Words hold endless amounts of power. If we’re honest, some have had more impact on us than most of the sermons that we’ve heard. Four short words have the power to change our lives.
“You didn’t get in.”
“I don’t love you.”
“There’s been an accident.”
But the most recent four-word collection that made my heart stop was not as common of some of these that often cause the plot 180 in best-sellers, blockbusters, and in many of our own lives.
My “shut the front door” line didn’t come from a dream college, after slaving away for years on end; it didn’t come from a distant spouse, after taking the whole afternoon off to prepare a gorgeous meal; and it didn’t come from the caller ID of the local hospital, three hours before leaving for family vacation. This season, my paradigm shift came from a phone call with one of my dearest friends: a most treasured mentor and counselor of mine, who was sitting in her office in my home-away-from-home city, Nashville, four hours away from my actual home city. And, like every other four-word game-changer, it took me by surprise. It came to me while I was sitting in my cold car, watching stressed pedestrians Christmas shop on the other side of my foggy windshield, as I mindlessly fiddled with the paper sleeve adorning the red coffee cup I held in my lap. “You’re doing it again,” she said.
“Doing what?” I dared, subconsciously faking ignorance to a woman who I should have realized knew me well enough to see through my façade. But unfortunately, sometimes we act as though if we neglect the doorbell calling us downstairs, it will keep us from having to open the front door, look the beast in the eye, and address what’s on our porch step for all that it is (and all that it isn’t).
“You’re fleeing.” I stopped picking at the still-lukewarm coffee sleeve.
The day before this phone conversation, what felt more like life’s cruel sheepdogging than like Christ’s sweet plan (for His glory and for mine) intervened. I had officially been either cornered or led into a two-year purgatory between where I am now (living root-less at a community college that neither challenges nor impassions me) and when I will, at last, be freed to the pursuit of going to somewhere that I actually want to plant my roots.
It was in that wide-eyed moment that I realized two things, which I’ve only just begun to explore:
- The key difference between retreat and surrender is the concept of leaving with the intent of returning. Sometimes God calls you to take yourself and your loved ones to safety, and put the fight in His hands. Much like this year, when He called me to pack up the little energy and passion I had left after this battle, and run to safety to rebuild, refocus, and salvage what was left of my heart. For an inexplicably independent and extraordinarily fallen creature like myself, fighting until it kills me is often a more appealing option than loosening the grip on my own pride for long enough to let someone else fight my battle for me—Even if it’s the one that created the very battle that I’m fighting. That choice was hard enough. But now I’ve started depending on the shrubs have given me sanctuary, instead of the Savior that said “Go, let me do this for you, and trust me.” And now (worst of all) I’ve begun growing comfortable lurking in shadows—passionless, voiceless, lifeless. I’m discovering that running to safety is only honorable if you leave with the whole-hearted intent of returning again, stronger, and for His glory (and His alone).
- Lastly, God doesn’t call you to follow Him when it requires you going where you want to go; He calls you to follow Him when it’s where He says He wants you to be—regardless of how you feel about it, or whether or not you understand it. Because life isn’t about chasing things you love; it’s about The One who loves—wherever He may take you—with all of your might.
Fear makes us run from things, but love makes us run to things. And that’s the difference between retreat and surrender. I thought that it was love that makes me want to stand up right now, lace my sneakers, and run to Washington, D. C. (my dream city in which “life will finally begin”). But, it appears, no matter how badly I wanted (and still want) D. C., what I wanted most was to not have to fight anymore. I’m now understanding how much I don’t want the reason I leave to be because I love this “thing,” this idealistic hope of a fresh start. More so, I especially didn’t want to leave out of fear of the beasts that seem to be on the other side of every door I open here, in Atlanta.
In middle school, the phrase “If you see me running, you should be running too” (traditionally accompanied by a silhouette of a cartooned undead person) somehow rose to mass popularity. Soon enough, it could be found pasted to the bumpers of trucks, written on pins, posted on Facebook, and slapped onto the front of workout gear—not to mention branded onto what I resolve was at least eight percent of all tee-shirts produced worldwide that year. As a runner with a love/hate relationship with running (I love running, I hate the part of the journey between my bed and the end of my driveway) and also as one of those “Do what everyone else does? HECK no!” types of kids, I refused to buy into it. But, deep down, I definitely thought this movement was both hilarious, and oddly enduring. Because in a quirky, loveable way, it implied that there has to be one heck of a valiant reason for enduring that bed-to-mailbox agony. And there is.
Well, I’m sick and tired of not running when I should, or of running in the wrong direction once I finally do. Choosing to run where and when we’re called gives us the divine opportunity to be someone that when people see running, they want to follow (even if it means waking up early and trading our warm beds for the cold that we will always face when we risk discomfort). But regardless of whether they choose to join, I want to be able to flash my roadmap, and for them not to see cities or relationships or personal goals at the end of my path, but instead to see the arms and glory of Christ. Because if I’m not chasing Him with every step I take, following Him to where He says He wants me to go, then why move at all? We were given neither passionate hearts to propel us, nor strong feet to carry us just to then learn to dull the driving joy within us, and to cower, safe and comfortable in darkness, allowing our feet forget how to run.
So I’ve arrived at my answer, I’ve answered the door. Was D. C. largely just a means of escape, instead of a pursuit of Christ? Yes, it was. But the good news is that He redeems all things–including the movement and decisions I make initially based out of my own, selfish fear.
His merciful, intentional plan never ceases to astonish me. Like cattle, I too often forget that with each time a red-hot iron is pressed to my side, I become more and more His. Somehow, every time I feel the melting of my skin that happens when He brands me as His own, all I want to do is to run from him. O, how He must love us to pursue us when we acknowledge our pain more than His supreme intentionality and control over our lives and hearts. He doesn’t rebuke us for feeling our pain. But He waits out our kicking and screaming from shock, hurt, disappointment, fear, and pain until the wounds of his impact on us heal enough for us to look up and see how gentle the hand is that smoothens out our beastly features, ever sculpting us to be more like Him.
Scars are not a reminder that we’ve been hurt, but a reminder that we have been healed. He’s building my scars, and I’m kicking and screaming through it, but with each glimpse I get of my in-progress heart I’m reminded of how kind He is to not let my over-sensitivity to the pain of this broken world halt His plan for His glory through His gracious transformations in me. What is safety in darkness when we are offered the chance to live in light? Letting go of our entitlement to pain is hard. But we will never be able to follow Christ until we decide that we love Him more than we love the justification of our limp, and the comfort of laying, riskless, on a mat until we die. God didn’t send His Only Son to earth to give us networks with which to rate each other’s pain, or to give us a soft place to lay while we are inflicted, or even to give us an Aspirin to lessen the pain. Christ was sent to us so that cripples, innately incapable of movement, could stand up and follow Him.
Then Jesus said to him, “Stand up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
You are loved by the ultimate Healer and Warrior. And if your steps were worth dying for, then His glory is worth living for. We were not given wounds to grovel in them, but we were given wounds so that we might experientially know the healing, saving grace of God. We were created to choose to love Him more than we love our wounds, and through that to choose to get off our mats, stand up, and chase Him.
// A. Rose H.