I enjoyed a beautiful ride on the mountain bike the other day. The afternoon sun heightened the color of the leaves as I biked through the wooded ridges of my favorite trail system. It was one of those rides that made me feel strong, good about myself and good about my life. Zipping down a rather steep ridge on a narrow trail, I was surprised – to say the least – when I became aware that I was no longer attached to my bike. In the blink of an eye, my bike came to sudden stop when it hooked a root protruding from the ridge. However, while my bike stopped, my body did not. Unaware of what was happening, how it happened or even which direction was up, that second in the air – before gravity completed its job - felt like an eternity. And in it’s panic, I grasped at the air for something solid with which I could re-orient myself. But even when I found the ground – landing with a loud whumph - it offered no more stability than the air as dirt, then sky, then dirt, then sky raced across my field of vision before my tumble down the ridge came to a stop. That moment of surprise, then panic is unforgettable, but not unique. That blink-of-an-eye when confidence, certainty and strength vaporize as they are replaced by fear, confusion and vulnerability.
I am at a point in my life where I am acutely aware of those things which are too important for me to readily relinquish to God: my daughter, my wife, my vocational success and my reputation to name a few. I have seen how God works. His idea of good, fair and safe are not consistent with mine. Physical and emotional suffering, catastrophe and death are all clearly within the bounds of what He will allow. Children suffer and die, spouses are betrayed and abandoned, children are neglected, the humble are destroyed and the proud succeed at elevating themselves. He is not afraid to let His people suffer and I am reticent to fully entrust myself or those I love to Him. Don’t take me wrong, I recognize how un-biblical this. Furthermore, I recognize how illogical this is. I am a small, weak person and I recognize how limited I am in my ability to care for myself, no less anyone else. Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, my first impulse is to take care of things on my own for fear that God will either disappoint me or compromise the well-being of someone or something important to me for the sake of His agenda. When those for whom I care are threatened by pain, disappointment or failure, I turn to my own resources first. And with that move, begins a slow progression from dependence on God to dependence on self.
Humanly speaking, I am a reasonably intelligent and resourceful person. And I can operate independently about as good as the guy next door if not a little better. For extended periods of time, I may experience success and find my confidence in myself. I have even reached points in my life where I have entertained the thought that I really don’t need God and that he has probably never been anything more than a crutch anyways. However, as my self-confidence and independence are growing, a foundational shift is underfoot. Freedom is exchanged for caution; internal tension quashes passion and spontaneity. The confidence of trusting a Father whose resources and plans transcend my own is lost as a dependence on hard work, thoughtfulness and competence grows. And then the inevitable happens: I miss something and make a mistake, someone I care for does something stupid, a marriage collapses, someone gets sick, an unexpected bill breaks the bank – the hardness of life bursts my fragile illusion of independence. My house of cards begins to collapse and, as it does, the foundation upon which I’ve built my identity and value is compromised.
Into my panic, Galatians speaks. “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort (Gal 3:3). And, then, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) And then I return to the reality that it was never about me or my competency; that it was always about Christ – His work in me, His work in others, His providential working for the best of all who belong to him. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”(2:20). And there is freedom here. Freedom to believe that God has put me where he has for a reason; that I have something to offer those for whom I care; that he uses me in my strength and in my weakness; that He is doing something good when I see something bad; that he redeems failures for success; that His plan is bigger and better than my own.
- Jeff Pipe