“I do not involve myself in great matters or things too difficult for me“. Psalm 131:1
This verse create a flashback for me. It was one of three verses I had claimed for myself as a young believer. Another was …
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands“. 1 Thessalonians 4:11; ”
These verses fit me well I thought in my mid twenties. However, with hindsight I can see there were mixed motives in my choices of life-verses. Yes, I passionately wanted to know and follow this Jesus who had so radically altered my life but why had I also latched onto simplicity and manual labor as conditions to this relationship?
The truth is that at a younger age I had made some vows in order to avoid, at all costs, ever becoming involved in anything great or complex; more precisely, any greatness or complexity associated with my family’s businesses and their contetious relationships. I could not have articulated it as a child but now I know that those vows were made to insulate me from something I perceived would cause ongoing pain and loss.
Neither did I know, as one young in the faith, that my life-verses were serving toward the same end; to reinforce my heart’s own secret agenda; to live pain free. While my Dad’s vocation as a contractor provided material security it seemed to create (at least for me) relational insecurity. As a very young boy I overheard violent exchanges of words and oaths between my dad and his brothers (who were his business partners). It frightened me. I knew I could not involve myself in anything like that. I vowed that I would not.
The business also consumed my Dad’s time. During my junior and senior high days, my Dad would leave on Monday and return on Thursday or Friday. I did not fair well during those adolescent years. There is no need for details; suffice it to say, I was a troubled kid who was always in trouble. Sadly, I have no memory of a normal conversation with my Dad. I only recall words of correction and punishment, always delivered with frustration and disappointment. I was also negatively biased toward the family business because I watched a nasty ulcer (likely fueled by family stress) rob him of much sleep and quality of life. No, I could never, would never do the family business thing.
With my vows in the backdrop, exerting themselves both consciously and subconsciously, I had followed a vocational path that had led me to the verge of fulfilling my life verses (and the honoring of my vows – that originated with my secret heart motives). I never had to leave my young family like Dad did because my place of work was my home. My garage was a woodworking shop where I worked with my hands each day. My little cottage business was a sole proprietorship so I had no one to be at odds with. (that is, if we exclude God and my wife). In this cozy arrangement it seemed, at least to me, that God had set things up perfectly. Indeed He had; only, not at all as I had expected.
One day I will record the details of the Monarch Millcraft – Heirloom FlagChest venture but I will condense things here to say that on the verge of succeeding in my ambition for a simple lifestyle, the rug was suddenly from beneath me. From my theological vantage point God was either the agent of cause or, at the very least, a party of interest.
In the aftermath of this unwelcome and shocking turn of events, the violent oaths being screamed were not between my Dad and my uncles; they were between my heart and God. The demise of Monarch Millcraft (my most recent installment in a string of heartbreaks), was the final straw between God and myself. Final straw sounds like tough talk but I really did not have any energy left to fight with. Nor did I have any other place to go or plan to follow. In my heart I knew that ultimately it was with Him whom I had to do. In simple terms, I was being graciously and lovingly broken.
In that space in me that was to be full of worship and peace there was a war raging. My soul was not like a weaned child within me. Like Jacob, I was in a serious wrestling match with God. The only resolve I had left was simply to not, if at all possible, allow this season of chaos and strife (which I strongly suspected He was sponsoring) to pass without discovering just what it was He was trying to say to me. It turns out (without my awareness) that he was answering my most frequently prayed prayer; “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” This prayer from Psalm 139:23-24 was the third of my three key life verses.
Note; I will forever by grateful to Paul Billheimer for writing Don’t Waste Your Sorrows and Destined For The Throne. In these books he offered me a redemptive view of suffering, and how it plays into a believer’s destiny, all the while making room for God’s sovereignty and our free-will. Having some modest grasp of this mystery has been an encouragement to persevere at times when I might have otherwise adopted some fatalistic explanation for the way life plays out.
Since the time of these events I believe I have developed some understanding about what God’s point was (and is, for that matter). He does not like the hurtful vows we make (consciously or subconsciously) to insulate ourselves from pain because it ultimately cripples us in our capacity to love and be loved. He wants to be our healer and comforter. He does not want us depending on a particular lifestyle (or conditions of any type for that matter) which can potentially insulate us from our encounter with Him, and Him alone, as our full and abundant provision of Life. For those who are serious about following Him, I am convinced that He will shake and tear down the things we construct that are built upon faulty foundations (like hurtful vows). He loves us too much to leave us in our deception and instability.
Again, much condensing and fast-forwarding…. You may have guessed (or known) that I did end up joining our family’s business. It has not been particularly simple and I have not worked with my hands much. However in God’s infinite and amazing kindness (and I think humor) He has permitted me to more and more make the same claim as David did in this Psalm; that my soul is at peace and at rest in Him “as a contented child in His mother’s arms“. How amazing is God to permit me to adopt verses for the wrong reasons only to arrange for me to be the beneficiary of His kind intended and generous meanings. I too am dependent on God outmaneuvering me.
Note; In the years before my father passed, much healing took place in our relationship and through the divine orchestration of more events, my Heavenly Father saw to it that my earthly father would come to know Him. I am stunned at God’s patience and generosity toward my family and myself. Here is a humble and humorous man’s read on his life as he perceives it in God’s hands.
I’m easily fooled most of the time but nobody’s ever gonna dig too deep – We’re all in a hurry to somewhere else with distractions and too little sleep – Got a list of questions long as my arm and the only second chance I see, to live and die without permanent harm, is if God can outmaneuver me. (Verse 2 from Faithful, a song by Bob Bennett)
Father, help us to see Your loving providence and redemptive possibilities at work in our lives; especially in the places of our vows and deepest hurts. Help us to work out our salvation while leaning into You instead of running away from You (and each other) in our pain. Give us faith and courage to move forward in whatever trial we are facing, realizing that we are staring our greatest kingdom opportunity in the face. Amen.