God was speaking to me, He was giving me beautiful moments of loving invitation that were far more intimate than anything I’d experienced in my Christian life before. Moments like a hike on the trail, when I told Him how much I loved what he’d done with the trees, and He told me that the best part for Him was watching me enjoy it. Moments like when He turned a pair of boots red just because He knew I would like them.
Even so, I felt to ashamed to meet Him where He was calling me and walk with Him. How could I when I was so overwhelmed by sexual desire that I couldn’t help but fall into it? I felt engulfed by guilt and powerless to do anything about it. I decided to carve out a safe space for myself that seemed realistic. I became pragmatic. If I couldn’t help my physical needs, and I couldn’t engage my tattered heart in a relationship, I’d stick with some kind of friends-with-benefits scenario. At least that way I would avoid the clear dangers of hooking up (disease, pregnancy, the drama of running into people later—Anchorage is a very small town).
I told my plan to a more sexually experienced friend. He basically patted me on the shoulder and told me it wouldn’t work. “Friends with benefits never lasts more than like a month or two. One person always ends up wanting it to be more than friends.” I was optimistic, “No, I think with this guy it will work. We have it figured out.” We chatted a bit more about the practicality of it, and then he looked me in the eye and said, “What about…?” and pointed heavenward. He knew that in spite of all of this, I loved God deeply. We both had an idea that God would be unhappy with what I was doing. I shrugged, but my heart sank.
Later that night, I was reading a book on Redemption and ran across a short blurb where the author mentioned failing over and over and over again on the path to redemption. How is that possible? I though. I’ve heard so many people say that, if you don’t change your behavior, you haven’t really repented. I wondered whether it was possible to feel deep regret and shame and a desire to change but not actually repent. But here was someone saying that sometimes it takes trying again and again, and falling on your face over and over. Was it possible that repentance didn’t necessarily mean immediate success at fixing the problem? I decided that, even though I felt like I was completely incapable of succeeding, even though every time I tried I failed worse than before, I would keep trying. My wall, my will wasn’t effective, but there had to be another way. I decided I would keep failing until I found it.
What if it wasn’t up to me? And what if there was something God cared more about than me trying? I ran across a verse, “In returning and rest you shall be saved.” (Isaiah 30:15) I noted that it didn’t say “in returning and fixing it immediately.” My mind’s eye saw me turning my face to God and then… that was it. Resting. Waiting. Was that all there was to repentance after sin? Was there an alternative to whipping myself into an obedience I didn’t understand?
In one moment of scrambling to find ways to try harder, I had considered getting a tattoo that said “The Lord’s” on the back of my hand where I could see it, as a reminder to myself that I belonged to God and didn’t have to sin. It’s hard to miss a hand tattoo, even when you’re drunk. Before I could get the tattoo, I crashed my bike on some sand and skinned up my knees, my face, and my hand. I have only one scar from that crash. It looks like writing, and it’s exactly where I would have placed the tattoo on my hand. It was as if He was telling me I didn’t have to mark myself as His, He already had. Returning and rest… just look at Him. See Him… If I could have more of that presence—-the beautiful sound of the voice of love—I felt like my life would be very different, and not just morally.
About that time, I joined a reading group that was studying Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. (I really was trying every pious magic trick I could think of.) I knew I was supposed to be generous, to spend time in prayer, to worship God through music, to fast from eating. These “disciplines” had always been on a checklist of things I thought I was supposed to do as a good Christian. I wasn’t great about doing them. Other than music, I wouldn’t have said I enjoyed them. Foster’s take was a little different. He said that these were things you could do to make your heart fertile ground for more of the presence of God, that there was a freedom in them that you couldn’t find elsewhere. That was new. I was surprised to find myself trying out fasting, even more surprised to find myself enjoying it. I love food. Deliberately not eating sounded like unnecessary torture. But I tried one day. And another. Until I was fasting almost every week.
It’s a little hard to describe the joy of feeling God’s presence, or the fact that not eating can be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s like having an amazing friend Bob who lives in Pittsburgh. He’s just one of those indescribably lovely people. You tell your friends at home about him, but they’re not convinced. “You’d love Bob! He’s hilarious and just a really caring person. He’s… well, you just have to meet him. Come to Pittsburgh with me next time I visit Bob! I promise it will be worth it. Pittsburgh is kinda weird but he knows the best spots. We’ll have a great time, I promise!” “Um, I’m sure your friend is great, but, um, Pittsburgh? Really, Amy?” “Yeah, it’s different with Bob. I swear!”
I’ve never been able to find good words to describe what happens during fasting that makes God’s presence so much more real and palpable. It just does. And whatever it does, it does in incredibly powerful ways. I knew something had changed when I gave up amazing sex one night because I knew it would interfere with me fasting the next day…
Hey! I finally mentioned sex! (Or avoiding it. Haha.) More of the (non-) sexy good stuff in the next post.