Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Facing the "Slag"

As I've shared here before, these last few months (and really, the last couple of years, off and on) have been some of the hardest hitting times I've ever faced. Many changes have come into our lives, unexpected ones. Things we didn't anticipate and wouldn't have chosen or signed up for. And it seems as though just about the time I get "content" with whatever situation God has put us in, He shakes things up on me, and I am once again left gasping for air.

At times, I have felt utterly forgotten. Unvindicated. Left in limbo. Uncertain. In some of the deepest despair. Even when I've shared with friends, because we have only walked this path together (Doug & I), there's really no one else that fully "gets it" except our Lord.

Anyway.

For the last month or so, I've been in a small group going through Mary Kassian's "Vertically Inclined" Bible study. Today's study started out with an example of wildfires in the forest... how the purging fires actually, over time, allow for new growth for the pine forests. Though the fire threatens to kill, it actually revitalizes the forest. It clears out dead undergrowth and makes way for fresh seeds and strong new trees to grow. And then she reminded us of 1 Peter 4:12 that tells us,

"Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you!"
And then she said this... which is the reason why I'm writing:
"In the crucible of suffering, we must hold on to God, follow Him, and deal with any 'slag' we see rising to the surface of our hearts".
I have to tell you... up until these last few months, I'd have completely been able to nod my head and move right past the weight and significance of that last part... "deal with any SLAG...". But right now, there's a whole lotta slag rising up to the surface:
  • Bitterness.
  • Frustration.
  • Impatience.
  • Pride.
  • Judgments.
  • Attitudes of entitlement.
  • Mad grabs for control.
  • Despair.
  • Asking, time and time again, "How long, O Lord?"
Normally in adult life, I have tried to take the approach that if God has something to teach me, I want to be moldable. I want to learn the lessons He wants me to learn the first time... so that I don't have to keep on going back and back again to the same. old. lessons. But these are hard ones... and there are so doggone many of them. Where to start? Honestly, I just feel broken... like the only way to deal with all these issues is just to lay myself bare before the Lord. And yet, the scales of my heart are so battle-worn. It feels so vulnerable and at-risk to face all of these things at once. And there's a rebellious heart underlying it all that just, frankly, doesn't want to deal with all of that. It feels so much easier to just go on with the status quo.

Up until this time, whenever I've faced trials, I've been pretty strong. I typically get more calm, more patient, more resilient, in the face of difficulties... my health, family health issues, huge transitions in our lives, whatever. But this series of events & changes has left me grasping for "Serenity now!" (just a joke; I don't actually believe in psychorelaxation techniques) and made me very, very aware of strong and serious deficiencies in my character. There's so much work to do, I honestly don't know where to start... so I'll just echo David's words for now:

Psalm 51- Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow...
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you...
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


So that's where I'm at. It's so sweet to be cherished by God... to know that He wants to change me... that He desires to sanctify me over time, through hard situations. That He burns up old deadwood that's gathered on the "forest floor" of my life in order to bring new vitality into this heart and allow new growth to take place. But it's not easy. It's not easy to change, but it wouldn't be easy to stay the same either. I don't want to stagnate, and I don't want to let the dross melt back into the metal that He's refining. This Christian life is not a joke or a cakewalk... it's hard. And worth it.

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