Over the past couple weeks I’ve been slowly letting go and accepting my thoughts and feelings. Clearly control continues to be an issue for me. Reflecting back on the past few months, I can see that, in lots of little ways, I’d pulled away from God and embraced my own illusions of control over my inner world.
I’d previously noted to pick up a book called, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry by Amy Simpson. I ordered it last week and felt hopeful that it would have some helpful insights for me. There were a couple lines that jumped off the page at me and a chapter that spoke to an aspect of my tendency to try to control the future that I’d never considered.
Simpson writes, “When we worry instead, we hold on to the idea that we must maintain control over things that are not ours… We elevate ourselves and our own responsibilities above God’s. We diminish our own view of God’s capabilities.” Wow. I really related to the idea of maintaining control over things that aren’t mine to know or direct. She then devotes an entire chapter to this idea of God’s area of responsibility versus ours entitled “The Future Belongs to God.” This passage spoke to me:
“We have no claim on the future; we’re never there. God calls us to live in the present and gives us what we need to live in his strength, for “today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt 6:34). Worrying about the future means we at least partially ignore the gift of today and the calling we have to be in the place we are, with the people around us, in the circumstances we face in service to God… Essentially, we try to be like God, who is not bound by the constraints of time, as the earth’s original inhabitants tried to do when they kissed a beautiful temptation and found it tasted like bitter poison.”
With this new insight percolating in my mind, I specifically prayed for God to help me grow in knowledge of His power and my reliance on Him. Shortly after this prayer, I headed out for a run. When I went to find past sermons to listen to while running, I felt drawn to one of Pastor Brian’s sermons in his series of the minor prophet Habakkak. I was literally stopped in my tracks when Brian shared a passage from the book Love Within Limits by Lewis Smedes:
“Pride in the religious sense is the arrogant refusal to let God be God. It is to grab God’s status for oneself. In the vivid language of the Bible, pride is puffing yourself up in God’s face. Pride is turning down God’s invitation to join the dance of life as a creature in his garden and wishing instead to be the creator, independent, reliant on one’s own resources. Never does pride want to pray for strength, ask for grace, plead for mercy, or give thanks to God. Pride is the grand illusion, the fantasy of fantasies, the cosmic put-on. The fantasy that we can make it as little gods, it leaves us empty at the center. Once we decide to have to make it on our own, we are attacked by the demons of fear and anxiety. We are worried that we cannot keep our balance as long as we carry no more inside our empty heart than what we can put there. We suspect that we lack the power to become what our pride makes us think we are…”
When I first started dealing with this illusion of control, the way I would describe it to myself and others was that I seemingly told God, “Thanks for all you’ve done for me. I’ve got it from here.” I honestly didn’t hear the pridefulness in that expression then. I sure do now. Brian also quotes Pascal’s famous declaration that there is a God sized hole in every man that cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator. This God shaped void is why all of our prideful attempts to make ourselves “little gods” in control of our little worlds are doomed to lead to fear and anxiety. We cannot fill the vacuum within us, only God can.
This idea of the emptiness that only God can fill is described beautifully in a moving article by Tish Harrison Warren that I’ve been reflecting on lately. (I was introduced to this amazing writer through an article in our church newsletter a couple years ago.) In an article from 2012 entitled “Lent: Emptiness, Fear, and Fullness” Tish writes:
“I have been reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to my daughter before she goes to sleep each night, one page at a time. This last week we read the story of the feeding of the 5,000. In it, the author writes about Jesus filling up emptiness. He filled up empty bellies because that’s what God does. He fills. He filled up the chaos of the empty cosmos with water and earth and zebras and pear trees.
Through that bedtime reading, God reminded me that he’s filling up my emptiness too. Those howling winds are calling out his name. The vulnerable places where I find fear are the very places that Jesus is willing to enter and fill until there is only room for love. The stillness I am seeking leaves space in me to be filled by Jesus. The empty isn’t empty if God enters it. And he is what my soul aches for, like a hungry belly grumbles for dinner right before a miraculous meal of fish and bread. That’s why I want to come into the wilderness — the lonely place — even though it frightens me: because Jesus is there. And where he is, fullness is.”
Today God made me aware of this connection between holding onto an illusion of control, being prideful, and ultimately that none of this activity could ever fill the God shaped hole in my heart.
God tells us to live in the moment because that’s the only place we can ever be. And we can only be filled by God where we are.
Lord, please help me to quit trying to fill my God shaped void with anything other than you.