‘I never pray for patience, because God won’t just give me a bucket of patience, He’ll give me experiences and circumstances that will force me to develop patience – and I definitely don’t want that.’
That’s a paraphrase, not a quotation, and it comes from my friend Bill – a fountain of much wisdom and wit about life and God. Thanks, buddy. There’s an element of cynical sarcasm in this Billism, but there’s a lot of truth in it, too.
Even Hollywood agrees: “If one prayed for their family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm, fuzzy feelings? Or does He give them opportunities to love each other?” – God (Morgan Freeman), to Joan (Lauren Graham) in Evan Almighty
Sometimes we act as if our souls are flash drives to which God simply uploads data such as patience, courage, perseverance, generosity and faith. While this analogy isn’t entirely off-base, more often our Christian character starts off less like an empty flash drive and more like a dull knife. God doesn’t make us sharper by leaving us safe and warm in the cutlery drawer, He hones us by scraping us repeatedly against the Whetstone of adversity.
The moral of the story is this: Growth hurts, so be careful what you pray for.
Man, I wish I was better at following this advice.
I’ve prayed repeatedly in recent years for God to help me become the man He made me to be, which is a pretty nebulous prayer, so perhaps it’s safe enough. But I regularly go a step further, and pray that God will help me get better at letting go and Letting God.
I’m pretty stubborn, you see, and even though I try to do more than pay lip service to the idea of giving my life to Christ, I still work hard to manage my own circumstances. I want God to be there if I need Him, but really, I don’t want to need Him. I want to choose Him for my own reasons, and accept Him on my own terms. Intellectually, I know that’s wrong-headed, so I pray for God to help me more fully put my life in His hands.
And now He’s answering that prayer by reminding me just how little of my life is actually in my hands.
You see, until today, I thought I’d be out of a job in two weeks (an official at the company I work for has graciously decided to extend my contract until the end of the year, and I was informed of this reality just this morning. Hallelujah!) If he hadn’t, given that I’ve spent most of the last six months working part-time (rather than full-time), it’s doubtful I’d even have qualified for employment insurance.
I really had no idea how we’d have made ends meet, under those circumstances. In the past week or so, we started trimming the fat and cutting some corners in our family budget, with a twofold goal – weathering the coming financial storm in the short (hopefully very short) term, and becoming better stewards of God’s creation in the long (hopefully eternal) term. But there’s only so much we can trim; most of our expenses are more-or-less fixed and I didn’t see a way to balance our monthly budget. Therefore, I needed another job – and fast.
This was a great opportunity to let go and Let God. But what, exactly, does that look like?
I applied for about half a dozen jobs in the past week, reached out to a former client from my freelance days and approached a friend about getting into book editing. I was about a week away from tailoring my resume for a run at Walmart and Canadian Tire.
By doing everything I could think of to make my unemployment period as short as possible, was I failing to let go and Let God? Does letting go and Letting God mean being passive and allowing life to happen to me?
My career has prospered for nearly two decades despite the fact I haven’t landed a job or a client through the conventional ‘browse want ads, submit resume’ process since 1993, so why would I think the conventional job hunting approach would get me anywhere this time?
Is letting go and Letting God more along the lines of the Serenity Prayer (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference)? If so, I thought I was already doing that!
A great Biblical example of what not to do in the ‘let go and Let God’ category is the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael. A&S prayed for children and God had promised to deliver. But when He took His time and conception seemed impossible given Sarah’s advanced age and her apparent barrenness, they decided the Creator of the Universe needed their help. Sarah told her husband to try to have a child with the maid, Hagar. It worked, and nine months later, Ishmael was born.
For practical purposes, Abe and Sarah answered their own prayers (with a little help from Hagar, of course). If they were Serenity Prayer pray-ers, they could easily have viewed their actions as having had the courage to change the things they could.
But a few years later, this project made it back to the top of God’s to-do list, nonagenarian Sarah got pregnant and Isaac entered the picture. Now, presumably, Abraham and Sarah still contributed to this miracle – Genesis doesn’t say anything to imply that Isaac’s conception was immaculate – so it seems that passive inaction is not necessary to the process of letting go and Letting God.
OK, so passivity isn’t right, and control freakery isn’t right, so where’s the happy medium God is after? What are we to take from this story? How are we know whether all our efforts to take care of our own needs will lead to an Ishmael or an Isaac?
For me, letting go and Letting God means doing everything I can on my end to affect the things I can, but choosing not to let the uncertainty keep me up nights. Choosing to remember that regardless of how things may appear to my earthly eyes, God hasn’t forsaken me; He’s got things under control and I can trust Him to take care of His end.
And I think we can take comfort in the fact that God loved Ishmael, too. Even after Sarah had Abraham banish them and Hagar had given up hope, ‘God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”’ – Genesis 21:17-18
If He redeemed Abraham and Sarah’s disobedience, surely He’ll redeem all the choices we can make. But this process might require a little whetstone time.
The process won’t be fun, but if we let Him, God uses these times to turn us into sharper and more useful knives for His Hand.
But please, Lord, don’t make me too sharp, all at once …
Peace be with you.