by Stephen Burns
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The snow crunched softly under my feet as I moved down the driveway. I tightened the scarf around my neck. The air was cold, but there was no wind. The lights reflected over the snow, and the whitened street seemed almost to glow, as if the winter had brought with her a different kingdom, a place of dreams and possibility.
Up ahead, smoke curled lazily from one of the houses into the night and a sense of peace flooded over me as I jammed my hands into my parka. I breathed deep the crisp air and whispered a prayer of thanks into the quiet, not wanting to break the stillness of the moment or the deep sense of being that sifted through my emotions. Small tears began to form in my eyes, unexpected and unexplained, but instead of wiping them away I let gather and slide down my cheek, the cold marking their trail across my skin like a gentle caress.
In a few minutes I would go inside and attempt to write my story, I would break down the small but seemingly momentous happenings inside me this past week. I would try to explain what I felt and what God had done, not because my story was different or special, but because it was the same story that others had experienced. That others needed to experience. The kind of story that, when you looked back on it, was an event that ultimately shifted the direction of your life.
For now however, I just wanted to enjoy the quietness of the moment. To breathe deep the night air and thank God for doing something I hadn't expected. Of course, I should have known that He'd be there...
...the house was quiet. My housemates were all gone, at school or at work. I could hear the rain patter against the glass of my window, and gray light filtered into my room. I lay beneath my covers, my mind racing, my body almost sore with the effort of moving into another position. It was all so ridiculous, I thought, that I was still lying here. I had so many things going for me, all I had to do was get up and head to school. The thought, however lucid, drifted away from me and disappeared into the four blank walls that hedged me in as I shifted deeper under the covers.
"Maybe tomorrow." I murmured to myself, over and over, like a soft mantra. "Maybe tomorrow."
I looked at the window, at the tiny rivulets of rain trickling down the glass like tears. I tried to squeeze into a more positive frame of mind, but somehow I couldn't think of anything, and I could feel myself shut down as my eyes closed and I drifted back to sleep.
When I'd first left Ottawa three months ago, I'd come to Toronto with the hopes and excitement of someone in pursuit of their dreams. I'd do my Masters, focus on my writing, and hopefully accomplish the things I'd always believed I was capable of doing. Now, only three months later, I lay beneath my covers on a rainy afternoon, broke, behind in my school, and wondering just where things had gone wrong. I knew that God loved me, but it felt like I'd lost Him somewhere. Or that He'd lost me, as if I'd been dropped off at the corner somewhere along the way. I hadn't slept much lately, and the nights were filled with worries and tightened fists.
Was this it? Was this the end of my pursuit of something greater? I'd taken a year's leave, but the thought of going back to my life in Ottawa filled me with an unexplainable sadness. I wasn't sure anyone would understand why I was sad or struggling, in as much as I was in a new city and should just wait, things would get better, wouldn't they? Yes, yes, the pursuit of dreams was a good thing, and the advanced degree was practical, especially if you wanted to teach. Why was I getting so uptight? Relax, it'll get better. And if you lose a course, so what?
What most people didn't understand, was that while I told people I'd come to Toronto to pursue my dreams, it wasn't the whole truth. For two years on my balcony in Ottawa, during my quiet times, there was a Scripture that had arrested me so completely that I hadn't been able to shake it.
"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matt 10:39)
Somehow, in some way, if there was one thing I was sure of during my quiet times on the balcony, it was the understanding that to lose my life, I needed to move. And so while my dreams forged an inspiration for me to pack up and leave, it wasn't simply for them that I'd left. No, I'd left in pursuit of something else.
I'd left my life in pursuit of the God I loved, the God I longed to serve with every fiber of my being. And now, He'd disappeared...
The clock flashed the red numbers in the darkness. 11:06pm. I was immobile on my bed. It'd been hours since I moved, but it felt like days. I could feel myself breaking inside, and I swallowed hard. People would never understand this if I told them or tried to explain it, and suddenly I didn't care.
