egyptian deities, showing God's sovereignty over these demons that the people had seen as gods. Even as their gods are shown to be powerless before God, Pharaoh is unwilling to humble himself. Instead of letting the people go on the terms Moses has made clear, Pharaoh tries to bargain with God, offering compromises. In the reflection I read about Exodus 10 today, David Guzik observes that the fact Pharaoh will not surrender and still thinks he is in a place to bargain with God shows he still does not know God.

This all made me reflect on the ways I bargain with God. I may not worship false gods in the same sense that the Egyptians did, but there are things in my life I put faith, trust, and worth in other than God. Even when God proves these things to be under His sovereignty, it is still so difficult to humble myself. When God asks me to do something, I am still so inclined to bargain, showing that, like Pharaoh, I do not yet know God.

Not in His full supremacy.

Reflecting on this made me think about some of these ways I hold back from God, still attempting to bargain with Him in order to retain some semblance of control and autonomy. In singling these out in prayer, I know I can come to better know Him, so I thought I would share part of this journey with you.

1. Cynicism
I remember growing in cynicism as a teenager, feeling it rise up around my heart like protective walls. It begins innocently enough, laughing at jokes and gossiping about others, letting go of naivete and seeking to become more experienced in the world. Naivete seemed to be seen as a weakness; I remember being laughed at for not understanding suggestive comments, feeling childish when I would not swear or know what terms meant, so I actually tried really hard to throw off these negative associations - as if it was just a natural part of growing up.

Me, as a teenager, in the days that doing "photoshoots"
with your friends and a digital camera
were apparently all the rage.
As being cynical became more familiar for me, I began to refer to it as being realistic, and this is especially how it has become a crutch for me. Instead of trusting people without reservation, I tend to hold back, being "real" about the possibility of being hurt, being stretched too thin, not being accepted, or needing other people too much. After all, people are not really reliable anyway, and I am perfectly capable of figuring things out on my own. More importantly, though, this realism extended into my relationship with God.

I have moments of surrender with Him, but I inevitably feel that realism creeping in. It happens when I will be discussing something with Tharin, sometimes arguing a point I do not even really believe just to be the devil's advocate - he will ask me what I am doing and I will say, "just being real." I like to be real about money, about our kid's education and parenting, about the security of our home and other worldly-securities, even when I know we may not be called to this. These are the things I use to bargain with God. I am willing to surrender everything except these few things, and surely, He can understand that. Right?

But the level of trust He asks of me, of course, goes against realism and cynicism, demanding that I surrender all, especially these "bargaining points" and allow Him complete control. God has called me to be innocent, to surrender to Him just as fully as my children rely on me. He has called me to love the truth, to speak the truth, and to reject all the things that are not true. And He has called me to a softness of heart; not the hardness of heart that the world glorifies.

2. Being shy
This is an interesting one for me, but something that I definitely use to protect myself. It became baggage for me as a small child, when I was labeled shy and began assuming I was not good at making new friends or being natural in social settings.

Me, as an eleven-year-old, not really giving two rips about
what I was wearing.
(On the left, in case you were wondering.)
There have been times in my life I have rejected this label, but I always feel it settle down on me like a comfortable jacket when I find myself in uncomfortable and new situations. Instead of speaking, I prefer to listen, effectively protecting myself from the imagined judgment of the people listening.

As this has become a part of my identity, I have an incredibly hard time surrendering it to God. When I feel Him asking me to step out of my comfort zone, my first response is often to hide behind my kids, technology, or to just be as quiet as I can. Though I see it as a weakness, I have discovered the truth of how hard it is to let go of some of our baggage, because without it, we imagine we will feel naked, unprotected.

God wants me to surrender this version of pride, reassuring me that, even if I face judgment from others (as well all do anyway), His judgment and acceptance are all that matter. He wants me to trust that if He calls me to speak, if He brings me into a new situation, or if He brings someone into my life that I am meant to open up to and touch in some way, that He will be with me, more effectively protecting me than my pride ever could.

3. I can't ______ .
When God calls to Moses out of the burning bush He says in many different ways He has come down to rescue the Israelites, He will be with Moses, it is His will that the Israelites be free and it will be Him working through Moses. Still, Moses objects, over and over, saying, "Who am I? What if they do not listen to me and believe me?" and finally, his true complaint, "I am not eloquent, Lord, please send someone else who is more qualified." (Exodus 3 and 4)

I think we all have one of these hangups about ourselves, something that we believe we are simply not capable of. Even when God calls us to overcome this weakness, tests our disbelief, we so often say, "I have never been eloquent, or outgoing, or patient. Surely there is someone better suited for this task, and I will never be qualified as they." In this way, I bargain with God, telling Him I will do anything He asks, except the things I cannot do.

What He says to Moses is so applicable to me. "Who gives one man speech and make another deaf? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I. the Lord? Go then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say." (Exodus 4: 11-12)

This is what each and every one of these points come down to. When I face this tangled ball of yarn that is my baggage, my past failures, my defense mechanisms, I can become overwhelmed and hopeless.

How can I even decide where to start?

This is the opposite of how God wants me to respond. I too often forget He is here to assist me, that if He has asked me to do something, it is not my place to tell Him I am incapable - this is as good as telling God He is incapable, and I know this can never be true. I know this about God, and while I am still far from knowing Him as He wants to be known by me, I trust that with His help, I can break down these remaining barriers and the rest is up to Him.

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