All of us walk around with a need pulling at our insides. Some of us are more aware of the need than others. Some of us allow it to draw our minds ever more inward, as if self obsessed thoughts could fill the void. Some of us try to pave it over with the busy production of our lives. Some of us carry the need away; abandon homes and families to search meandering roads and far off corners hoping to find, we don’t know what.
I spent the 19th year of my life schooling with YWAM in Tyler Texas. That year was a pivot point for my life in more ways than I could list. I highly recommend any young person to take a year post high school and serve with an organization like Youth with a Mission.
For my first months, as I had done back home in Oregon, I occupied my mind by trying to purge away everything that carried the tang of regret. Like many young believers I became obsessed with every imperfection, every immoral impulse, every memory of a bad choice. I walked through steps of confession, true repentance, promises of future goodness, everything I could think of. Still, I could not shake feelings of unworthiness and shame. They stayed with me. I hid them away like unwanted contraband. I was terrified that someone would notice my struggle, and realize that I didn’t belong; that I wasn’t as strong as I should have been.
The broken cycle that seized those days was hard to take. But when the brokenness would finally overwhelm me and I became too exhausted to keep up my efforts, the Father’s kindness would edge in. It surprised me every time. Only in those surrendered hours was I able to lean on the Father like I should have done all along.
This fighting, stubborn-standing, breaking and finally surrendering was an ugly process that I knew I needed to leave behind. I just had no idea how. And admitting I wasn’t strong enough always felt like a defeat. Admitting felt like quitting on a responsibility.
One night I took a walk alone on the acreage of the rural campus. I was in the middle of yet again trying to think my way out of the place I’d been. Suddenly I clearly heard the Father say to my spirit, “I love you.” My heart’s fleeting response might as well have said, “Love you too, now let me get back to work.” Walking on, I heard the persistent, “I love you,” two more times. The third finally halted my mind and I allowed the thread to pull. I felt Him say, “I love you, I have always loved you. There was never a moment of your life when my love for you was diminished and there never will be.”
Now I had long owned the fact of this statement. The math of it was filed away in my head right next to that story about the floating ax head and an out of context James 2:20. But the tenderness of this truth was gaining new ground. As His thoughts unwound inside of me, they wove through all my toilsome shame and regret.
A newly close, living knowledge of His kindness worked its way backwards into my memory. Every monument of failure that stood up out of my brief history was toppled by this declaration of His constancy. I surrendered to it. I gave up the lie of my own strength. I felt Him there with me, in the Texan air, His hands on my shoulders, speaking new life to the heart of a son.
The weeks and months that followed brought a lightness of heart that I could hardly remember ever having before. Joy was no longer something that surprised me; I carried it with me. Working towards excellence was no longer about trying to deserve something, it was a gift to the One who loves me without fail. That year I learned that my need for Him could never be answered by my own striving. I learned something else too, something just as important:
Repentance: quitting on sin and walking in the opposite direction, is an absolute requirement. Throughout our lives there will be times when the Holy Spirit will bring a pressure to bear on our hearts, drawing us aside for a serious talk. But that interaction is not the whole of our lives as sons and daughters. Not even close. It’s so easy especially for young Christians to think that their early encounters with the Father are all there is. I believe that some of us get stuck in a rut where we only know how to interact with the Father on the grounds of brokenness and repentance.
I don’t think He wants us to just come to him out of desperation. He wants us to come to Him out of joy.
What if we stopped putting our need for God only in the context of our moral failings? Might we need Him for a much deeper and older reason?
Try this on: if mankind had never sinned, we would still need Him. Not because we are wretched but because He is our Father; we are His sons and daughters.
It’s not our brokenness or even our depravity that first causes us to need Him. Need has to do with our smallness in comparison to Him, it mightn’t have a thing to do with sin.
I want to lean into Him every day. Like Joshua, I want to be the man who never left the tent. I want to be strong because He is strong, not because I’ve held up under the lonely pressure. That stubborn part of me needs to hear, again and again, that it’s ok to just lean on God.
It’s ok to need Him.
We have permission to admit that we’re not strong enough. We were never meant to be strong all by ourselves. It’s ok to lean on Him. It’s ok to sit and be with Him, no agenda, no work to be done. Just be with Him. It’s ok.