Trusting God With Process
Last week, Avril Lavigne released her first single in five years called “Head Above Water.” In her lyrics, she walks through the struggle she experienced during a protracted illness and feeling close to death in the process. She also writes about how she reached out to God at her lowest point and heard Him answer. This is her cry to heaven:
God, keep my head above water
Don’t let me drown, it gets harder
I’ll meet you there at the altar
As I fall down to my knees
Was this the same Avril who once bounced around on a skateboard telling boys they should get rid of all their “preppy clothes?” Was she now a worship artist?! Did her battle with Lyme disease give her a change of heart or is it all clever marketing because of the disappointing sales of her last album? Is this sincere or another evolution as an artist who can’t keep singing “Here’s to Never Growing Up” in her 30s?
As I’m thinking all these thoughts and dissecting this song (I’m a closet giant Avril Lavigne fan), I realized that I was questioning her motives and her progress in a faith that I sometimes think should go a certain way or look a certain way. I’ve had this lifelong faith journey and am a little skeptical about those who, seemingly overnight, make a change and have a drastic conversion. And yes, I’m a little suspicious when faith takes a turn for the famous.
When I first experienced a radical conversion in my teens, I was everything Evangelical America wanted me to be. I answered an “altar call” at a Billy Graham crusade and prayed the sinner’s prayer on the field at Cleveland Stadium in front of thousands of believers. I bought the right albums, books, and magazines. I went to the right concerts and saw the right speakers. I was on my soap box about chastity, modesty, conversion, and the Bible.
There was a lot of grace and beauty and sweetness about that season in my life. At the same time, there was a lot of agenda behind my friendships, my school projects, my relationships with family and my church. Every new friend was a chance to tell them the right Bible verses in the right order to “win them for Christ” and have them pray to be saved for all eternity. I was pretty sure I had things figured out.
When I work with teenagers now, I find that kind of evangelicalism about politics, veganism, social justice, or the culture wars pretty sweet and totally in line with developmental psychology. Young people are supposed to be all fired up as they are individuating from their family. It’s part of the plan so they can start to create their own identity and mature. It can also be a lot to deal with it.
I was absolutely a lot to deal with then! As I started maturing in my life and my faith, and heard God guiding me toward more complex areas of growth and being patient with me through all the twists and turns, I started to see how limiting my outlook was as a kid. God was infinitely patient with my process, but I was trying to speed along other people on the road to salvation.
Steffany Gretzinger of Bethel Music put it so well in her song “We Dance:”
And I’ve been told to pick up my sword and fight for love. Little did I know that Love had won for me.
Christ was showing me daily and year by year that He was the one freeing and saving souls, not me. He was asking me to put away my sword and let Him shepherd the people in my life. His patience was teaching me patience. His trustworthiness was teaching me about trust.
Any time I question someone’s faith, whether it’s Avril or the person next to me in the pew or the grocery store, it reflects a false belief I sometimes have in God. When I let my guard down and allow these temptations to surface, I’m believing that He’s not paying attention. He’s not in it. He’s distracted. And I’m the one who has to answer the call. On reflection, this is pretty clearly a lie, but something I find very easy to believe.
Through all of this, God has been teaching me about process. About patience. About being more like Him. I’ve learned to be grateful for His patience in MY process. Because without His infinite patience on this journey, I would surely be lost.
I’m often reminded of Paul writing in Romans 7:18-19:
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.
I have all these beautiful, wonderful, joyful, loving things I would like to do and be. Yet I so often end up tempted to rush others ahead, to rush my own journey, to put myself on the throne, to stop trusting and believing in God. I sometimes find myself full of bad habits, sinful behaviors, nastiness, unkindness, and a lack of love. I want so desperately to do good, but like Paul, I’m over and over again left at the place where only God can pick up the pieces and continually put me back together.
Each time I’m put back together, God is showing me His patience with my process and how process is part of His crafting of humankind. We’re not supposed to be perfect or flawless or all figured out. He is.
In each iteration of myself along this journey, I’m going from “glory to glory” and being made over in the image and likeness of my Father in heaven. I’m moving closer to love, patience, goodness, and mercy as I walk through the process of my salvation.
