Disappointment to Deeper Intimacy (Soul Care Retreat transcript)
Sometimes we have a longing in our heart to grow to a deeper place with God but we aren’t really sure how to move towards Him. We may have tried the common approaches and felt we’ve come up empty handed. Sometimes that leads us to believe the deep life with God is not for us even though we desire it. Some of us feel as if intimacy with Him is an elusive thing, like we are in the back of the room, like He has chosen others as special and we are just one of the crowd clamoring to get to Him. We see ourselves as on our own with no clear way to really find Him. At least not in the ways our hearts desire.
While this can apply to those who don’t know Him, from my experience and the experiences of many I have talked to, I have found this to be the case for many Believers and many who have been saved for a long time. In fact, I have heard it more often than not in people I have talked with. Not only the ones in the back rows, or the uninvolved, but also the ones serving their hearts out, the ones sitting in the leadership chairs, the ones standing in front of rooms teaching the goodness of God, the ones hanging on for dear life with somewhat put together outsides but they find within themselves a developing storm of disappointment and questions.
Why am I not actually experiencing the joy, intimacy and oneness with Jesus that is promised? Why do I know God loves me but I can’t seem to actually grasp it and live in it? I have done everything I know to do and still there is a deep ache in me and an unvoiced question that I either allow to surface or push down – “Is this really all there is because I’m really disappointed actually.”
This can be a scary season and even stepping around the ‘supposed to’s’ and admitting disappointment can be a big step, but it is a big step in the right direction. God is big enough for our disappointments. He deals with us as we are; not who we pretend to be.
I am learning when there is a gap between what we know in our head to be true and what we have experienced with God, that is an invitation to something more. This is our invitation from God to grow!!
Discontentment in our walk with Him is a gift and not something to be silenced. It is how He invites us to something deeper and it is what motivates us to seek Him if we let it. It is His call to us, and it is our responding desire to a God who desired us from the moment we were a thought in His mind that moves us to deeper intimacy. This means there are new places He wants to take us and growth will be the outcome.
This is where I found myself about nine years ago. Truly devoted and severely disappointed.
I am sharing my story, not as a roadmap for those who may find yourself in the similar spot I was in, but to point you to the One who knows each of our stories intimately and better than we do. He also knows what to do about every single thing in our lives. He knows all our hopes, dreams, disappointments, failures and places of shame. He knows every desire in our hearts and, in fact, the hidden desires we have to know Him more actually originated with Him.
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and He will lead us. He is profoundly wise and compassionate. We just don’t always know it. HE is the author and perfecter of our faith. Hopefully you can see pieces of yourself in my story. Each story is unique, but there are common parts in each of our stories.
There is a lot of trauma in my parent’s background and God staged a rescue in my family of origin when I was two. My mom almost committed suicide but God Himself miraculously intervened saving the family from further devastation. She got saved in that moment, grasping her Bible and discarding the deadly combination of pills. She gave her life to God because He showed up in that moment and my Dad was saved shortly after. I grew up with the knowledge that God shows up in desperate situations and performs miracles of restoration in lives. I had seen it firsthand.
In my early 20’s, I met John at Bible school. We married right after graduation and our first 10 years were filled with joy as we welcomed 4 babies, but also one deep loss after another. Two devastating church splits, a stillborn daughter, a scary medical diagnosis, a near loss of a business, financial hardship and other things made for a very long 10 years of a lot of heartache, pain and valleys. I felt that we had weathered these fairly well because we had also had profound experiences with God and interaction with Him that steadied us and kept us. He enabled us to see much of the pain from His perspective and we held tightly to Him BUT it was also a time with a lot of confusion.
We called many of the years our black box season where we felt as if we had been thrown into a box, the lid had been shut and the box shaken. We often didn’t know what end was up. Although we were often confused, in pain and in places where we didn’t know up from down, we kept sitting with Him knowing He had not left. We were clinging to Him in the dark. What we didn’t know was that God was teaching us important things on our journey.
For me, journaling His words to me and my prayers became a lifeline and I could look back on and trace His movements in our lives even though I couldn’t always see it in the moment. In fact, I often felt we were moving backwards as previous views of God and faulty ideas about the Christian life began to be dismantled. But the journals held evidence of growth.
#1 – Growth requires us to let go of our small preconceived view of God and let Him show us who He is.
Challenge: Sometimes when we go through hard things, we learn a lot about who God is not. It can feel disappointing and disillusioning. Sometimes He is the one who calms the storms but other times He sits with us in them. We often think the miracle is the calmed storm but sometimes the miracle is being calmed in the storm. We have to learn to sometimes wrestle with a God who shows up differently than we expected or hoped. In these times we often think He isn’t showing up but He’s showing up differently and sometimes it takes time to see it.
Though we saw His goodness in the pain, I didn’t realize I also still carried with me a distorted view of God that masked His tenderness and His heart. I gave Him what I could, but vulnerability was not something I did well. Circumstances beyond my control like our first 10 years were easy to trust Him with, but not the very delicate places of my heart. I would have never said this but I didn’t really believe He was gentle or kind enough. I knew all the church answers. I grew up in church, went to private school and graduated Bible college, but I functioned more like a slave than a daughter.
