Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an emotionally complex guy. (My wife will be the first to testify.) I can vacillate wildly between hope and despair, joy and sadness, love and seeming apathy.
It frustrates me sometimes, because “hope, joy, and love” are where I’d prefer to live all the time, but, alas–I’m human. And the God who took on flesh, I have learned, does not penalize me for being human. Nor is he put off by it. Actually, he loves me in my humanity and embraces it. All of it. I love that about God.
This morning I woke up with a stormy heart. A vague sadness lurking at the edges (I couldn’t even say what it was about), and questions… always the questions.
My first instinct–God knows why–was to run from it. To pretend it wasn’t there. To get back to the “serious business” of, you know, trying to make a difference in the world for God.
I felt the Father’s tug on my heart. “You don’t need to do that. Be where you are. I am present to you in this. In all your questions and all the old ache. Don’t run.”
So I stopped. And just let him love me there. Inside my stormy heart. As I did that, I felt the pieces click into place… that familiar feeling of all of me coming home again to all He is. The Mercy washed through me.
But do you know what I didn’t do?
I didn’t analyze. I used to analyze a lot. Sometimes my analysis would prove helpful. More often I would find myself lost in a hall of mirrors, drawing confused conclusions from confusing emotions.
I don’t do much of that anymore. There’s a place, of course, for it. But I am not sure that “analysis” is what God is most interested in me doing with my complex emotions. I’ve learned over the years that he has a better posture for me to take. A posture I can take with him. One that allows me to experience my own complexity without being lost in it.
While I sat with the Lord this morning I was reminded of an image he gave me several years ago. It was early in the morning on a Monday and I was coming off of an emotionally intense weekend. That morning I sat in prayer and began to “deep dive” on a particularly strong negative emotion I was having, when this picture came to me, fresh and very helpful. I have returned to it often:
The emotion, and all that’s connected to it, feels like a deep dark ocean. I see myself swimming in it, thinking that I have some obligation to sound out its depths. I take huge breaths and begin to plunge down, searching for the bottom. I come up empty. No bottom to be found. I search anyway.
Just then I feel something grip my shoulder. Someone. He grabs me by the shirt collar and starts to pull me upward. I turn my body in the direction of his strength, fastening both hands to the strong, strong arms that are pulling me up. He yanks me into the boat. And all of a sudden I am sitting there, with him. It is Jesus, my old friend. I cannot describe his face except for quality of it. It is familiar. It is Memory itself. It is Joy. Like the joy of rekindled friendship–ever new and ever old.
I cannot decide if I should worship him or sit and tell stories with him. I decide to do neither. I am overcome by the sheer quality of fleshy infinitude on his face. I am happy with him. And those arms… I keep marveling at the strength of them–they are stronger than I would have guessed. In my heart I keep stammering in grateful wonder, “My strong God…”
Slowly the import of what has happened dawns on me. The ocean is real–very real–but I am not called to plumb its depths. I could not if I tried. I do not owe the ocean any sacrifice of body, mind, or sanity in order to, in a sense, “have a relationship” with it. With Jesus, my depths are not my God, for in his strength I find myself doing things with my depths I would not have guessed–sailing on them, being carried along on their surface, smelling the salt-air, enjoying the breeze, and even going for a splash in them when I choose.
But not drowning in them. I have no obligation to do so. That is not, with Jesus anyway, the nature of my relationship with the deep. My strong Jesus yanks me out, and puts me back in my native environment–the open air, the thrill of adventure, companionship with him.
I realize that we are headed somewhere. The depths buoy me up with him in the boat–so they are crucial to the sailing along, to the particular of this adventure, this journey. We may be in the boat a long time. I do not know. And one day, perhaps soon, perhaps late, we will disembark. And I will stand on the seashore, the solid ground, looking out over the depths as the light of dusk dances on its surface, appreciating the gift of a beauty I am not drowned by–the ocean, my deep, that restless Leviathan, submitted and stilled, itself sitting at the feet of its Maker, a beast tamed. There are, in that ocean depth, mysteries–to be sure. But they are not mine to search out. They are his. Leviathan, like me, belongs to him.
That helps me. It helps me know that my “deep” is real, but it is not ultimate. I am under no obligation to “figure myself out”, to plumb all my mysterious depths (I couldn’t if I tried, and neither can you)–though from time to time, as I stay close to Jesus, he will give me insight into those depths, how they function, and how I am to ride on them. My obligation is to stay near the One who stays near to me in all my complex humanity, present to him as he is present to me, not panicking, fixing my gaze on him, losing myself in trust, and wonder. All kinds of wonder.
I hope you’ll do the same today.
Grace to you.