Over the years, I’ve realized that I’m a good writer. A good writer who has moments of greatness sometimes. But I’m not the author of anyone else’s story, and I don’t think I’d be very good at writing it. There’s only one Author of creation.
I believe we’re all in a great love story with God: it could be a childhood love, or unrequited, or full of passion, or steady and sure, or unaware until the last moment, or full of jealousy and turmoil, or full of triumphs and heartbreaks. He’s crafting each of our stories in His own time and with His unending creativity. Who am I to question His creativity?
Jesus tells us how that love works in His parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) . So many of us know this story so well but do you know what prodigal actually means? It means being extravagant to the point of wastefulness. Reckless. Lavish. Imprudent. Excessive. Foolish. Another word is simply “lost.” The word itself doesn’t fit our image of a returning, repentant son. The title of the parable has more to do with the faults and failings of the son than his returning.
We focus all our attention on the returning and the welcome home for good reason. It shows us the kind love of our Father. It shows us a father who is patient and recklessly loving in his forgiveness. Who restores an inheritance while his son is still “a long way off.” I think we all love that part of the story!
What often gets buried in the message is the great love of the father who let his son go. Let his son waste and squander and live irresponsibly almost to the point of starvation. You see, it takes just as much love for our Father to let us go as it does to welcome us back. He trusts our process. He gives us freedom and patience. He knows we need to work through some things before we can head home.
He teaches us about His endless creativity in our stories and how each is crafted uniquely for us.
God so often calls me to pay attention to that in others. He asks me to trust Him with people’s hearts regardless of the outcome. He asks me, very gently, to step off the throne and join my brothers and sisters. To stay rightly humble. Not false humility, but a humility born of fellowship in struggle and process. And to let Him tell the unique, creative story He writes for each of us in our own time.
In John 8:3-11, John tells of Jesus asking religious and community leaders to examine their judgment of a woman living in adultery:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in an act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”… But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her…” At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The Pharisees and community leaders were guilty in the eyes of God, but judgment wasn’t their chief failing. This story is about more than judgment. It’s about trust. They didn’t trust God with the woman’s process. They believed that they had to throw stones because they needed to correct her story and write it in their own image. They didn’t see God’s infinite creativity working through her life. Jesus shows such great mercy and frees the woman to leave her old life and begin anew. He also gives the leaders the opportunity to rewrite the narrative they had trusted as well. To see how things could be different now that the Messiah had come.
Sometimes we’re the Pharisees and sometimes we’re the woman. I’d like to think that when Jesus was writing on the ground He was brainstorming and writing out His plan for the lives of the people in this scene. It took Him only a minute to sketch out His plan and set it into motion. He decided to rewrite the narrative of thousands of years and each of their lifetimes to be a story that shows the glory and mercy of the Father.
Again and again, God is patient with process. Again and again, God is guiding us, inviting us, freeing us, encouraging us toward the glorious story He wrote down in the Book of Life for each of us. He knows the ending and if we trust Him, our story, our life, is going to be something for the ages.
Steffany Gretzinger’s newest song “Sing My Way Back,” puts it in a poetic way that resonates with my heart:
A million miles, a hundred lifetimes, I’d never find another you. I found a diamond in the desert, another story wouldn’t do.
We are the diamonds in the desert. Only the Author of Life can craft us from the substance of the earth to something precious in His sight. When we trust God with the lives of the people around us, He reminds us that we can trust Him in our own process. He reminds us that He is good and trustworthy and knows exactly what He’s doing.
Who am I to write anyone else’s story while God is writing mine? Who am I to call out conversion and authenticity and timing and truth? Who am I to question Avril’s journey or the journey of anyone else?
As long as I’m living at the grace and mercy of my Father in heaven, Who is infinitely patient in my process, I can trust that He will write the best ending to all of the stories of each and every one of His children. As I practice patience and trust in their process, I can feel myself becoming more like Him every day. From glory to glory, I am finding my way back home. And no other story would do.
I took this photo in Central Park a few years ago. It’s neat all the things you can find when you’re looking for stones to throw.