Oh, the proverbial straw. Yes, that one. The one that broke the camel’s back.
That straw landed on me recently. It came crashing down on me with a weight I was not expecting. I mean, when I looked at it, it still looked like a small, little straw. It was an easily dealt with (although extremely annoying) issue.
This straw was something that could be easily remedied, and yet...it landed with a force that caused every ugly cry ever wanting to come out of me in my whole life to come out all at once. (And I do mean ugly.)
Do you know what I’m talking about?
It’s that one, little thing that just is the LAST thing you can handle. And it’s not that you can’t handle that one thing, it’s just that there have been what seems like thousands of other things, other small pieces of straw—issues and situations requiring your attention, insisting that you give your time, your focus, your energy, your creativity, your ingenuity, your "everything" to make it all work. And you’re juggling all of these while slowly being buried under the weight of them—and making it somehow until that one, last straw lands.
The morning the atomic straw landed on me and blew up everything and everyone around me (dogs included), I found myself wondering how it happened. I’m sure you could all diagnose me from a distance, and you would, at least partially, be right.
Yes, I’m tired.
Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of things that have required my energy and time.
So, you’re right. I am a busy person. But I’m always a busy person. I also balance myself with time spent for me and God (alone in the quiet each morning), time spent taking care of myself physically, time spent with family (every night dinner together and forced family fun). Although I do truly appreciate your care and concern, I’ve learned that explosions like this don’t come just from being busy.
No, I think something deeper was going on. Something designed to reveal to me things that needed addressing.
Here’s some backstory for you.
I have this tendency to pray dangerous prayers at times. Prayers that seem to “bring the BOOM.” Prayers like:
“Dismantle me, Lord.”
“Tear down my pride, Lord.”
“Search me and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
And every time I pray these types of prayers—God does what I’ve asked him to do.
“Why would you do that?”, you ask.
Well, I don’t do it often enough, that’s for sure. But when I do, it’s because I’ve noticed things about myself—through the leading of the Holy Spirit, I’m sure—that I don’t like. For instance, attitudes that are fear-based, actions, and thoughts that are prideful or selfish, etc, etc.
And when I become convicted over these things (sometimes it takes longer than others—depending on how caught up I’ve been) I confess them and ask God to forgive me and make me more like Him.
I pray these terrifying prayers asking God to do things like crush my pride and search my heart because I’d rather be dismantled by God and put back together by Him than continue living in a way that is not life-giving and potentially destructive to me and others.
So I pray these prayers, and then I forget I prayed them. Apparently I have a gift for prayer amnesia. I pray, and then I “forget” and continue about my life doing my best to be faithful and hold all the things, and attain all the things, and be responsible and loving, and then…
A hurtful word from someone and my pride and insecurity is revealed.
A stressful situation reveals my anxiety and the fear that follows me around.
“Prick…. Prick…. Prick.”
Slowly I start becoming unraveled.
Sometimes I think, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I handle these little things? These are small! What gives?" And while I’m vulnerable because the inner things in me are being laid bare, the enemy swoops in and takes advantage of the opportunity, whispering more lies to me:
“You’re no good at anything.”
“You’re insignificant and not making a difference.”
“God seems silent and distant because you can’t even pray right.”
On the morning this last straw landed, it finally dawned on me, “This is what you prayed for.”
Right. I’m not broken and washed up. I’ve been strategically dismantled. The unhealthy in me is being revealed for what it is. Everything unhelpful, unholy, everything false I’ve depended on is being exposed in the light.
“Search me and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts.”
“These are your anxious thoughts, Susan. These are the treasures in your heart you have been relying on.”
When I look back, I can see so clearly that every little “prick” was targeted at a lie I had placed my trust in on some level:
LIE: I am significant and valuable because I can accomplish a lot in a day.
“Prick.” - Time and plans interrupted… repeatedly.
LIE: Positive opinions and comments from others are proof of my worth and significance.
“Prick.” - Nothing but crickets.
LIE: Being creative and able to write and put the words together in a good putting-together-of-words-kind-of-way show I am making a positive impact on the world.
“Prick.” - No words in the brain. Nothing to write. Brain is empty—not working.
LIE: You’re doing great at life when you can save money in order to provide a car for your son before he’s 35.
Oh, well...that money you just saved?
Boom. Car repair.
Oh, you got some more, did ya?
Boom. Electrical issue at the house.
A little extra came in?
Boom. Both dogs have been inhabited by aliens and all their insides want to be on their outsides. That vet bill will finish all that off.
“Prick… prick… prick.”
There’s more, believe me…but I think you get the picture.
Slowly but surely, God honored my prayer and one-by-one slowly revealed the lies and dismantled each of the things I had constructed around myself to build myself up. Each and every one was revealed as the insufficient, non-sustaining, limited, and finite help that it was.
As I sought to find my center once again in Christ, I sat where I always sit every morning to be alone in the silence with God, and I began to read the Psalms.
Psalm 121 rose to my attention.
“I lift my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”
My Lord is my help.
Not affirmation from others.
Not perfect circumstances.
Not my abilities.
Not stuff or my plans.
Nothing else can keep me at peace. Nothing else can sustain me or lift me up or give me worth.
Only my Lord, my God can keep me safe, sustained, and centered. My worth is in Him and Him alone.
Goodness knows none of the things I went through were any sort of monumental crisis. Please know that I do see this. Others are going through worse. I have been through worse. But, I think that’s the point.
If I can see—in the small things—where I am off-center and where I have a tendency to trust in things that are less than God, if I can learn how to abide in Him now, then when huge storms come, I will not be shaken to my core. I will have practiced trust and will learn day-by-day that God is faithful in ALL things.
And now, the God who made heaven and earth—and straw—is putting me together again…just like I asked.
Praise be to God.