Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Wait Problem: A Mexican Standoff

Disclaimer: If you haven’t  already done may want to read Part 1 (My Wait Problem) of this blog series before you dive into reading Part 2.  It’ll probably make more sense.  Or you could just be a rebel and read this one first. I don’t care...suit yourself, you crazy nut job.  
Do you know what I think of when I think about waiting?  Checkout lines...I think about checkout lines.

A little fun fact about Alissa: I have a spiritual gift for choosing the absolute slowest line in any given store.  Seriously...every time.  I’ve even tried to fool myself by picking the line that I wasn’t going to initially pick...thinking that I could somehow psych my line-picking-instinct out and end up in the faster line. Never works. I have the uncanny ability to get in the line with underage checkers (for adult beverage purchases), slow checkers, checkers-in-training, broken checkers, chatty checkers...or, the piece de resistance...getting behind the lady with a binder full of coupons.  Ohhhhh yeah. Talk about a prime opportunity to learn about waiting.  Stand in line behind a binder full of coupons as the “beep, beep, beep” slowly erodes your last remaining nerve.  Then, invariably, the coupon lady glances at me with a chagrined “sorry about this” look...and I just shrug as if to say, “Not your fault, Coupon line-picker is broken.”   
Think about it.  Our days are marked by waiting.  It’s everywhere.  From standing in a checkout line to standing next to a gravesite...everything around us is filled with the tension of delayed fulfillment.  And if I’ve learned one thing from my own broken-down story, it’s this: how we respond to this tension will define our faith...whether we are aware of it or not.  

I used to believe waiting was just a Divine test to see how long I could hold my breath during a Mexican standoff.  (I’ve actually employed the “breath-holding” technique when standing behind coupon lady in the checkout line. It’s not recommended). Seriously...I thought waiting was just a big, ‘ol dramatic deadlock between me and my longings.  Whoever takes the first shot...loses. And when my lungs started to burn and my trigger finger started to shake, I’d call upon the promise found in Isaiah 40:31 “...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  This sweet Scripture would always fill my lungs with just enough oxygen to continue holding my breath. 
For years, this belief system worked for me.  Everyone knows I like a good challenge.  Besides, the tension of waiting felt less powerful when I was holding a loaded gun to the forehead of my deepest desires.  That way if I began to feel them trying to claw their way to the surface again...I had the option of pulling the trigger. 
But the fundamental problem with this belief if you hold your breath for too long, you’ll eventually pass out.  And in a Mexican Standoff, if you pull the trigger on your opponent, you’ll end up killing yourself too.  

For almost 20 years, I have been holding my breath for marriage.   No, not just marriage...I have been holding my breath for love (Eros).  Companionship. Someone to bear witness to my life.  Someone to share the burden. Someone to hold my hand.  This is not easy for me to admit. Everybody knows I’m 37 and single, so it should be a foregone conclusion that I want to get married, right?  Sure.  But I’m not talking about a “want.”  I’m talking about a bone-deep, agonizing, life-altering longing that clings to me day and night.  And I spend almost all of my daily allotment of emotional energy trying to convince the world (and myself) that this longing hasn’t ravaged my heart.  It’s hard enough to wade through the constant tension of an unfulfilled’s exhausting having to pretend I’m not devastated about it.

I know this will scandalize all the feminists reading this, but I truly believe women are designed to be help-mates.  We’re not created to be alone.  I believe we’re more than capable of living independently from a “mate”...but, in doing so, it goes against our purpose.  And, as a single woman who has learned how to live independently very well, I have never been able to shake the feeling that my “best” day of being a single woman can’t even compare to bad day of being a help-mate in a committed marriage.  I know all the exhausted, disillusioned married folks may disagree with me.  I’ve seen how some of you long for my single lifestyle. It probably looks like a vacation.  But perpetual vacation is a mirage.  Being single is really, really hard work.  And it feels like work that has been inflicted on me...rather than something I have chosen for myself. 
So, how does a woman survive a life where her very purpose is denied her?  Where the tension of waiting is so ingrained that she has weaved it into the very fabric of her belief system?  How does a woman hold her breath for over 20 years without causing extensive damage? 

Short answer?  She doesn't.  Keep reading...

