I thought, briefly, about bopping her on the nose. Had I not been aware that doing so would have proven her right about my lack of holiness, I may have thought about it more seriously.
A woman, who will remain nameless, dropped by my house to comfort me after I broke my leg. Opening night for the opera, in which I had a lead role, was in a few days. There I sat with my leg propped on pillows and encased in a cast of a different sort.
“Do you know why God did this?” she asked.
“God broke my leg?”
“He broke your leg to teach you to praise him.”
I don’t remember if I smiled politely or returned blank-faced stunned silence.
“You are not using your gift for his glory,” she added. “You are using it for your own praise. That is why he broke your leg – to teach you to praise him.”
“Well, thank you for stopping by…”
Even before she drove away, I started shaking. A part of me didn’t believe her, but a part of me did. I was afraid God was disappointed and angry with me because I did something wrong again. What if I was being punished? Spending the next painful weeks and months praising God was not an appealing plan in those days. Heartfelt praise didn’t exactly pour from my lips at the thought of God going around breaking legs to make us acknowledge his supremacy. That sounded more like the modus operandi of mobsters.
The problem was that I didn’t know what praise was, and worse, I didn’t know who God was, although at the time I thought I did. I’d been going to church all my life and even aced some seminary courses. Frankly, my faith was less faith than duty.
I thought visible praise (that would satisfy my visitor) meant repeating, “Praise the Lord,” and “Hallelujah,” interspersed with the occasional “Glory!” from some deep-voiced extrovert in the back row in one of those churches where people didn’t gasp at irreverence of such things. In other words, an introvert’s nightmare.
When I confided in some churchy friends that I was struggling with a lack of sleep and the stresses of caring for sick, squabbling children, they responded with, “Praise the Lord, Charis!” as if it was a magic formula that would make everything all better. I wondered if God even cared. I was pretty sure they didn’t.
I finally reached a breaking point. If God was love, I wasn’t seeing it. If Jesus’ burden was light, I wasn’t feeling it. If the gospel was good news, I wasn’t hearing it. I walked away.
Over the next few years I let go of the image of God as an impossible-to-please task master who needed me to be the kind of salesman whose life depended on talking up a disappointing product.
Amazingly, God never walked away from me. Instead, as I unlearned, he showed me what was missing in my experience of him. Since then, he continues to teach me one step at a time about who he is. Many of the circumstances I’ve found myself in are not about punishment or condemnation; they are a holy set-up to see something about him I could not see before. Each crisis is an invitation to come one step closer.
Last week I heard a line in a song: “Way-maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness. My God! That is who you are.”
In my spirit I heard him ask, “Who am I to you?” I began to write.
You are my saviour hero
my confident security
my source of creativity
my source of identity
Lover of my soul…
The list, easily two pages long, flowed while the song played. Each one of these aspects of God I had read or heard about, but it wasn’t until he showed up in a real-life situations that I understood them. They are part of who he is and he wanted to show me through relationship. I realized my list was worship. Each word on the page was praise. It was spontaneous. It was unforced and sincere. It was heart-felt. It was about him and not another “supposed to.”
I love David’s psalms because he doesn’t put himself in charge of God’s public relations. His emotions are honest. He had a promise that he would be king, then he faced situations that made him despair of even surviving the next night. Psalm 18 is his victory song in which he writes about who God was to him after all he had been through.
Lord, I passionately love you and I’m bonded to you,
for now you’ve become my power!
You’re as real to me as bedrock beneath my feet,
like a castle on a cliff, my forever firm fortress,
my mountain of hiding, my pathway of escape,
my tower of rescue where none can reach me.
My secret strength and shield around me,
you are salvation’s ray of brightness shining on the hillside,
always the champion of my cause.
All I need to do is to call to you,
singing to you, the praiseworthy God.
(Psalm 18:1-3 TPT)
Did God break my leg to teach me to praise him? No. My leg broke because I was wearing high heeled dress boots on sheer ice. But he was patiently waiting right there, with me in the circumstance, which was actually more about the pain the visitor stirred up in me than a shattered tibia. Looking back, I can see God encouraging me to let go of the false image I carried around. I needed to see him in Jesus, the one who came to show us what the Father is truly like.
The journey continues.
My question for you. What aspect of himself does God want to show you now, in your current circumstances?