Lately, I feel like I’m in one of Life’s sweet spots. Like God’s wrapped His wrinkly and wise fingers around a divine gravy boat and fancied Himself tilting and turning and heaping ounce after ounce of blessings onto my plate. Like a grandma who often mishears your, “I’m not too hungry,” as a, “Yes. More please,” He’s spooned and ladled and poured so much goodness into my dish, I can barely keep it from spilling over the edges.
Lately, I’ve been reminded – over and over again – that we serve a God who loves to love us, who delights in blessing us and who longs for us to satisfy ourselves in His rich, rich grace.
And I am thankful. Friend, I am oh-so thankful.
For every last drop, for every morsel of indulgence and for every tiny crumb of grace, I am grateful.
But lately, if I am being honest, I’ve also felt the weight of the goodness. I’ve felt the pressure to soak it all in and to make sure I am available to inhale every fleeing vapor of mercy. Somehow, amidst the blessings, I’ve been burdened by the strain to make sure I’m not wasting even a microsecond of this harvest.
I’ve felt my back ache beneath the gravity of gratitude and I’ve allowed myself to become protective of this season.
Lately, I’ve found myself ransacked by the inability to say no to people. The life-sucking compulsion to make sure I never disappoint, never let down and always wow every shoulder I brush has been demanding a good deal of attention lately. The fear of wasting this season, of not allowing myself to fully enjoy it and of it sneakily fading into the rearview mirror has wrapped itself around me like a noose. I’ve convinced myself that if I do my part – that if I’m sure to take the best care of this place and these people and these circumstances – that it may stay like this forever. And so I’ve fallen into this cycle of striving to please, becoming exhausted, apologizing and then striving to please again.
In the past, I have seen my knuckles turn white as I clung tightly to blessings and planted seeds of hope in the goodness.
I’ve watched myself water and till and hoe and weed to keep the ground fertile. I’ve seen my dirt-covered hands turn blessings into curses as my focus turned from gratitude and thankfulness to hoarding and blessings-preservation. I’m not above admitting that, historically, I’ve had a tendency to allow my appreciation of the gifts far surpass my love for the Giver. And it’s a tendency that’s played out in, what most people refer to as, people-pleasing.
The thing is, I’m really good at disguising my motives. Maybe not to others, but to myself. I’ve said it a million times and I will say it a million more,
I can talk myself into or out of anything.
And to make matters worse, I can almost always convince myself that I am motivated by love. (And if you know me and have had even the tiniest glimpse into the depths of my sin-ravaged heart, you would know that that’s kind of scary.) I can convince myself – no matter what – that my inability to say no and that my tendency to over-commit are acts of love. I can have a fairly lengthy conversation with myself about how if I don’t go to that dinner or that party or that football game, someone wouldn’t feel loved.
But at its core, that isn’t love. That whole shebang of a thought process is driven by love’s antithesis: fear.
Fear of disappointing.
Fear of conflict.
Fear of missing out.
Fear of watching it slip away.
Fear of wasting time.
Fear of heartbreak.
Fear of loss.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of discomfort.
Fear of not being enough.
Fear of being too much.
I had a conversation yesterday with someone pretty special. In a coffee shop, after church on a perfectly chilly November day. The coffee was so hot we had to take the lids off the cardboard cups and our wobbly table made every move a dangerous jolt as the steam billowed up, up, up and the boiling caffeine threatened to spill over the edge. It was a soul-stirring conversation. The kind of exchange that makes you grateful for the set of eyes sitting across from you that take you in as you unleash what’s been churning in you for however long, and softly say, “I get it. I’ve felt that too.” We chatted for a while there in that coffee shop, about the constant challenge of deciphering fear from the voice of God.
“I think for me,” I said, “The difference between fear and God’s nudging is that one is usually really loud and one is usually really quiet.”
For me, fear is usually a clamor. More often than not, fear is an anxious cacophony of pots and pans and cymbals and tumbling steel. Fear sounds a lot like Fridays at 6 AM, when the garbage men come and throw those metal trash cans back to the curb after they dump out leaking Hefty bags of leftover spaghetti and used coffee filters. No matter what, I can’t stifle the squawking.
But the voice of God? It’s almost always a whisper. Gentle, breezy and hushed. Most times, I have to quiet everything else around me and tune out the hustle and the bustle to get a good listen. Sometimes it’s a strain to hear.
It takes effort to lean into those Holy whispers, but they’re worth cupping your hands around your ears for.
And those whispers are the words – those are the sentiments and nuggets that drive you to love. Not fear.
Fear is easy, boo. It’s simple to commit to everything and to say yes to everyone and to spend your whole life trying to be everyone’s savior. It’s easy to fall victim to the idea that you can make it all okay, that your presence is enough to woo someone into joy and that, without you, this whole wide world would fall apart. And it’s easy to do it all under the banner of love.
But that isn’t love.
Love doesn’t tip toe around trying to take care and make sure everything is perfect. Love doesn’t do everything it can to make sure it gets to keep you forever. It doesn’t go 98% in and keep the other 2% to make sure, if things don’t pan out, it’s not broke in the end. Love goes all in and gets its hands dirty in all the places where fear would’ve folded.
Sometimes, love says no. Sometimes, when everybody else is out carving pumpkins, love stays in, takes a bubble bath and goes to bed at 9:30. Sometimes, love says, “We’re talking about this because we can’t just brush it under the rug anymore. And it’s going to be uncomfortable and it might even sting a little, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it. It’s worth it.”
Loving isn’t always safe, but we can always love safely.
Loving is sometimes scary, but we don’t ever have to be afraid.
Enjoy this season – and fight hard to love well. But promise me this: You’ll take the pressure off. You don’t have to do it all and you don’t have to be afraid of messing it up. I promise you, even if you did, you’d be more than fine.
Because Life was never meant to be about the gravy, but about the hands that hold the boat.
Photo: Andreas Poeschek via Creative Commons