“We moderns tend to think of our spiritual journey as a God-directed adventure until something goes seriously wrong or until certain problems persist past the time we give God to take them away. Then we think about solving the problems more than about finding God in the midst of them. We focus more on using God to improve our lives than on worshiping Him…We think more about … what can be fixed than about the journey we’re on.”
With these words in Safest Place on Earth, Larry Crabb lays bare the pretense of much of our spiritual activity. Despite our spiritual language and religious endeavors, the raw truth is that this God-thing is often all about us. He is the One supposed to “make things right.” He is the Great Fixer. We have taken His gracious offers of mercy and blessing and have hoarded them, using them as fuel for our demands. Addicted to the opium of ease, we require God to remove our pain, calm our storms, and heal our wounds. Now.
We have hoisted these same demands upon our human relationships. Like a reluctant child enticed to attend a schoolmate’s birthday party by the promise of clowns and pony rides, when the fun is over, so are we. The nitty-gritty of friendship, struggle and exploring the depths of another in their pain – and our own – is a foreign concept. Our friendships are meant to bring us joy and only joy. Our marriage is meant to bring us happiness and good sex. This is what we expect and require, and we will do anything to make certain we are not disappointed.
It’s a shame. With this shallow living, we miss much of God, much of others, and much of ourselves.
In refusing to enter the deep waters with another, we use people. We miss them, and they miss us. We only accept the gifts that come from surface pleasures, and soon even these pleasures erode because they are scorched and trampled, suffering from abuse and neglect of the heart. As Crabb says, “We don’t realize [dark valleys] do not primarily represent problems to be solved, but are rather opportunities for spiritual companionship.” But we don’t want companions. We want producers.
Recently, my wife Miska and I celebrated our fifth anniversary. It has been a difficult year, the most difficult season of our marriage. So I tipped my toe into the normal anniversary dinner questions with hesitancy. “What has been joyous and what has been difficult in the last year?” We chatted, and we explored. We swept the terrain of our year: a cross-country move, a new church, a new ministry, bringing a new life into our home, spiritual battles and relational turmoil. The year was a challenge, yet as we walked through it again that evening, we saw the blessing emerge from the murkiness: we had remained interlocked with one another. We had wrestled through the pain, and we had grappled with the disappointment. It wasn’t an excessively romantic year, but it had a gracious charm wholly its own. In our daily – sometimes monthly – choices to simply be together, to refuse to cave in to the temptation of a silent distance, we lived a life that renewed our vows. Each time we refused to try to “fix” the other, each time we offered a kiss or grabbed the other’s hand even when the “sparks” weren’t there, each time we asked the hard questions when we were fairly certain we wouldn’t like the answers, we were again saying, “I do.”
And so it is on our journey with God. At times, He will move quickly to heal and restore. At times He will delay, more concerned with the scars on our soul than the scrapes on our hands. We can wallow in our shallowness, demanding an answer, a fix. Or we can respond with hope, seeing the deeper joy. Each time we trust and wait for the deeper things, we live a life that renews our vows. We say to God, “I do,” again and again.