Shame was my filter. I knew I was forgiven but still, shame’s voice was louder. Our view of God governs how we relate to Him. We can be children but still act like slaves. He is God so He has the capability to break through any misconception we have of Him for whatever reason we may have it. I knew there must be more than what I had currently experienced, but I was doing all of the ‘right things’ and was profoundly confused why I didn’t feel satisfied. There was a gap between what I was actually experiencing in my inner world and the abundant inner life I knew was promised. Before we can experience the joy filled life, we have to be emptied of the ideas and misconceptions that actually keep us from seeing God clearly. This is not an easy process.
I began to play worship in our house all of the time about the goodness of God. It was a way for me to set my mind continually on who God truly is. Worship became a road for me to find His heart. I could hear His whisper in the songs and I could feel my trust in and responsiveness to Him growing. I began to really believe that if God WANTS to be found by us and we want to find God, He has the capability of breaking through all barriers we don’t know how to get through. He is the God who comes for us.
Hebrews 11:6 NLT And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.
Proverbs 8:17 I love all who love me. Those who search will surely find me.
#2 – GROWTH REQUIRES LETTING GO OF THINGS WE FIND OUR IDENTITY IN OTHER THAN GOD
In 2013 when life was finally going well externally, I was alarmed at the state I found myself in. I was leading a growing small group, John was on the board, he was leading the boys’ ministry at our church, I was spending a lot of time with God, business was good, our four kids were in really enjoyable stages and still my inner world was crashing. My anxiety was through the roof and I was wearing a prescribed heart monitor because of concerns about my heart. I wasn’t sleeping, I felt my life was full of bulls raging to be let out of a pen and at the slightest life bump, the gates would open. Life became a game of trying to keep the gates closed.
Sitting on the bed on a bright sunny day, playing kids with excited voices outside, I sat on the bed shaking, feeling the chaos overtaking me. I had nothing left to give and had done everything I knew to do. John came in and told me He wasn’t sure what we needed to do but he thought I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We sat in scared silence wondering what was happening.
In that season, God made it clear that He wanted me to get out of all of the good commitments I was in. It was in this place I learned a noisy life – even doing good things – can keep us from seeing our deepest needs or knowing our deepest longings. God is not surprised by what is there – only we are. Sometimes it is very difficult to begin to sit in silence or do less because our noisy lives have artificially quieted our chaotic soul, but our true inner world always shows up in our daily life. A healthy soul creates a healthy life. A chaotic soul creates havoc for us personally and those around us. I didn’t know it at the time but He was disengaging my identity from what I was doing and my public self. Out of desperation, I began to turn to Him in vulnerability with nothing to offer but my very broken, confused and hurting self.
I found that silence, although difficult at first, allowed me the space I needed for God to come in and heal deep places in me.
The story of how He brought me into a new place with Him is going to sound all neat and tidy when I share it, but I can assure you it wasn’t. There were many many tears, a lot of confusion, a lot of inner healing, some deliverance and learning to trust when I couldn’t see. In fact, I didn’t realize the succession of things until I looked back and contemplated the year and I could easily trace God’s hand in my life. Many times we do not recognize His movements in our lives until we look backwards. I had many gaps between truth and my actual experiences that I had never explored out of fear of being disappointed. Those gaps are our invitation to growth and a deeper life and I was ready to explore the gaps.
#3 – GROWTH REQUIRES HONESTY WITH GOD
Winter of 2014 I was sitting at a retreat I didn’t want to be at. Feeling dead in my seat with my journal open, the speaker asked, “What would your life look like if you were totally free?” Feeling frustrated, I wrote, “I have no idea. Help me God,” shut my journal and threw it under my seat. I didn’t know that moment was monumental. Here is what I’ve found, God answers sincere and quiet whispers. Even half prayers cause Him to turn His eyes towards us because He is eager for us to know Him well. We don’t always know in the moment that He has come or is coming for us, but none of our prayers ever fall on deaf ears.
#4 – GROWTH REQUIRES TRUST EVEN WHEN WE CAN’T SEE
A couple of months later at a service, I went forward for prayer. I didn’t even know why I went forward but felt prompted to. The speaker began praying for me and said, “You are an intercessor.” Immediately I thought, “Oh great. One more thing I have to do.” The man got a smile on his face and said, “God told me you thought, ‘Oh great. One more thing I have to do.’ but He wants you to know that it is not. It’s going to be a natural response to what He does in you. It’s going to simply be a response to His love for you.” I couldn’t yet see His love well but I knew I was going to. It was a signpost to me that God was indeed doing things I could not see and I was not off on my own. I knew He was a God who sees us no matter where we find ourselves. Despite how we may feel, we are never on our own. God is always with us and drawing us closer to Himself.
I told Him I felt like tangled necklaces which are much worse than knotted yarn. He gave me Psalm 139 and specifically verse 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. My world was dark and I didn’t know where we were going but He did. My place was scary to me but not to Him. He is never confused about where we are but always knows how to help us. We are not a mystery to Him. If we just turn our faces to Him, we find He was already turned towards us.
