Facing the Gaps
There is a stunning and heartbreaking story that soberingly shows us what happens when we live our lives from a lie. It is hard to imagine a lie believed can have such devastating effects, but perhaps like me, you will see glimpses of yourself in this man.
Teruo Nakamura was a Japanese soldier from WWII who went deep into hiding on the Indonesian Island of Morotai. Stationed there in 1944, he endured a horrific battle. Afterwards when he wasn't found, he was counted among the dead. Deep in hiding with several other Japanese soldiers, he was ready to fight again if needed, but that day never came. Eventually he became separated from the other soldiers and found himself in the jungle alone.
Eventually, WWII ended and the world healed from the devastation and broken hearts left behind and moved on with their lives. Not Nakamura - he stayed safely hidden in the jungle. Leaflets were dropped declaring the war was over. Nakamura was not persuaded. He was suspicious and decided the tiny leaflets declaring freedom were propaganda from the enemy trying to trick him to come out of hiding. He mistook fear for wisdom. The planes he routinely saw, he imagined were an arms race between the Allies and Axis powers, but in reality they were just an Indonesian airforce base's routine daily flying. He carefully cooked his meals after dark so that the once real but now imagined enemy wouldn't see the smoke from his fire. Days turned into years. Years turned into decades and Nakamura stayed tucked away and safely hidden.
Little did he know that the enemy was long gone. Longing to be free, he kept track of time by following the moon cycles and tying knots in a rope. He was longing for something more but trapped by real turned imaginary enemies. His only goal in life was to not lose his life. He didn't. But he did.
This went on for 30 years. He lived 30 years of his life from a reality that wasn't even true! He missed out on all of the healing, moving on, doing new things and living those 30 years could have offered. At 55 he was eventually coaxed out of hiding. He found he had based his life on a lie.
He returned home. His infant son had grown, his wife had remarried and his parents had died. In his attempt to live free, his wrong perception of reality stole his life. Imagine the devastation when he realized his hard years of jungle living were unnecessary and all due to believing what was untrue. The gap between what he believed and what was true was wide and that gap cost him dearly. There is a cost to gaps. To read more of this story, you can read it here
What we believe truly matters. Most of us won't live our lives for 30 years waiting for an ended war to end, but all of us live our lives according to what we really believe. Just like Nakamura's wrong beliefs caused loss for him, our wrong beliefs can cause losses for us and cause us to miss out on beautiful things God has for us. Just like Nakamura's wrong beliefs led to loss for his loved ones, so our wrong beliefs steal our relationships as well. The cost of wrong beliefs is very high.
Many of us live our lives knowing the right answers, but living from wrong underlying beliefs. Truth has the power to change our lives, but too often we live from lies. Some of them may be familiar to you.
"If I don't feel, sense or notice God, He is not near."
"If I feel worthless, I am worthless."
"If I am fearful, there is something bigger than God to fear."
"If I am lonely, I am unworthy of relationship."
"If I feel unaccepted by God, I must not be accepted by Him."
"If they think little of me, God must too."
Sometimes we are so good at saying what is right, we don't realize we are saying the right thing but actually living our lives from a wrong belief.
"I trust God" but really our life is filled with fears.
"I love God" but really we love a lot of other things and are a bit unsure or offended with Him.
"I know I am loved by God" but really our lives are filled with shame and a harsh voice we believe is His.
"I have faith in God" but really we are questioning His goodness.
"I know God is always with me" yet we functionally live like we are on our own.
The answer isn't just to do better or try harder, but to go to God with the gaps that we have. Gaps are invites. If we're honest, we all have them. The answer isn't to paste a smile on our face, state the right answers and shame our hearts. This is what the Bible calls whitewashed tombs. Tombs are for the dead. There is no better way to find our soul deadening than to ignore the gaps. Rather, the gaps are indicators that God has some work to do in us to make what we know in our head our heart's reality. This easiest thing to do is to ignore these places and race to the safety of right answers, but in the long run this is the hardest way to live.
These gaps simply reveal areas where we can come to know God better and are often the exact places we can't actually trust Him very well. That's okay. He knows it and isn't alarmed by it. Rather, it's an invitation from Him to go to a deeper depth with Him and find more of His goodness. These are the places where faulty views of God are revealed and healed. We will never find Him to be less good or loving than we hope Him to be. This is the truth I hang onto whenever I find a view of God I hold that is a bit distorted. We will find those distorted views as long as we live.
God rarely does things how we expect Him to and it can throw us at times. This is to be expected in a life growing in God. Even John the Baptist was blindsided when facing death in prison. In Matthew 11:3 he asked, "Are you the One who was to come, or should we look for another?" He had a gap between what he thought the Messiah (Jesus) would do and what the Messiah was actually doing. God rarely looks like we expect Him to and He doesn't mind our questions. Facing the gaps is one of the bravest things we can do.
Fourteen years ago, John and I faced something that revealed I was living with a large gap between what is true and what I believed. I knew that God would 'never leave me or forsake me', but deep down I believed I was living life on my own. This showed up in my deep fear about harm coming to my family, how I saw God in that space and how I functioned in my day to day life. It prevented me from truly enjoying my family. Fear does that. Just like Nakamura, my fears were stealing from my present life.
