There are so many aching places in our hearts crying out to be touched. We live in a fallen, broken world overcome by crushing experiences of lack, and often we find ourselves caught up in the relentless pursuit of filling those empty places with the things we think will fit the shapes of our particular holes. Even if we recognize that only God can truly fill them, sometimes we look for His remedy to come in the ways we want and hope for. I have been blessed many times with profound encounters of God’s love and healing through deep relationships. It is quite something to reap the double benefit of heavenly and earthly communion, connection, and kinship through the people we love. But because I had never been able to experience God’s love in a purely vertical way—directly from him to me—I have mistakenly relied on people I care about to be primary sources of God’s love toward me. It is true that he regularly uses us as conduits, but as we have all been touched by sin and woundedness, we are bound to disappoint, hurt, and fall painfully short of what the Lord himself desires for us and can provide.
I had a couple such people in my life that were my “go-to” sources of incredible love and affirmation, ones who discipled me and helped me learn who I was. Throughout the history of our relationships, I was beginning to form my identity not just in Christ, but also in Christ as I saw Him through them. I felt lovable and valuable because I was loved and valued by these friends; I held them in such high regard that I believed God must really love me if he was allowing me in relationship with these incredible people.
Without realizing it, I was creating idols—representations of my own making of God. And as with all idols, they cannot possibly live up to all we want and hope for, even when we need it the most; eventually our idols will show themselves to be what they really are. At best they are only mirrors reflecting an image, at worst they are vacuums, voids, and counterfeits, drawing us away from the true of source of life, love, and healing. To be clear, it was not my friends or their friendships that began to draw me away, it was the place I had given them—the place I should have reserved only for God. He says in his Word that we shall have no others before Him; he is a jealous God. This is for our own good and protection. His love for us isn’t merely how he feels about us; it is our life-blood, our protection, our identity, our home.
Possibly the most painful experience I have ever had was when the Lord asked me to tear down the idols I had created and let go of them completely, and in one case, it required breaking relationship with someone I loved very much. A lifetime of misguided thinking had led me to unwittingly wrap my identity, my security, and even my standing with God in this friendship. Part of my process of letting go meant destroying every written correspondence I had saved over the many years we knew each other. I had a precious collection of prayers, prophetic words, cards and letters all full of some of the most beautiful expressions of love and affirmation I had ever received. I could not imagine putting these things in the trash; they were too valuable. I decided it would be most appropriate to give them to the Lord as a burnt offering, as a giving-over of the words I so treasured, in exchange for treasuring what the Lord himself would say to me.
This wasn’t just a sacrificial offering, it was an act of trust and of faith, since I was still unable to hear or receive those words directly from Him. So one morning I brought my box of notes and letters out to the fire pit on my patio, and placed them, one by one, in the bowl. I was tempted to read them each one last time, to commit them to memory as much as possible, but I knew that was not what God wanted. I left the cards inside their gold-leafed envelopes and placed them on the pile, tore the cardboard box that held them all, and put that on top. I lit the fire beneath them, knelt down beside the fire pit, prayed, and wept. I can’t decide whether I felt the pile burned too quickly or whether it seemed to go on forever, but within a few minutes, all the papers were consumed. Strangely, the ashes that were left retained the almost ghost-like shapes of the original letters, and were still sitting there in a pile.
I bowed my head again and sobbed as my heart broke with utter sadness and loss.
I felt a breeze across my face and looked up; the wind had come and swept the fire bowl clean. All had been consumed and blown away, except for one thing: gold dust from the envelopes, covering the surface of the bowl and glittering in the sunlight. Then the Lord spoke to my heart. All is not lost, all is not gone. There were many beautiful, wonderful, and Godly things in that relationship, but sin and brokenness became entangled in it, and twisted and perverted what was originally intended to be good. Those things had to go, but what was gold remained. That which has the touch and blessing of God cannot ever be stolen or blown away—it is ours to keep.
Ultimately, this event was only the beginning of the process of doing more of the same: turning over and sacrificing what I hold onto, what I fear, what I strive for that is not rooted in God or my true identity in Him. Step by step I have been taking these things to His alter to be consumed and blown away by Him, and learning to see and recognize what He gives and leaves in return. In 1 Corinthians 13:11-13, Paul says,
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I think I am beginning to understand a little more of what he means by this, and beginning to reason less like a child and more like a child of God.
O Lord, take and consume all of me that strays from wanting anything less than all of you. Help heal me from the sting of what is being blown away, and satisfy my heart with what remains.
Parable of the Middle-Age Tattoo
Coffee with God: Prophetic Words of Beauty, Intimacy, and Love
The Affirmation Temptation
To Die a Thousand Deaths
The Choice to Overcome
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