We knew the storm was coming, but you know how summer storms are — you can’t stay home every time one threatens. We watched each layer of cloud descend and darken as it rolled in from the west. My daughter was heading to the evening VBS program; the storm blew in while the kids were at church.
The day was warm with blue skies. We spent most of our time outside, but the afternoon brought on frustrations, as summer afternoons do, and my daughter and I had a disagreement shortly before she left for that night.
As the winds ripped through our neighborhood, trees bent and broke, and my heart hurt for my daughter: Was she scared? Was she worried? Power goes out with this kind of damage and fallen trees block roads. Would we even be able to get to her after the storm passess?
My daughter is getting older and growing independent, but I know her heart. My little girl still gets scared. I wanted to comfort and protect my child during this storm. I wanted her with me. I wanted her safe.
In my concern, the Lord God touched my heart… This is how I feel about my children. This is how I feel about you.
Along with the heavy rains, the memory of many troubled years weighed heavily on my mind. Years I faithfully went to church, looked the part, and said all the right words. Years I believed in the living God, yet allowed so much of my life, my heart, and my relationships to stay closed off to Him.
Regardless of what you saw on the outside, this was the real story: my Bible was usually shut, my actions were remarkably safe, and my heart held tightly to Fear. After the overwhelming life-storms I’d already weathered, I was so afraid of what God could do with me. I lived in a habit of fierce self-protection.
I loved God, but I never went to Him. I never spent time with Him. I hadn’t read my Bible regularly for so long that I didn’t know where or how to start again. (The quality of our relationship was how a marriage would be if, for years on end, you only spoke to your spouse in passing or when you needed something.) The love was real, but the relationship was stagnant.
Years ago, I connected with a woman and in a moment of complete honesty, I told her my embarrassing secret: I don’t read my Bible. I easily justified myself, saying I was too tired and too busy with my little kids.
Without judgement, she asked, “Do you want to read your Bible?”
I knew I was supposed to say yes. And, despite my fears, I did want to turn to God’s word — and to Him completely. I just didn’t know how to start. She offered a simple idea: What if you just lay your Bible open on the counter and read a verse or two at a time? As you get coffee, read a verse. In between getting snacks for the kids, read a verse. After cleaning up, read a verse. No pressure. Just read.
Soon after, a friend found a Bible study (with childcare!) and suggested we go together. That Bible study led to another, and then another.
My Bible started to stay open. The walls around my heart began to crumble, though the vulnerability I felt often left me in tears. Instead of rebuilding my guarded walls, the truth of God’s character drew me to Him for refuge. Because of what I learned in His word, I knew: God the Father loves me, redeemed me, and is for me.
I could stop with the guilt, and simply return to Him.
The night of the storm, my heart ached for my child to return to me. I couldn’t stop the storm, but I longed to hold her. I didn’t care about the disagreement we had. In just the smallest way, it was a glimpse into God’s heart and His love.
For me. For you. For all of us.
When my daughter came home, she walked right into my open arms. Words were unnecessary and the resolution to the day’s troubles could wait. I held her tight with forgiveness, protection, and unconditional love.
I’d like to assume anyone reading this knows nothing about what it’s like to feel far from God. Or that no one else has been fearful of living a life of complete surrender to Christ. That no one else took small steps away from Bible reading, prayer, or accountability before finding themselves “in deep” or just aimlessly walking a Christian life.
But I wonder… If it happened to me, maybe it’s happening to you?
As this New Year begins, and we’re all working hard on our resolutions (Eat Clean! Move More!), can we all take a spiritual inventory, too?
Where are you? Where do you want to be? Are you held close in God’s arms — or are you holding Him at arm’s length?
Regardless of the past, whether it be what happened this morning or decades ago,
it’s just one step back.
Into open arms.
Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:7
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. Psalm 5:11
He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19