I was recently reminded through someone’s Instagram story of Galatians 2:20-21. Honestly, I haven’t thought about this particular verse in a while. However, in my youthful zeal, I took this Scripture as my “life verse” when I was just 13. I was flying high on a mission trip in Mexico. I was reading through all the Pauline Epistles during my daily devotion time. And this Scripture spoke so deeply to me. I am not sure I even knew what it meant. I just wanted to live in Christ.
Are you familiar with this verse? I know it best in the King James, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
No one warned me at that tender age what it might mean for the rest of my life.
When I was 17, also out on a mission trip, this time in Pakistan, I was spending devotion time reading through Old Testament history. I read 2 Samuel 24:24 and made this also a “life verse.”
Familiar with this story? King David was in dire straits. He had sinned against the Lord and he needed to make things right before things got even worse for him. So, he came upon a farm and guy named Araunah. He had a threshing floor. So, David wanted to make an offering to the Lord. Araunah gave him everything he needed. He had all the necessary goods: the threshing floor, the wood, the instruments, even the oxen. He offered it free of charge for the service of the Lord. But David insisted on paying for it saying, “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing.”
That very idea—costly sacrifice—captivated my mind. I wanted to offer to God something of value. Something costly. Not something I could easily come by.
Let’s fast forward a bit….four years, exactly. Let’s look at my wedding day. Oh, wedding Scripture picking is fun. Mostly 1 Corinthians 13 (the luv chaptah), Romans 12 (about being devoted to one another in love), or of course Genesis 2 about Adam seeing Eve for the first time and proclaiming her flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. Did I choose any of these? Nope. All the nope. I chose Philippians 2 about having the mind of Christ and not considering own’s reputation. Oh, and Old Testament reading? Psalm 45. Yes, yes, I did. Here it is for those not familiar, “Hearken, O daughter, and consider and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people and thy father’s house. So shall the King greatly desire thy beauty, for He is thy Lord; worship thou Him.”
My whole life has been a big set-up. Like a naive college freshmen signing up for a college loan they can never repay, I signed up for this. I asked to be crucified with Christ, to only offer sacrifices that seriously cost me, to walk with a damaged reputation as a servant, and to leave my father’s house. I literally prophesied it into my own future.
It kind of puts things into perspective though. As I asked the Lord to save my marriage, heal my body, protect my reputation, let me hold onto my friends and safety nets, and it appeared that God said no. But, actually, maybe…..
Maybe he was saying yes to my first prayers, which necessitated him saying no to my later prayers. Because God is not a God that he should lie, or the son of a man that he should repent. (Numbers 23:19) And it makes me want to stomp my foot and pout and tell God that he is being unfair. (My bestie just called me a princess and she should know.) Yet, I am convinced to my very core, that it is impossible that God should do anything to exploit me or to answer one prayer and say no to another out of spite or arbitrary rule-keeping. Thomas Merton said, “By grace we are able to share in the infinitely selfless love of Him Who is such pure actuality that He needs nothing and therefore cannot conceivably exploit anything for selfish ends. Indeed, outside of Him there is nothing, and whatever exists exists by His free gift of its being, so that one of the notions that is absolutely contradictory to the perfection of God is selfishness.”
Why does it appear then that God has answered all the first prayers, but not the subsequent ones? I do not know.
I do not pretend to know at all.
But, I trust. I trust that I live in this place called “the already, but not yet.”
The thing is, God didn’t answer my prayers in a vacuum. I have never been really alone. He didn’t say, “You asked for suffering, here ya go” and watch me flounder and drown. In all his tenderness he saw my childlike heart and heard my prayers. It is like he said, “Oh, my little daughter, you have no idea what you are asking for.” But, I insisted. I wanted to offer God a sacrifice. I wanted to give him everything. And so, he gave me everything to give. All the materials I needed to make an offering were actually provided by God Himself.
And then, in all the gentleness of his love for me, he stepped into my life, suffered with me, so that I could offer it all back to him. My paltry sacrifice is really his—him working in me. Truly, I wouldn’t have the strength to offer it on my own.
He was there every dark night, every nightmare that came on the regular for 40 years. He was there holding me in the dark and in the fears. He walked with me into my troubled marriage and through all the delightful babies. He caught all my tears, bottled them up, lined his thrown room with them in perfect symmetry. He felt all the loneliness right along with me, the ache that came so strong that it hurt my bones. He felt that too.
When my body betrayed me and I stopped recognizing its most basic functions and I simultaneously longed for heaven while begging God to let me raise my kids, Jesus felt that with me too. He was there, tucked into every fold of my pain, his nails and crown expressing the fullness of his Incarnation.
And when I lost everything I tried so hard to keep and had only my good name, that started to slip away too. As false rumors spread about how and why my marriage ended and as people threw me pitying glances or judgmental tongue clicking (or both) Jesus—who made himself of no reputation and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2)—felt that along with me.
More to offer to my Jesus.
What I had asked for 20 years ago.
What I didn’t know I was asking for.
I live in the in between—like a child tucked into a cozy bed—on one hand I am wrapped between my innocent and sincere promises to the Lord to be crucified with him, to offer him a costly sacrifice, to take on his mind, to leave everything I have known and on the other hand I am wrapped up in my prayers for deliverance, peace, and contentment in this life.
Like the good Father he is, if we ask for bread, he will not give us stones. If we ask for fish, he will not give us snakes. He will not give us scorpions instead of eggs. But, can I trade these stones, snakes, and scorpions for bread, fish, and eggs? Asking for a friend.
The way God answers prayers is a great mystery. Yet I see more and more that it means either suffering with Jesus or asking him to suffer with me. Somehow in the middle of everything falling apart in my life, I find myself coming together, being knit together in love. Maybe finally this is how the Incarnation works—in the land of “the already, but not yet.”