I have a friend named Dave, a fellow traveler on the road to recovery, who often jokingly asks the question, “How come everything I give to God always has fingernail marks on it?” After he asks this we share a knowing nod, because we both know we struggle with putting our wills in submission to God’s will. We live in that tension of Saint Augustine, who prayed “Lord deliver me! But not yet…” Even as we desire the will of God in our lives, there is a shadow of reservation. Even as we obey, even as we attempt to open our hands and not control the outcome, even as we tentatively lean into trusting God, we have that moment when we want to take it back again. That moment where we still open our hands but struggle to fully trust God as He removes yet another area of our lives were we have clung to control.
There are many mysteries about my future: my place of ministry, where I will live and serve and in what ways, and how my family’s needs will be met in that place. As I seek to trust God, there is always yet another part of me that God wants me to let die so that He can bring about a resurrection. Lately this has had to do with my expectations, and me wrestling through new areas of hidden pride or fear. Like my own expectations of being “the provider,” a role that is truly God’s though I often act as if “it all depends on me.” Fear often breathes new life into old centers of control, and my sin raises itself zombie-like, dragging its nails across my offering to God, who is of course the true Giver of all things. Even looking back at a long history of God’s providence despite the total lack of ways “the math” would work out. Even knowing I have every reason to trust God, it is hard to lean into God’s grace yet again, in new ways and yet old ways, in this present moment. And yet I must. Even when feeling like a cartoon character walking over a ravine with nothing beneath me, there is a freedom in keeping my eye on the prize and not below at all the “what ifs.” There is a freedom in trusting that there is some kind of Promised Land out there for me where my hand perfectly fits the plow God made for me.
In class I was assigned a breath prayer exercise the other day. A breath prayer is a way to keep yourself focused on God by using your breathing to keep you centered on God, sort of like an unspoken mantra. A classic example is what is known as the Jesus Prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As you breathe in and out you think of the words, with the commas dividing between the inhaling and exhaling. For the exercise, we were to write and use our own breath prayer. Mine ended up being “Your will be done, no fingernails.” After 15 minutes or so of centering on this tension in my life, a beautiful picture presented itself to me. It was an image of a vine and trellis. The trellis, though dry and dead, lifts up the vine above the other things it would compete with, like grass and weeds. Exalting the vine makes its fruits numerous and good. Jesus is the Vine and I am just the trellis. Like the trellis I am being built to hold up the Vine and keep connected to it. My path and Jesus’ path are intertwined. As God takes a saw to me and reshapes me according to His purpose; even as I do not understand what exactly that will look like, I can know and trust that the future will be good. Likely hard, but good. That I will find my place of service and be planted in just the right place in God’s mysterious and beautiful design. As new reservations are cut to length and transformed along the Vine’s path, I am learning to relax my fingers and let God have these final hold outs of will. As these dry and dead things are reshaped and made useful, what matters most is where they touch the vine; where new life and old dead things meet and Jesus is there with me.