Our story is a series of life-altering events.  Some of these events are huge and obnoxious. They manifest as death, illness, divorce or EF5 tornadoes.  Others are like pebbles in our shoes...constant irritants that still have the power to alter our walk of faith.  Either way, our hearts are ravaged.  But life doesn’t stop.  Bills still need to be paid.  People still need us to function.  So, inevitably, we begin to rebuild our defenses brick-by-brick...belief-by-belief...decision-by-decision...until we figure out how to live with the tension of surviving down here.
I think my diminishing faith in the God of the Universe is a result of years of faulty brick-laying.  At some point in my life, I decided to believe that if I stood in the street long enough...and called upon God often enough (when my longings dared to move or my lungs started to burn) then, eventually, He would reward my “waiting” by giving me the desires of my heart.  Brick-by-brick, decision-by-decision my faith eroded and my anger grew.

You see, I had a deadline on this whole waiting thing.  A girl can only be a badass for so long.  Eventually my arms got tired.  I started feeling entitled to the desires of my heart.  And when that happened...I began living like a victim of my circumstances.  I even use words like “inflicted” to describe my singleness.  But even worse? When I live my whole life trying to be a badass, I impose the same standards on everybody else.  So, when they fail to win the standoff in their own lives...I use it as self-righteous fuel to keep pointing my gun at my own longings.  The result is that I become like the priest Asaph in Psalms 73, “when my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in the heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.”  And, come to find out, brutish and ignorant beasts don’t deal well with the tension of waiting.    
In the last few months, as my ambivalence has forced me to take a long-hard look at myself, the Spirit has taught me that waiting isn’t a Mexican’s a bloody, dangerous shootout. And as it turns out...the enemy is NOT my longings.  Oh no, my longings are the good guys.  They're hungry and itchy, yes...but they're also a beacon of light...connecting me to the Lover of my Soul.  The true enemy is the Father of Lies.  And he has heavy artillery pointed right at my heart.  As I’ve deluded myself into thinking I was a badass, a steady stream of flaming lies have been raining down on me with deadly accuracy.  And because of those wounds, I lost my faith in the one thing that could save me...TRUTH. 

See, here’s the thing.  We are all waiting for something.  Every single person reading this blog feels the tension of delayed fulfillment.  Sometimes that feels like an annoying pebble in our shoes...sometimes it feels like our skin is melting off our body.  But the true heart-saving question we have enough faith to allow ourselves to just feel?  Feel the tension of unfulfilled longing?  Do we have enough faith to put down our bricks and weapons and just...wait? 
Our story is more than just a series of life-altering events.  Our story is a battlefield of life-altering decisions. Over and over again.  Day in and day out.  Moment by moment. We decide who we’re going to believe. 

Imagine this: you're standing perfectly still as the enemy charges straight at you...gun raised...screaming how much he hates you.  His eyes are wild.  His hands are bloody.  His only goal is to maim and destroy you.  He’s coming closer and closer.  Do you feel the tension?  Is your trigger finger trembling?  Are you afraid?  Good.  Now imagine the God of the Universe draws near and whispers in your ear, “Wait.”  (Exodus 14:14)
Decision time.  Do you hold your breath?  Do you draw your weapon? Do you pick up another brick?  Or do you choose to wait...believing with every trembling nerve in your body that the God of the Universe has promised to intervene? 

I have learned that waiting and faith are two sides of the same coin. The more I feed my faith...the more the tension ebbs.  And as I wait for the desire of my be loved and chosen by a man (or to finally get in a fast-moving check out line), I will be inundated with many opportunities to feel the tension of the bloody battle for my heart.  I can choose to be a brutish and ignorant beast who has relinquished her shield of faith.  Or I can choose to be a Princess Badass, dressed in the full armor of God...holding perfectly still.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Wait Problem

Many years ago, a visiting pastor said from the pulpit, “I’m convinced that every person who comes to me for counseling has an untreated weight problem.”   I, of course, was offended.  I had enough extra pounds to carry around without this guy adding the extra burden of psychological instability. But then he spelled it for me...W-A-I-T problem.  He went on to say that we can trace every addiction...every act of disobedience...every sin...back to one fundamental problem: as humans, we totally suck at waiting.  

