Once upon a time, I sat next to a girl in a class in which the desks were two-person desks. Often the teacher would go around the room and randomly ask quiz-type questions of students. And often when the girl I sat next to would hesitate or seem to be stuck, I would lean closer and discreetly whisper the answers. I loved that. I felt helpful and it seemed to work without the teacher noticing – so it felt like an accomplishment. Years later I would whisper words of care and encouragement to a young mother who just lost her child. I often whisper to my children as they are falling asleep, “God loves you and I love you.” There are those times when church members have embraced me after a worship service and have whispered to me “I love you brother – thank you.” And then there are those whispers from God himself over the years – coming just at the right time and always what I needed to hear.
I never thought about too much before but I love whispering. It’s different than regular talking. It suggests closeness and usually what is being said when whispering is more meaningful than conversational stuff.
I think of these Living Waters as a kind of whispering. In some ways, in the present I am still trying whisper answers to the girl from that class as well as other people. But today the answers are much more complex than that teacher’s questions posed. There are a lot of questions that are unspoken. Questions of faith, worth, grace, overcoming the past, and many others – are just not the things that come up in regular conversation. Maybe it’s not so much about literal answers as it is about caring and trying to answer or encourage. So, I hope that these “whispers” offer some answers for you or someone you know and care about….
“I am not good enough; I am not worthy and not worth the effort.”
Dear one, none of us are. If you think I am “good” – I am not good enough either! That is where grace comes in. It takes away the performance part or the “good enough” in relating to God. Grace is the great equalizer. There is nothing we (or anyone else) can do to add to or subtract from it. It just is. It’s not ours because of our family name, nor how many good things we have done, nor wealth or status – there is no amount of sins that can diminish it. And, God decided that we all were worth the effort when He sent Jesus to the cross. Imagine that. He went to the cross for you and for me so that we could access the grace by believing in Him. God’s choice to love us is not based on anything we have done or will do – it’s a choice based on His heart. It’s not about how good we are. It’s not about worthiness in society’s terms. I am also reminded of the story of the lost sheep in Luke 15 – where Jesus talks about a shepherd that leaves the 99 sheep to find the lost one. In this world, so often we are just numbers. In God’s eyes we are treasures – worth risking for, worthy dying for.
If I show up at church, you and people at the church are going to know that I am struggling with something or that I stand out and – probably judge me for stuff like my appearance.
My dear friend, that’s true – some people may see and know. But if it is an authentic, gracious group of believers – you will be able to see and hear that we are all struggling with something – fighting some kind of battle. We are all struggling with sin and always will – it’s a battle. And I agree that when churches are judgmental, it offends God and is the opposite of what they are supposed to be about. But you are right, sometimes it’s more obvious – addictions, guilt, and other things can be more visible. An authentic, gracious group of believers will not judge you and will be able to welcome and love you in Jesus’ name and that can be so healing. Also, you will probably find others who can walk alongside you and may be further down the same road and can help you. I’m just saying that staying away or staying home may feel safer; but I ask you to consider that you may be losing out on the encouragement and community you need to survive and even overcome what you are wrestling with.
It’s so hard for me to trust and be open. I am afraid that if I trust God more and lean on Him more, I will only get more hurt and disappointed. Likewise with Christians too. In my life, I trust others and they just let me down – so I am done trying.
My cherished one, I hear you that trusting hasn’t worked. I hear you that it is scary and scarring. It sounds like you have put your trust in God before and it didn’t work out the way you hoped. Maybe you felt abandoned by Him. Many people feel like that. As well, it sounds like people you trusted have betrayed you – leaving you wanting to turn away. Understandably, that could be a valid choice given your experience. It’s a choice between not getting hurt anymore – which will seem to require some degree of isolation and not risking anything – safety. I don’t want to take away from your experience – it’s real. But just hear me because there is another choice. It’s the choice of risking and trusting and being vulnerable. Because, yes, turning away and hiding will be safer and will probably keep you from getting hurt. But it will also close you off from a lot of other things too. Things like encountering the peace and grace of God that He so wants you to know and experience. Things like the joy and love of authentic, real relationships with others. Things like these require trust, risk and yes, sometimes won’t work. I know firsthand, that trusting God can be terrifying – but I found on the other side that it is worth it – God actually knows what He is doing and it’s always for our best. I know firsthand that Christian community can be ugly and terrible. But I also have seen and experienced it at its best and I have listened to the testimony of many people who have said that their church friends have “saved their lives” and kept them going when there was no hope. I just want to encourage you by saying that risking and trusting and letting God and others in – and the strength and fellowship that will flow from it – will far outweigh the disappointment and hurt.
If you and others really knew me, knew what I have done or been through, you wouldn’t love me or care for me anymore.
Beloved, I understand that it is easy to think that and that may be what you have experienced before. But I would say this…my experience is the more I know people, the deeper I know people, the more I am moved to love and care for them – no matter what they have done or been through. When you look at people and the world through Christ’s eyes, you see things very differently. When I see brokenness – I see beauty. When I see hurting – I see ways to heal and restore. When I see people battling guilt or addictions or the past – I see strength and resolve – not a failure. And I know this – God’s grace and strength works through – not around – through our brokenness. Nothing in God’s economy is wasted – now He is holy and doesn’t look the other way or excuse stuff – we still have to ask for mercy and grace. But He will use everything to draw us closer to Him. How can I do any less by judging or thinking that I am better or above anyone? No way. Just like with God, the more I share with Him, the more I know His grace. Same thing with me. That’s what I am trying to do. One more thing – why I love you and care for you is not based on what you do or don’t do – it’s based on God leading me and my heart. You are loveable because God created you – Psalm 139:13-14. Like it says in the Bible, “perfect love casts out fear.” I want you to “give to the winds your fear.”
I hope these whispers are helpful. But I know they are just words. But more than words, look at my life, and see Christ working in and through me and trust in that above anything I can say or do. See and hear Him through me – that is what I want for you…
Rev. Christopher B. Wolf
Christopher B. Wolf is the author of Giving Faith a Second Chance: Restarts, Mulligans and Do-Overs (2007) and the forthcoming, With You: Every Step of the Way (2011).
“It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point.” N.T. Wright