That big gap showed up when my husband, John, was diagnosed with a rare and at the time, fairly unknown genetic condition called Alpha I Antitrypsin Deficiency. He went to the doctor, had some liver counts that were off and was sent to a liver specialist.
I'll never forget the day I was standing in the kitchen, hands still wet from dishes and the phone rang. John's voice sounded distant on the other end. The world began to move in slow motion as he began talking, "I have good news and bad news." I chose the good news first. He continued, "The good news is we live in a great place for a liver transplant." I stood reeling. This was not good news at all if just one minute earlier I believed he was healthy. My heart started pounding as he continued, "Now for the bad news. I may need one."
Words were a blur as he continued on that he was in the beginning stages of cirrhosis and would need further tests as well as lung tests. A quick google search revealed that his phenotype (ZZ) is the most serious type and both non-smoker's emphysema and non-alcoholics cirrhosis can be the result. We had just learned they believed he had cirrhosis, but he still needed a pulmonologist to assess his lungs for emphysema. At the time, a lot less was known and the prevalence of death at a young age appeared to be high. Now, they are finding more people have it than previously thought and although it can be deadly, it often isn't.
But we didn't know that. All we knew is that we were facing a possible liver transplant, a myriad of tests and doctor's visits we weren't expecting and on top of that, since it is genetic, we didn't know how the kids were affected.
My world started reeling. Every fear I had about John or the kids dying came to the forefront. This had always been my greatest fear. Every siren I heard, I wondered if John was fine. I had thought about death every single day since getting married. I know it's unhealthy, but knowing something is unhealthy and being released from its grip are two different things. I didn't have answers, but I had a lot of questions and God had one of His own for me. Little did I know that one question over the course of six weeks would release me from my fear of losing those I love, reveal a distorted view of God and highlight a lie I had been living from. God wanted to close the gap.
The first time I heard it I was curling my hair. "Am I enough?" I froze. Everything in me screamed out, "No!" I stood staring in the mirror. This is exactly what I was afraid of. Was God asking me this because He was going to take John? I stammered definitively and defiantly, "No. No You're not." I felt I had held my ground and maybe God would leave me alone with this. He suddenly felt like an adversary I had to defend against. I was falling into the gap between what I knew in my head about God (he's good, kind, loving, powerful) and what I truly deeply believed about Him. (He 'teaches us a lesson', He wants us to prove ourselves to Him, He's arbitrary, He's against me, He's far off)
A few nights later I was asleep in bed. Again I heard it, "Am I enough?" Groggily I said, "No," and rolled over to go to sleep. Ignoring God seemed like a great idea at the time. This happened a few more times and I began to see He was wanting to take me to the end. To the 'what if's.' He wanted me to go there. He wanted me to face the fear head on. We had six weeks of tests and waiting. Three weeks into the waiting, the question came again, "Am I enough?" By this time I had started to experience first-hand Hebrews 13:5, "I will never leave you or forsake you." I could sense Him with me and walking beside me. I was seeing more of His heart for us a little at a time. Because of this, I had a little bit more trust.
My answer this time was a braver, "No. But I want You to be." I could almost feel His smile. I could sense His gentleness. He always understands that movement towards Him takes time - especially when we are conquering misconceptions about Him and fears in our lives. There is an 'ing' in conquering. He was transforming my view of Him, calming my fears and revealing more of who He is. Whenever we truly see more of Him, we can trust Him a little more because He is good. Seeing more of Him always involves seeing more of His goodness.
Over the next couple of weeks He showed me that there is not a valley in life where He won't be with me. There is not a moment in this life I will be alone. When I imagine a devastating place, I never imagine Him there, but the truth is, no matter how massive a devastation in my life may be, He will be there too. He truly will be enough. I can't imagine it or see it, but in this place I don't need to. I will see it then. The all-sufficient God will be sufficient for any suffering life holds. Together we overlooked the valley of the shadow of death that every one of us will face at some time in our lives and I saw Him in it. He asked me, "Am I enough?" I said, "Yes."
In those six weeks He taught me how to trust but more importantly He taught me that He is trustworthy and will always be trustworthy. And in those six weeks, the deep fear of losing the ones I love was healed. Did He promise everything would be fine? No. He promised me Himself. The God who holds the heavens and the earth holds my life. He holds yours too.
Am I ever tempted to fear? Yes, but in that place, He taught me how to center my hope on Him and it's a choice I make again and again. The gap now has a crossable bridge. I don't live in the unreality that death will never land at my doorstep, but I am able to live free of the fear. The truth is, none of us is promised our next breath, but we are promised His presence with us always - and He will be enough. I know this now and it is a truth I anchor my life to. The good God will always be with me. This is a foundation that is sure and not shifting. He is the only one strong enough to anchor our lives too.
Like Teruo Nakamura, are you living part of your life hiding in the shadows believing lies over truth? What are the things you have heard are true and maybe even hope are true, but are having a hard time believing? Where are the gaps in your life? I know I keep finding them in my life. The gaps between truth and our wrong beliefs can be the places of beauty and growth if we let them.
John 8:31, "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
We 'hold to His teaching' by allowing Him to reveal and heal the gaps in our lives so that we can start really living from what is true.
For further reading, read the remaining passage of John 8:31-58 and you can observe the Pharisees arguing with Jesus about the gaps between what they expected and believed and what was true. Their response was to pick up stones and threaten Jesus instead of allowing Jesus to close the gaps.