Two weeks ago, I yelled at God.
It’s bizarre, really. I know I’m a bottler, that I can push things down, but never would I have thought of myself as someone who could yell at God. I love God. I know He has a path for me even when things are hard, and yet there I was, pouring my heart out to my mom over disappointing circumstances, and suddenly I was yelling, and I know I wasn’t yelling at her. I was yelling at God. The God, the creator of the universe and lover of my soul.
To be honest, I was shocked. I don’t mind telling people I used to be an angry person (with greater regret I’ll even admit to being a borderline bully if not a full on one), but it had been years since I’d really felt this kind of anger, and I was surprised, if not frightened, to find that this new well even existed, let alone how deep it was. “For so long, I have tried to do the right thing, God, for so long I have seen others succeed while I have struggled, in my life there are so few indications that I have ever done well!” Such were the lies I had been gorging myself on again, the hurts that I was cleaving to, the identity I was creating, and here they were the very things I was yelling at my savior.
Except, when you become a Christian, God gives you a new identity, and it cannot and will not be founded in non-truths.
So here’s where things get interesting. See, on that particular day I was scheduled to go to a birthday party. I had had a rough morning to say the least, an hour and a half of tears and yelling at God kicking off what I was sure was doomed to be an ill-fated Friday, and though the day had improved for a little while, baked goods and sunshine doing brief but significant wonders, by the time the afternoon rolled around, I was wondering whether or not I wanted to go to the party at all. It was going to start at a worship night, and though I knew that would be good for me, I was equally sure I would have a terrible time at the celebrations after that, my stomach still slightly messed up from wisdom teeth medication, my mood dark, and my jealousy at having my friend surrounded by all the people that loved and cared about him (yes, I’m horrible, I know) already roaring. I was giving myself over rather fully and willingly to misery, envy, lies and selfishness and I was almost certain they would all be better off if I just didn’t go at all, to say nothing of my desire to sit at home and nurse my self-pity for my own poor, miserable sake.
Yet, long experience has taught me that the best way to get out of such terrible thought patterns is to switch my attention off of myself and up to God, so I basically forgot about my friend and determined that I was just going to go meet with God (forgetting my friend isn’t as bad as it sounds, I’m sure he’ll be happy to know I chose God over him, especially when he sees the results). Jesus was the person I desperately needed to see and spend time with and talk to, and if that meant I was going to spend the whole night off in a corner by myself, that’s what I was going to do.
So I did. Not long after arriving, I squirreled myself away amidst strangers along the back wall, notebook in hand, and let God move. People prayed for and healed for my back. Others prayed precisely against the exact lies and bad habits I had been feeding and recognizing only that morning, both without my telling anyone those things were going on. Don’t compare yourself. Don’t feel as if you have to be something or someone else or do something else.
Just be yourself.
How often others had had their “moment” at prayer meetings. How often I had dreamed of mine.
This night was one of them.
Not only that, but the next day at work, thinking about Machine, God did something even better.
I often tell people that Rick and Cog are very much like two sides of me. One is naive, iron-willed, and gentle. The other is malicious, stubborn and wounded. Most days I am Rick (the nice one), but a day or two before the birthday party, in thinking about Cog and my rampant determination to be righteously wounded in following my “cruel and narrow” path, I realized that there was also a great deal more of me that was angry and hurt than I had ever been willing to acknowledge, a well of carefully tended self-righteousness and mistaken identity that was only ever allowed to flow over when I was hurt or discouraged. I suppose I always assumed it was simply the way one thinks when they are upset, bad habits or lies from past wounds, vestiges I had yet to break, except they weren’t just echoes, they were real feelings from right now, and suddenly I was having day after day of Cog feelings again.
It occurred to me in this time that the reason Machine has taken me ten years to work on might be because the tensions between Rick and Cog, between determined kindness and equally stubborn anger were still playing themselves out. Perhaps I still had things that needed to heal, and my compulsive, if not obsessive, efforts to write and re-write this novel were merely outward expressions of my efforts to resolve two sides in myself.
