I admit that there is a part of me that is inextricably drawn to systematics, to problem-solving, to taking a moment to stop and think and then plotting a course out. Perhaps that's why I found myself studying mechanical engineering in college and, now, building software applications. You are faced with a problem, you gather information, you ponder, you design, you sort out extraneous information, and you make an attempt to solve that problem. You realize you made mistakes or didn't see everything -or maybe the requirements changed. So, you make small adjustments, evaluate, and push them out into real-life. If you are a software developer, you probably can't help but think of the "Agile" development method when reading this.
But can life really be handled this way? There are people making a fortune out there trying to convince us it can be. Self-help books are the craze. Motivational speaking is popular. Then there was "the Secret," promoted on Oprah. If you are still reading and not gagging yourself after that last one, consider how much of the world works in concert with that drive within us for self-sufficiency. We want life the way we want it, we want to set the goals, we want to implement the procedures, and we want results. Self-sufficiency is the idea that I am capable of doing all of that. I can essentially produce the results I want for my life.
Then something unexpected happens. And another thing. And another. I remember hearing a preacher say that by the time we are forty or fifty years old, you have to be practically insane to believe that you have any real control over your life. This is where things like the "mid-life crisis" come in. Still, we plug away, often dealing with low-grade-to-severe depression... but there are pills for that, these days. Just keep applying bandaids, just keep relying upon the next method or fix, and everything will be fine, right? Maybe for a little while longer.
Maybe I'm one of the lucky ones, because for me exhaustion has begun to settle in while only in my early thirties. I'm, frankly, exhausted from trying to control my life and buying into the lie of self-sufficiency. I realize that I can't get all the results I want, that the results I believe I need are not for me to decide, and that I can (and have) literally wear myself to the point of breaking if I continue to grab hold with that white-knuckle grip on my life. But more than that, I'm realizing that even when I get it... it doesn't satisfy me for long, and I'm at least mildly haunted by the prospect of losing it. Life becomes one big performance -performance to obtain, to keep, to maintain. I'm the proverbial hamster on the hamster wheel. It makes me tired just rereading what I just wrote!
The thing is... you can't even call that living. As I'm sitting here thinking about my next sentence, my wife's screensaver shows the following words: "Thank God for what you have; trust God for what you need." Why is that trust so difficult? Why are we so bound up in self-sufficiency? That is the human struggle. We want our life to be our life. The idea of someone else deciding how it should be and being in total control of all the outcomes is... scary, threatening, even insulting to some of us. It is also those things when we are arrogant enough to think that we know better than the God who made us. It is all those things when we really doubt that He will deliver.
I'm a guy who likes to think he can find all the answers. Sometimes I think I actually have them, and I let other people know it. But then the Lord snaps me to my senses, and I realize I don't know anything. I realize I have no answers. I don't mean that I don't know if Jesus is the only way of salvation -that is a clear truth. What I mean is that I have no answers for how to self-navigate and self-fix and manage this life. At least I'm heading toward reality when I begin to see that. And I'm left realizing that for all the complexity and over-thinking and exhaustive effort to wiggle my way along and keep things in tact, you reach a point where you know that the only way you will keep your sanity is if you start taking God's word for it that what He promises is better than anything we foolishly believe we can hold on to with our self-sufficiency. His love is better, His good for us is better, His plan is better, His comfort is better, His kingdom is better, His ways are better, His care is better... Either it is or it isn't. Either God is out of touch with real life, or He is a liar, or He is patiently calling me to something so much better. At what point will I start taking His word for it and step in His direction? At what point will I stop making excuses?
At the risk of giving something that sounds like an "answer," I'll share an example of something I saw today. I've read that passage in Jeremiah 17 many, many times before. It is a classic passage that talks about fear of man. I've applied every single formula and theological construct I know to it to try and "fix" my problems with fear of man. I've resorted to will power: "You just have to stop depending on man and depend on God." I've tried a more sophisticated, more theological idolatry-based approach: "Aha. I just need to repent of my idolatry and put God back on the throne." But how do you actually do that? Need a formula for that, too. Need a book for that, too. Need another couple sermons to tell you how to do that. It goes on forever. One "answer", one more "here's how you do it" formula leads to another question, and so on.
I can't do it. I can't fix it. But today I saw something. I saw God bringing me to this place. And I saw something beautifully simple in that passage in Jeremiah 17. God is saying to me, "See what I'm saying, here? I'm wooing you, I'm calling you, to trust Me, to trust that I'm better and that what I have is better." In that passage, He is calling me to just plain trust Him, to trust what He is saying. He's warning me of believing that other things, people especially, are better and will give me something better. He's reviving my memory of my past trials and current exhaustion to say, "See, you already know this part is true; So can't you see that the other part is true, too?" He's telling me that He is better, that He has better for me, and He's calling me to believe Him.
Imagine that. God leads, God walks with me, God personally walks me down paths, some of them very dark, for a purpose? Imagine that. God can be trusted? God knows what He is doing? God knows that exhausting me is necessary for me to stop trying so hard and just start trusting Him? I don't need to have all the answers and see how it all works? I don't need a play-by-play from God, an explanation for every turn in the road? Imagine that.