Painful Lessons

“Even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode.

We habitually and instinctively look to other things besides God and his grace as our justification, hope, significance, and security. We believe the gospel at one level, but at deeper levels we do not. Human approval, professional success, power and influence, family and clan identity-all those things serve as our heart’s “functional trust” rather than what Christ has done, and as a result, we continue to be driven to a great degree by fear, anger, and a lack of self-control.
— Tim Keller, The Prodigal God .

I saw this quote this morning on Pete Wilson’s blog, a blog I just started following a few weeks ago and really enjoy. I’m also a fan of Tim Keller, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would write such a profound, theologically-sound thought.

This thought of  humans using things (or people) as “functional trusts” rather than trusting in the sufficiency of Christ hit me especially hard this morning. I’ve spent my morning mediating on its words and asking God to speak to me from it. My conclusion thus far: Oh, how guilty I am of doing this, sometimes multiple times in one day — sad but true.

Case in point:
Last night and a bit this morning, John and I were discussing some “life” issues.

As I’ve said before, we’re in a season of waiting and have many important decisions that are looming. Many times, we both become frustrated with waiting and just wish that the transition we’re waiting on (whatever that may be) would just take place and that we’d be on the other side of “it” and enjoying the peace that will inevitably come on the other side.

Due to this time of waiting, and down the road, huge transition, many things have been put on the “back burner”, at least for now. Many of those things involve things I enjoy quite much, that I spent a good 4 years of my life doing, and honestly, things upon which I built my identity, intentionally or not, i.e. public ministry and other speaking opportunities. Do I miss these things? Very much so. Do I regret making the decision of marrying John and consequently having to re-arrange my life for the benefit of my marriage, and in many ways, my own sanity? No, not ever.

I still have this inward struggle, though, that constantly irks me and is hard to explain even to my husband, but I shall try to expound upon my thoughts for my own benefit and hopefully your Christian walk, as well.

I’ve learned you can run but you can’t hide from your past and how its affected you.

Back when I was “Amber Metz”, I was free to do anything I wanted either for myself or the Kingdom anytime I wanted. I had supportive parents who never stopped me from dreaming big and traveling non-stop; they didn’t always understand my calling but they didn’t hinder it none-the-less. From the end of 2005 to around August of 2009, I edited and wrote a book while being a full-time student. I volunteered 2 years with a youth ministry I grew up in, I started a 501(c)3 ministry which allowed me to travel the country proclaiming a “proper theology of suffering”. When I was home, I facilitated a weekly women’s Bible study in my home church and mentored teen girls.  On top of that, I did all these local presentations promoting organ/tissue donation awareness and was known to speak at an occasional Cystic Fibrosis Foundation event, too. In just a matter of 6 weeks time during the end of summer ’09, I finished my B.S. in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute, was offered my current job and got engaged to my husband. 10 weeks later, I was married and began my life as Mrs. John Payne, a life that was – and still is – completely different than to what I’d become accustomed.

During the time before I became “Mrs. Payne”, and after my transplant, I never really stopping to process anything. I got new lungs, hit the “GO!” button and never looked back. I was constantly busy, never home and, for the most part, very happy, or so I thought. I was on a mission and I didn’t even know it. What was that, you ask?

If I’m being completely honest, I was unconsciously on a mission — and many times still am — to somehow show God through my actions how thankful I am that I’m still here, to “earn” His love. As the quote from Tim Keller says, during that season of my life, I was many times driven by a great degree of fear. I honestly was afraid that God was somehow not pleased with me if I wasn’t out doing 20 (literally) “things for Him”, that due to saving my life, I “owed” it to Him. In my mind, it was the least I could do.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know the Gospel, that I thought that my works would somehow save me. It wasn’t that. I wasn’t trying to “earn” my salvation, at least not intentionally.As Keller says, I believed the Gospel on one end but on the other very much didn’t. I could quote you the verses, sing all the songs, believe it for everyone else but sometimes not for me, not for Amber. Amber had to do more. I had a well-intentioned mentor even drawing me my “life time line” on a white board, making sure to remind me that with the “time I had left”, I needed to “give all for the Kingdom”, which only fueled the fire and made me “work” even harder.

