I’ve been praying a new prayer lately. It goes like this: “God, help me be small. Help me embrace the small. Help me love and live the small. Amen.”
This is a big deal for me, because I am not ordinarily an embracer of the small. My prayers to God over the last 18 months have sounded more like this: “God, please help my book do better. Help me be more successful. Help me achieve my dreams of becoming a successful writer.”
See the trend there? Bigger, better, more. That’s who I’ve been my whole life: the achiever. The striver. The hard worker. Ambitious. Driven. Type A Times Ten. I knew that long before my StrenthsFinder results identified Discipline, Responsibility, Achiever and Focus as my top strengths. That’s who I am. I’m made that way.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with those qualities. They are strengths indeed. In fact, those qualities are quite useful; my go-get-ed-ness has helped me in more ways than I can count.
But my strengths have also hurt me because I have let them define me and dictate my life. I have let these particular strengths overshadow the whole person God has made me to be.
You might recall a post I wrote several months ago about a defining moment I experienced with God – a moment in which I heard him say, in so many unspoken words, “Trust me.” And then there was this more recent post, a simple word picture that I published a couple of months ago, inspired by this verse from Isaiah: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.”
I’ve been repeating those two phrases to myself for months now – trust me; return to me and rest in me. I knew somehow that God intended those two messages to go hand-in-hand, but I couldn’t quite figure out what he meant by them.
For a long time I thought God was trying to tell me something about my calling as a writer and my struggles with book publishing. I thought he might be saying something like, “Trust me with this, Michelle,” and “Rest in me, Michelle; I’ve got this.” I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I thought those words were God’s way of reassuring me: “Don’t worry, Michelle, I will make you a successful author in due time.”
Turns out, that’s what I wanted those words to mean. What God actually meant was something quite different.
God, it turns out, wants to save me from myself.
In the words of Emily Freeman, God has been trying to teach me how to live in the kingdom he has built for me, rather than in the kingdom I have been trying to build for myself.
I am finally listening.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition, drive, dreams and success. There’s nothing wrong with working hard toward a goal. God has work for each one of us to do, and he expectes we won’t slack off in doing it.
However he also expects us to hand over the outcomes of our work. He expects us to rest in him. He expects us to do our best at the work he has given us to do, and then hand the rest to him: the expectations, the fears, the hopes, the outcomes, and even the results of our work.
This is where I go wrong every single time. I do the work, because I’m a Hard Worker, but then I cling with a vice-grip to the outcomes. And when the outcomes don’t line up with my expectations, I cling all the harder.
This clinging wears me out. It’s exhausting and disheartening and just plain depressing. It’s the clinging to the outcomes, not the work itself, that makes me question my career and calling. It’s the clinging that makes me wonder if I’ve made a grave mistake, if maybe I shouldn’t be a writer after all.
“The subtle difference between my work feeling heavy and my work feeling light,” writes Emily Freeman, “lies 100 percent in whether I’m holding onto the outcome of my work.”
When God said, “Trust me. Return to me and rest in me,” he was referring to something much, much bigger and much more important than publishing success and career success. He was talking about my relationship with him.
God is calling me to live here, right where I am, right where he has me for a reason. In the smallness. In the now. Regardless of outcomes. Regardless of results.
The truth is, I can’t be in right relationship with God while I am holding so tightly to something else. I can’t hold on to both God and outcomes. The outcomes have to go in order for me to live in a true and right relationship with God. He knows this.
It’s why he said, “Trust me.”
It’s why he said, “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.”
God wants to save me.