keep God big
Changing circumstances have a way of making us question ourselves - our motives, our ambitions, and our place in the big world around us. Sending the kids off to school for another academic year this morning (I originally wrote this post back in August) made necessary a long run/walk up and down our country road - but for the first time in a long time, I wasn't searching for myself. And I wasn't even searching for God, because He was already very near. Rather, the purpose of the exercise was to redeem the beautiful early morning hours and to admire the wildflowers - to worship the Creator. When we contentedly use what He has given us and openly marvel at the world He created around us, that is worship.
Worship hasn't always been my first impulse in changing circumstances, however. Unfortunately, I've often turned inward instead, seeking steadiness. It's ironic that I'd seek that within myself, since it would never come from there, but we are easily convinced otherwise. When things around us are shifting, we often seek to orient ourselves by looking around at others - what they are prioritizing, how they are acting, what they are saying - and then metaphorically wiggling ourselves in between a couple of different people based on comparison of their beliefs and lifestyle to ours. Whether we put ourselves all the way up at the top of the spectrum of people, or down at the bottom, or somewhere in between... we are filtering everything through a lens of comparison. Instead of looking to the Father and steadying myself that way, I've often tried to justify myself - make myself worthy of being a person, and of being a child of God - by measuring the distance between myself and the person next to me (again, metaphorically-speaking). Alternatively, I seek to understand and steady myself by using my trusty personal mental resume - turning to what I inadvertently believe makes me unique and valuable (believer, wife, mom, public-school-mom, once-a-NICU-mom, once-a-missionary, creative, etc.) to make me feel worthy of a place in the world. But that never holds water, either. As always, Hannah Anderson puts it best in Made for More:
"Because [the search for ourselves] is unsettling, we tend to avoid it the same way we avoid looking full-faced into the mirror. Instead of wrestling with the deeper questions of life, we distract ourselves and find identity in things like relationships, jobs, political causes, or hobbies. We check boxes, make lists, and categorize ourselves by race, religion, and socioeconomic status. We calculate our bodies in pounds, inches, and clothing sizes, all in an effort to gain the security that comes from knowing exactly who we are and where we fit in to the grand scheme of things. [...] We've tried to answer how identity manifests itself without first answering where identity comes from; we've tried to figure out where a woman should spend her life without first answering who she should be. [...] If we are to find any lasting stability in this life, if we are to really answer the question, "Who am I and why am I here?" we must move past these easy categories - we must top talking simply in terms of home vs. career; we must dig deeper than biology or gifting. We must find something more stable, more fixed, more permanent on which to base our sense of self. We must find a North Star. and not simply because our circumstances change, but because we ourselves are more than the roles we play in this present world. We are large, deep, eternal beings, and only something larger and deeper and more eternal will satisfy the questions in our souls. We need something -- Someone -- Divine. [...]" (excerpts from pages 1-30)
Because we cannot fathom the greatness of God, nor reconcile it with the part that He has invited us to play in this world, we impose our humanity on God. As I am raising my children, I praise them as they learn to do things on their own - after all, I am teaching them for a time right now, with hope that they will be independent from me in the future. I think I forget that that is not the goal with God toward us; rather the opposite - He desires that we would be increasingly dependent. We cannot see our way through His plan, and with our limitations we cannot see how He could possibly find a use for us if we constantly have to run to Him for help all the time - or how He could possibly make the world run without us if we'd fail, depending on which direction our pride tends to steer us. So we create our own sense of self, our own sense of direction, and our own sense of reality. We snatch the closest post-it note and sharpie, and scrawl our worth on it. "Female" "Mom" "Teacher" "Homemaker" "Sourdough-maker" "Fun mom" "Adventurer". We slap them on ourselves, or on other people around us and then live as if our very re-positionable scraps of paper are the foundation of truth.
But Anderson writes, "When we center our identity on these "lesser glories", we become defined by them, and we end up defining reality by them as well. Like our first parents, we use them to establish our own definition of good and evil and judge ourselves and others by it. When we successfully achieve "good", we feel a high, a moment of fullness in our soul. But whenever it is threatened, we feel threatened. When it is taken from us, we become depressed and feel like we've lost ourselves because in so many ways, we truly have. Then, in order to maintain our sense of identity, we will succumb to any number of sinful temptations: arrogance, martyrdom, condescension, and parsimony. We become small, angry, insecure people incapable of living in the fullness God intended. Incapable of reflecting His glory." (pg. 50-51)
We become small, defined only by actionable and measurable labels that we can prove through photos, image, or words. Small, angry, and insecure certainly defined much of the past several years for me, as I wiggled uncomfortably through God-given parameters about our family size, ministry calling, school choices, and more. Unable to truly trust and embrace, we curl up into a small ball instead and we make God smaller right alongside us. And then, because God is small in our lives, there is nowhere to go with our needs - nowhere to go with our fear, questions, or concerns. And so we make Him yet smaller and smaller, seeking out answers within ourselves because we don't see how He could be the source of them when He is so small - except that He is not small. It's just that we have made Him small. Instead of looking fully on the face of God and drawing our strength and worth from Him, living a life of faith, trusting that He can and will guide us in every step
For me, centering myself on lesser glories means that when I feel insecure, I refer to my giftings or callings to make me feel significant. I am needed because I am a mom and I am creative, for example. Always, though, there's someone else out there with more kids and more ideas than me. So I'd question the way that God had made me - like Eve. I wondered why He didn't count me worthy of more, or better? Why didn't He make me differently than He did?
And then because I could not embrace the way He had created me, He was small in my mind. I didn't trust His goodness or His plan. And so that would be the anthem in my head - questioning God, and therefore incapable of reflecting His glory because I wasn't even believing Him.
Worship does the exact opposite of that. It trusts God, and exalts Him to a high place in our lives and in our world. It is impossible for me to be worshipping God while also thinking of myself apart from Him. Worship, after all, is hands raised and arms fully open to Him, and surrendered to the One Who Is. We are capable of living fully in our identity in Christ and reflecting the glory of God the Father only when we are emptied completely of ourselves. I have this image in my head often of one of those culvert pipes under a road, with water flowing through. The pipe acts as only a conduit - it isn't anything but an open-ended vessel, allowing water to flow in one side and freely, generously out the other. Open-ended, open-handed - open to Who God is, open to who He says I am, I can live and be and give securely - even in times of change.