I didn’t want to not hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant”  when I died, especially if it was going to be in the 5-10 years that statistics give me and my mentor was drilling in my head. I wanted to be faithful. I didn’t want to be seen as lazy and ineffective for the Kingdom. Most of all, I didn’t want to “disappoint” Jesus, so I just kept working harder and faster, never really stopping to think about why I was doing half the things I was doing. They were in the “God” category, so how could they be wrong? Right? Right, Lord? My constant plea was, “Lord, how do I make you happy? What do you want from me for Your purpose?” While all the while, I never really processed the fact that I’d literally almost died (even planned my own funeral), had major surgery and begun a full-time ministry in a matter of months. 4 years later and I still hadn’t processed. I didn’t see the need. I didn’t think there was actually anything to “process”, and the ones around me, didn’t seem to think so, either.

Then I met a man named John Payne….and life as I knew it slowly began to change forever – for my good and His glory.

Meeting John was the catalyst for me getting out of just “doing” mode and becoming a whole person, a person who feels very deeply and passionately about many things and often grows weary from “working for the Kingdom”. The latter is something that took me a very long time to admit. In fact, I think the first time I admitted it was on our (at that time John’s) couch before we were even dating. John was dangerous to me. Not only did I not want to admit that I loved him, since I’d been told to not think about getting married and just “keep working for the Lord”. He also thought differently than me and didn’t see the point in all this “doing” if I couldn’t come to the realization that Christ doesn’t need my book, my ministry, my time. To John it all seemed so simple, while many times I drove home after our conversations confused and in a fog.

A continual realization I’m having to make is, as Keller says, much of my time post-transplant has been spent “looking to other things besides God and his grace as [my] justification, hope, significance and security. In short, my mission failed. I’m not saying that God didn’t call me to write Breathtaking or do any of the other dozen or so things I did before I got married. It’s not that. It’s that now, on the other side, I see that I would have enjoyed myself much more if I would have been able to realize that all God really wanted from me during that time was for me to REST in Him. That’s all He wants now.

Resting in Him does not mean I can’t – or shouldn’t – tangibly do anything for the Kingdom of God, but it also certainly doesn’t mean what I often did — fret and worry about God’s “satisfaction” with the quota of work I’d done for Him in a given day.

I am reminded of John Piper’s update of the Westminster Catechism, which he expounds upon in his book, Desiring God. In it, Piper says, “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”

I don’t always do a very good job of enjoying God or even my husband’s love for me. My mind is constantly on not disappointing both of them.

What a waste.

They both already love me. Jesus loves me, even though I’m not out doing everything I used to do and some of my ministry supporters probably think I’ve “back slidden” and am no longer in love with Jesus. It’s not that I’m not “doing anything for the Kingdom”, as Satan constantly tells me. I’m just doing different things, things that are more “behind the scenes”. I’m not in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean my life doesn’t have purposes or isn’t bring God glory. Jesus will always love me…because, as John tells me, He just does.

My husband will still love me if I can’t bear him children. He’s not going to become bitter and angry with me if I don’t give him a son, if I never make more than $9.00 an hour and never pass for Betty Crocker. John will still love me even if I really share all the things that trouble me, all the things I think about when I’m alone in the house all day and have nothing to do but think. He will still love me if…anything…because He just does.

I think I’m beginning to understand why God is allowing this season in my life. It is not that I am in “sin”, that I’ve somehow failed Him and am failing my husband, too. No, it’s all a part of a bigger purpose. That purpose today is to write this little blog and hopefully help others, as I fumble my walk through my Christian walk.  I’m learning it would be sin not to acknowledge the struggles I have with not allowing the Gospel to penetrate me fully, but it certainly isn’t a sin to come to terms with my own dreams and desires, fears and broken places, and ask the Lord to restore me.

I know He won’t allow me to be in the position I once was if I don’t learn lessons from where I’ve already been. And if He never allows me to serve Him in the same capacity, but changes my heart and makes me a better Christ-follower and wife in the process, as my favorite song says, It is well with my soul.

I leave you with the song by Patty Griffy, Up To The Mountain. I’ve been up to several mountains and felt the words of the second stanza of the song. I finally feel, though, like I’m starting to reach the peaceful valley, which has been there all along, if I would have just stopped long enough to rest in Him.

I went up to the mountain
Because you asked me to
Up over the clouds
To where the sky was blue
I could see all around me
Everywhere
I could see all around me
Everywhere

Sometimes I feel like
I’ve never been nothing but tired
And I’ll be walking
Till the day I expire
Sometimes I lay down
No more can I do
But then I go on again
Because you ask me to

Some days I look down
Afraid I will fall
And though the sun shines
I see nothing at all
Then I hear your sweet voice, oh
Oh, come and then go, come and then go
Telling me softly
You love me so

The peaceful valley
Just over the mountain
The peaceful valley
Few come to know
I may never get there
Ever in this lifetime
But sooner or later
It’s there I will go
Sooner or later
It’s there I will go

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