I didn't care if people thought I was crazy or dramatic. I didn't care if I couldn't rationalize what I was doing or how I felt when it came to my faith. I was tired of supporting thought structures that purported to the idea of Christianity but left out the reality of a supernatural God. I was tired of having to explain in a reasonable way this idea of Jesus, this idea that God 'made sense.' Mostly though, I was just tired of bouncing between the "rational Steve" and the "God-seeking Steve". I could no longer buy into modernity's idea that we could organize God into a part of our life. Either He was real, or he wasn't. Either He was life, or He wasn't.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. So where was He? Why had He left me here in this position... like this!
I slipped over on to my knees, and I poured out my anger and frustration, that somehow began to mix with sobs and tears of frustration.
"Either you do something tomorrow, or I will never trust you again!" I said finally. I meant it. I was done. I sprawled onto my face and lay prone in prayer for another thirty minutes. It wasn't as if my struggles were simply emotional, they were finite. School. Finances.
Somewhere along the way, I passed out. When I opened my eyes again, it was 2am. I was wide awake. I didn't feel any different, but I showered and dressed and started working on my papers. My emotions were spent. The hours passed, and I thought about the previous night, but only in passing. I stayed up the rest of the day and went to bed early. For the past week I'd been unable to sleep before 5am, so this was a pleasant surprise, but not a big deal.
I began to hope that things had turned around, that God had answered my prayer, but things started getting worse. The news from school wasn't good, and the check I'd been expecting for the past two weeks would be a month late. I hadn't heard back from any of the jobs I'd applied for, and while each day I was up early now, hopeful that something good would happen, each day I was dealt at least one body blow that would suck the wind out of me.
The night before I'd gone to sleep with my face still wet with tears. I hadn't been broken just once, but shattered into a thousand pieces. And yet, the more I felt myself breaking, the more I opened myself up to my friends about the tearing inside my heart, the more I sensed something else squeezed into the newly formed cracks. Love. Hope.
Everyone likes to be the strong one. The wise one. But I could no longer do that, no longer pretend that I was strong or wise. My friends rallied around me, and I felt an emasculated fool. Somewhere along the way, however, even that began to drift. I didn't care any more. When I went out, I began to see things. I noticed the old lady on the street, struggling against the cold wind. I noticed the woman with red eyes in the checkout line. I noticed the man with dingy pants and dirty hair standing outside the mall.
It wasn't that I was blind to these things before, or maybe I was, but it was hitting me in a new way. I thought about all my pretensions and ideals, my smugness and arrogance about 'certain' people, and I could feel my heart break a little bit more. And like a laser, God cut through my selfishness and showed me what I'd neglected to see. And I cried and whispered into the cold night air when I realized why God had 'left me.'
"God, forgive me. Your world is dying, and I am more worried about MY pedigree, about MY dreams, than I am about serving you."
He hadn't left me at all. It'd been me all along. I was the one who had left.
The sun is bright this morning, but the air is icy and cold. I can't help but think about this past week, and about God's faithfulness. Even now, my eyes fill with tears as I dwell on what I've learned.
I spent many years going to churches that promised the world, that if people just came forward, God would change their life. I grew bitter over time because those changes never happened, that God never made my life 'great' the way I'd been promised, so I'm hesitant to even write my story. I am convinced that God works slowly in us, because it is what we can handle, what can be permanent. But I do still believe there are moments when God asks us to respond, when he moves in a way that can change us forever. If we let Him.
No, even now I knew this was different, because it was less about me, and more about Him. I'd learned something about myself, and something about God. As long as my dreams merely included Him, there would always be something missing in my life. But if my dreams were ABOUT Him, then I would never have to worry.
God wants to move in our daily lives. He wants us to depend on Him. He wants to grab the 'horns of the altar' and not let go. He wants to give us joy. For many of us, however, we must first be broken.
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