This 4th of July weekend was a strange one. I didn’t enter into it in freedom. Rather, I entered into it sick, exhausted, and, as a result, stressed out – all in all, not the most celebratory of moods. So, I escaped the foggy weather that had me feeling extra drained and headed out east to my family’s house.
The warm sunshine and vitamin D certainly helped. There’s something about sitting out on the patio with my mom, enjoying lunch and iced tea and letting the warm breeze wash over us, that’s incredibly healing.
But, while the warmth and the antibiotics got to work in my body…so did my stress. I worried that I wouldn’t heal quickly enough in time for the work week. I worried that I was letting people down by not being at church to usher on Sunday. And that worry kept me up last night until way past my bedtime. I tossed and turned in the now not-so-pleasant heat and finally turned on the light and just read and prayed.
While reading Life of the Beloved and a whole bundle of Psalms – like I said, I was up for a while – God made something very clear to me: my worry was a product of self-centeredness. Instead of fearing being sick or fearing what people may think of me in my weakness, the only thing I need to fear is the Lord.
“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:10-11)
The fear of the Lord has always been a mystery to me and hard to relate to in a positive way because fear is typically the biggest source of my brokenness…how could fear ever be anything good? But from this verse (and many others like it) and from what I’ve been learning recently at Reality in our series on wisdom, “fear of the Lord” is an idiom like “hit the road.” It’s not meant to be broken down into its individual parts. Rather, “fear of the Lord” – in its original language – is a relational phrase about our connection to God. It’s not about putting distance between us and God, but rather about putting us in right relationship with him – one that’s open to him, eager to please him, humble enough to be instructed by him, and full of love and respect for him.
And let me tell you, I was full of that fear last night. I recognized how much I needed him in those sleepless hours and how far off course I’d gone from the peace and rest he wants for me. I was so wrapped up in trying to manufacture solutions for my brokenness – both physical and emotional, short-term and long-term – that I was simultaneously wired and exhausted. But, as I read and prayed and sang worship songs in my head (Beautiful Things was on repeat), I learned something. When we fear the Lord – when we really connect with him and are open to what he’s doing in our lives – we don’t have to be afraid of our own brokenness.
Instead, as Henri Nouwen puts it, we can “face it squarely and befriend it….Yes, we have to find the courage to embrace our own brokenness, to make our most feared enemy into a friend.”
I think I understand a little bit of what he’s saying. Because in my limited experience, I’ve found that my pain and my brokenness have lead to really good things – closeness with God, rest in him, peace in who he’s made me to be, freedom to love others better by being a relatable human being, and joy in being received in my flawed state.
This freedom that I receive through the fear of the Lord is not a freedom of independence, but rather being in dependence on him. He doesn’t delight in my strength or my feeble attempts at perfection. He delights in my closeness to him, my praises, my hope, my trust, my complete reliance on him and his spirit.
Trusting and fearing God doesn’t come naturally, though. Sometimes I have to be shaken up in order to re-center my eyes on him and get my focus right. But it’s so much better when trust, peace, and joy are dispersed throughout my life as the result of constant prayer, submission, connection, and relation to him. It’s like the process of emulsion – where two normally unmixable liquids like oil and vinegar are combined through a continual stirring or whisking. And that requires the input of energy. But in the case of our relationships with God, it’s not an anxious, striving, perfectionist-type of energy. Rather, it’s the energy of choosing silence and rest, solitude and stillness. It’s so counter to the way I typically live my life.
So, as this weekend comes to a close, I’m taking some time to be quiet, to reflect, to listen to what God has to say to me…about me…about his world and what he’s doing in it.
What is God saying to you?