He told me continually that if I continued hoping in Him I would not be disappointed and that I would not find Him to be less than I hoped Him to be. More importantly, He told me I would not find Him to be less loving than I hoped him to be – only more.
I was disappointed in the moment but that wouldn’t be my story, I knew there was more. I clung to Romans 10:11 that says, whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed. I really really believed this. This became the steadying song of my heart.
In August of that year, I was cynically reading Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT) For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Being a rule follower I really pay attention to context and I still had the mentality that I was one at the back of the crowd barely noticed by God, when His voice interrupted my thoughts. “Have you ever wondered what the words to my song are?” I thought, “Nope. And now I am surely crazy. “ Sometimes it is a challenge for us when God breaks through a religious or preconceived barrier and speaks something unexpected to our hearts. He kept speaking, “I am singing songs of deliverance and freedom over you.” In that moment, I understood I wasn’t fighting to get to God. He was with me and fighting with me for my freedom. A while later, I read Psalm 32:7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
We are indeed surrounded by His songs of deliverance and they are joyful because there is no question about His ability to deliver. The Cross is proof.
As my identity became disengaged from what I was doing, I began to feel that performance mentality I had always felt in my Christian walk dissipate, which encouraged deeper vulnerability with God. I began to understand He loves me because He loves me, not because of my performance. I began to feel more and more safe with God and because of that, could be more vulnerable with Him which led to greater healing. The more deeply we have encountered God’s love, the safer we are to grow.
#5 – GROWTH REQUIRES PARTICIPATION ON OUR PART
During this time God was doing a profound inner healing in my soul. There were many broken places, wrong beliefs, pain and unforgiveness that He walked me through bringing wholeness to deep and shattered places. During this time, I began reading a lot. Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy was profoundly impactful for me. Through books and other avenues, He taught me new ways of responding and functioning to replace old habits and unhealthy ways of relating as well as taught me new things about Himself. Quiet and stillness was the road God used to heal my heart. Books brought greater understanding. He spoke healing to old wounds and truth to lies I had always believed.
He also brought deliverance to some areas where I had been oppressed since I was a very small child. Rejection being the biggest. John prayed for 3 hours for me and freedom clearly came. There were a couple more instances of God delivering me from demonic oppression I had been under since a child. I could hear God in ways I couldn’t before and more importantly, voices posing as God were silenced. The constant inner shaming dialogue I thought were my own thoughts was also silenced. I had heard them my whole life. Shame no longer governed me and I no longer believed God was ashamed of me but saw I am deeply loved by Him. Our places of deepest pain and sources of shame are the exact places God wants to show us how deep His love truly is. When we see that, He becomes irresistible to us because we long to be loved completely.
Days after these profound moments of deliverance, God’s voice was on a loop in my head, “I am the God who heals you.” This happened when I was sleeping, talking to others, taking care of kids and on my own. It was constant. Also, during this time I would wake in the morning to the words “My delight.” I love words so I looked up the antonym to delight. Trouble, misery, displeasure, dissatisfaction, disappointment, discomfort, depression, distress, melancholy, discontent are a few of them. I had either felt all of these things or heard them at some point spoken about me. God knows where our deepest pain and wounds lie and is longing to speak healing and truth to those areas. Delight means enjoyment, pleasure, happiness, joy, gratification, gladness – these are words we long for others to feel about us. God doesn’t tolerate us, He enjoys us and I was beginning to really believe it.
Psalm 149:4 (NIV) For the Lord takes delight in his people; He crowns the humble with victory.
Psalm 34:5 (NIV)Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
#6 – GROWTH REQUIRES US TO BELIEVE THERE IS MORE THAN WHAT WE HAVE CURRENTLY EXPERIENCED WITH GOD
He longs to answer our desire for Him. Disappointment in the Christian life is not just something we have to live with – rather it is a yearning for a depth that God is delighted to answer. He wants this with each of us. Not one of us can take the place of another. We are each uniquely loved and desired by Him.
Just recently I was getting my Bible and had just settled in my chair and I heard Him say, “This was SO worth dying for.” I was stunned. He feels this way about every single one of us in this room. When we respond to His love it satisfies not only a longing in us but also a longing in God that no one else can satisfy. The Prodigal Son illustrates this. For Him, the joy of being with us is greater than the agony of the Cross was. Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)
For the JOY set before him he endured the cross…
The longing we have in our hearts for Him are reflections of His desire for intimacy with us. The disappointment and dissatisfaction we feel are invitations to grow deeper with Him. We will never find Him to be less than we hope Him to be. That would be a very small God. We cannot grow without being uncomfortable in our current place. Discomfort is our invitation to grow.
The desire we have for God will never be greater than His desire for us. So many of us have learned to silence desire in favor of efficiency or fear but in your deepest places, what is it you desire to experience with God? Is it to know His love? Is it to feel safe with Him? Is it to hear His voice more clearly? The longing for Him originates with Him and He will answer.