Audrey II with Chicken Pox = Our Longings
I have never forgotten that sermon.  Which is saying something...cause I’ve heard a few.  His point was that we’re all born with inherent longings.  Big ‘ol hungry, itchy longings that, without constant supervision, have the power to drive us quietly mad.  (I totally imagine Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors meets a really bad case of chicken pox).  These longings are demanding.  They’re insatiable.  And they’re absolutely inescapable.  But here’s the kicker, we’re not supposed to scratch or feed our own longings.  Nope. The Scripture is clear on this point...only The Way can give us abundant life.  Only the blood of The Lamb can truly satisfy our constant craving. 

Wow. Did the God of the Universe really infect us with a constant case of emotional chicken pox and then warn us not to use backscratchers and calamine lotion?   This seems...cruel...and very un-Godlike. 
But it gets worse.  We’re all stuck in a world that is peddling anti-itch creams on EVERY street corner.  Drink this.  Eat this.  Try this.  Sniff this.  Screw this.  Read this.  Watch this.  Pin this.  Post this.  Buy this. Oh yeah, the World says waiting is for chumps and cowards.  We’re supposed to seize the day and create our own happiness. Even good-intentioned churches join the fray...offering spiritual solutions and programs to try to stem the inflammation. 

But despite our faithful waiting, the slow burn goes on for months, years or even a lifetime.  So, here’s the humdinger question: what if God chooses not to alleviate that deep ache for romantic love... for whatever it is that you ache for?  Do you just keep waiting?  Or do you reach for something – anything – to alleviate the pain?  
I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately.  In the shower.  On my way to work.  When I go to sleep.  When I wake up.  And the more I think about it, the more I come to a paralyzing, unflattering conclusion: my diminishing faith in God directly correlates with my festering wait problem.  And my festering wait problem is being fed by a deep pool of untreated anger. 

For those of you who have been kind enough to read my blog, you may have noticed that I’ve been eerily quiet for almost a year.  This is not a coincidence.  Somewhere along the line, slowly and without conscious thought, I totally gave up.  I stopped caring.  I threw in the proverbial towel. For 37 years I had tried to wait the way I was told to wait...sometimes failing miserably, mind you...but I still tried.  Yet the net effect was that I was still waiting.  People were still suffering.  Bad stuff still happened.  People still hurt me.  And my blasted longings always managed to claw their way back to the surface and demand more attention.  No way, God.  I’ve tried it your way for years and I’m still lonely, overweight, and generally unfulfilled.  I think I’m the only one left who is actually trying to wait.  Maybe it’s true...maybe I am a chump and a coward.
So, I dropped the microphone and walked off the stage. I no longer wanted to write about something that in my dark, quiet places...I no longer believed.   God is good, yes...but is He good enough?

Oh man.  I can almost hear some of you flipping through your mental Bible verse rolodexes.  Bless her heart; this girl needs the Word!  You may even feel like you should stop reading and start praying for my eternal soul.  I’m totally ok with that. I’m a huge fan of prayer and the Word.  But I hope you’ll temporarily suspend your internal need to fix me...and just keep reading.   My story isn’t over.  Besides, whether you admit it or not...this is your story too. 
A lot of really, really bad things have happened lately.  Really, really bad things.  To me...and to those around me.  Evil is on the move.  And I think the question of whether or not we have an untreated wait problem has become a matter of life and death.  Because if I’ve learned one thing in the last’s that we never really stop believing.  We always believe something.  Always. 

It is through my story of ambivalence and resignation that I have slowly and painfully realized that for 37 years, I have believed all the wrong things about what it means to wait.  And it’s this twisted, toxic belief that has poured lighter fuel on my anger.    
The irony is that, like a petulant child, I kept waiting for the Spirit to show up and fix it.  I mean...He’s the Spirit.  He’s supposed to tell me what to do about my problems, right?   I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing until He intercedes on my behalf. 

Yet, despite my petulance...He did show up.  There was no sunset or choir of angels.  There was no magic moment.  It was just a quiet, still voice that said, “Daughter, you’re not’re stalling.  I’m the one waiting.  Pick up the microphone.  Say what you really think.  I can handle it.”  
Touché, God...touché. 
So, I find myself here.  At my keyboard.  I wish I could say it was a selfless act.  It isn’t.  As Flannery O’Conner once said, “I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.”  I’m hoping that by showing up here...I’ll finally get some answers.  And maybe...just watching a lonely, overweight and generally unfulfilled woman struggle with what it really means to’ll get some answers too.  And then maybe life won’t itch so damn bad. 

To Be Continued...soon.