Or perhaps, I was just still setting my identity in my struggles instead of in God.
Cog sees the world through righteous anger, through the self-righteous bitterness of having continued to do the right thing despite being kicked down again and again and again. A brutalized, tragic hero forced onto a lonely road, how could I, the lonely, shadowy road-walking writer, not sympathize and feel the same way?
Therein lay my problem. See, if I am a child of God, if I am saved by the blood of the lamb, none of that kind of identity can continue to exist. I can no longer complain about my circumstances, for those that Christ endured for me on the cross were far worse. Nor can I place my identity in my old, new or ongoing sufferings and woundedness (or more to the current point my solemn forbearance in carrying them), for I am to be (and in many ways already am) healed. For so long I had put so much weight on my identity as the silent, tragically enduring sufferer, the disciplined disciple, but as a Christian, that isn’t really what my life is. Christianity isn’t about patiently bearing the burdens of discipline until God finally relents and rewards me (talk about a fast way to get a chip on your shoulder), it’s about living in the free gifts of God, joy, peace and rest, so that discipline no longer matters, is not a burden to be tolerated, but a joy that brings me closer to the one who loves my soul.
And onto lesson two.
Fast forward to the day after the party. I’m at work, thinking about Machine and my flaws or some such, pondering the existence of both, and suddenly, I realize.
Machine is my life.
Not as a strict allegory, but very nearly close.
Let me explain. In Machine, Cog is a wounded soldier who only wants one thing, to rescue the familiar of his dreams, Saine, and essentially find the right circumstances to be happy. He also, for almost the entire book, ignores and/or pushes away the only person who could ever really satisfactorily fill that role, the same person who not only desperately wants to help him, but who has also been at his side ostensibly (again, it’s a rough metaphor) from the beginning.
And then there’s me, the stoic warrior who has only ever wanted Machine to be published, who has pushed away and even self-blinded herself to the fact of God’s love for years for the sake of protecting that self-same dream.
Machine is my Saine.
No wonder the war in Machine has been going on for ten years.
Having that realization was like having my brain flipped inside out. A decade long Inception, I almost cried right at work.
Here I’d been only yesterday, yelling at God for all of the grievances I’d seen in my life, shouting at the Almighty God for supposedly slapping the only things I ever wanted out of my hands no matter how hard I tried, and He comes back, not angry or wrathful, not pointing His finger at me or shooting me down, but softly, with the most extreme form of utter tenderness that I have ever known. For so long I had questioned the reason for Machine‘s existence, for so long I had wondered if it would ever have any worth, if I could ever really trust it in God’s hands, and the very day I’m at my worst, the very moment when I am snapping and snarling and biting at Him more like a wounded animal than ever before, and he scoops me up in His arms, takes it ever so gently out of my bleeding, scratched up fingers, flips it over, and holds it out in front of my crying eyes like this beautiful blossom, instantly transforming the art I had so often crumpled up and hated and bit and scratched and loved and longed for into this beautiful flower that He has spent the last ten years crafting. A work of art more beautiful than I could ever have imagined that He has spent ten years working on, often alone, tirelessly, with me tearing and clawing every scrap of shadow of what I thought it could or would or should be out of His hands, only to present it to me, this precious gift, a story so intimate and personal to my life that I could never, in a thousand years, have done it myself. A story that could also, more than anything else, show me that God is the only one who could ever satisfy all of my needs, a story that is so intimate and beautiful precisely because it is, and always has been, mine.
Never before had I felt the love of God more clearly. To take the one thing I have loved most in this entire world and show me so clearly that He had been working on it all this time alongside me, above me, over me, crafting my life story so I could have this story, to give it to me, a free gift, a life, its almost impossible to explain.
I am changed, and wish nothing less than that for the rest of you.
Thank you God, for this precious gift. Please forgive me for the ways I have been so blind to your love and the times I have struck out against you. Teach me your ways, O God.
Surely the riches of His love are great,
His kindness, tolerance and patience.
Such things shall lead me to repentance.
Keep me in your sight, O Lord, and forget not my ways.
Guide me in Your paths.