Do you ever feel like a forgotten parking pass in the bottom of God’s messenger bag? God printed you out of the machine, He put you into the world, you have a purpose but that purpose isn’t happening. You’re just floating loose between books, pens, and a lunch sack. Sometimes you get smashed, sometimes you get stabbed, and sometimes you take on the vague scent of pickles… What is a parking pass supposed to do? It is supposed to be validated and open the parking gate. We somehow know we are supposed to be validated so we cry out to the books, “Validate me!” The books continue to smash. So we turn to the pens, “Validate me.” The pens continue to stab. Lastly we turn to the lunch sack, “Validate me, please.” The lunch sack continues to compromise the atmosphere within the bag. Only God can pay the price at the counter in the high rise building. Only God can put that stamp on us that says: VALIDATED.
You may be thinking, that was a bit much as far as metaphors go. Yet don’t we spend a lot of time trying to find definition and purpose in things that won’t bring those into our lives? Even as Christians, don’t we turn to everything but God to find validation? In my experience, God is the last on the list and we expect the least from Him. Even though God is the one who carries us all, who made us, who knows His every purpose for our lives.
I have known more than a few friends that self-destructed trying to find validation in things and people other than God. I have, myself, spent an embarrassing amount of time and emotional energy trying to find validation in sources other than God. Why? Because God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts, His time table is not our time table. Which causes a lot of insecurity. Especially if there is no personal relationship with God to back up that waiting and trusting. It doesn’t feel secure to go out on a limb with God, so we say to ourselves in secret, “There’s gotta be an easier way than this limb to find fulfillment and purpose.”
Everyone turns to different things, sometimes they’re good things, sometimes not. We could potentially spend a lifetime doing good things with good people and look totally justified, but not once find validation in all that life. Playing the part at a church community in a good school district, raising two smiling children who excel in grades and sports. Wear the latest fashion trends, drink the right latte from the right coffee shop, have the latest phone. Have the right address in the right zip code, volunteer at the right charity, read the book everyone’s talking about. Care about the latest cause, follow the news and agree with the majority on how you should feel about the news. Look the part, take cues from the right sources to be a good person.
Until the “right sources” fall out of grace in public opinion. Until the fashion trends change so fast you can’t keep up. Until your HOA comes under new management and destroys the property value of the whole neighborhood. Until one of your children starts to have problems with school, teachers, and coaches and you have no idea what changed. Until your church gets a new pastor and he alienates himself from the church leadership and alienates the church from the greater community and it’s all a mess. Until you drop your phone one foot from the ground but the screen cracks all over and your case chips and it looks all janky.
My point is all these things we use to shield our insecurity, all these things we use to validate ourselves, they are unreliable and they can go wrong in an instant. Once we lose these things we’re left vulnerable and un-validated, back where we started. These points of loss and struggle are crossroads. We can either find the latest new trend to validate ourselves, or we can turn to God and find a validation that will not be revoked.
Mike Pilavachi has a video on Youtube from a conference in Canada that is about insecurity. He talks about Jacob and Leah, Jacob’s first wife, and how insecure they were. He talks about God’s answer to their insecurity. For Jacob the answer was found in the wrestling match Jacob has with God (For a full summary of this wrestling match see “Sheltered” below). Jacob spent his entire life striving to prove himself and his worth. He spent a night striving with God. Ultimately God breaks his hip and gives him a blessing. Jacob walks with a limp the rest of his life, he is unable to strive any longer. He is forced to rely on God.
Paul also has some sort of struggle in his “thorn in the flesh.” He pleads with God to remove it but God answers, “No. My grace is sufficient for you.” Paul realizes the thorn is there to keep him from getting conceited and boasting in his own strength. Paul is forced to rely on God.
In both cases, difficulty came. In both cases the difficulty made it clear that they could no longer strive and validate themselves through things and people other than God. They lived and became heroes of the bible only through the grace of God. They found their validation in God.
You might say, “How awful. Who wants to live with a broken hip that didn’t heal properly? Who wants to live with a thorn forever embedded in their flesh somewhere? How can they praise God for hardship in their lives?” I think Jacob and Paul understood that the hardship they experienced was a severe mercy.
The term severe mercy was coined by a man named Sheldon Vanauken who wrote a book by the same title in 1977. Vanauken was a student of C.S. Lewis at Oxford in the 1950s. He and his wife, Davy, became Christians during their time at Oxford. Vanauken’s wife died some years later from liver failure. Through reflection and correspondence with Lewis, Vanauken came to the conclusion that the death of his wife was a severe mercy because his loss saved his relationship with God. “It was death – Davy’s death – that was the severe mercy. There is no doubt at all that Lewis is saying precisely that. That death, so full of suffering for us both, suffering that still overwhelmed my life, was yet a severe mercy. A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love.” He goes on to talk about how their love was so powerful it would either come between them and God or God would come between them and their love, and He did through death.
The broken hip and the thorn kept insecurity and pride from getting in the way of God. Through their severity, the way was opened for a close relationship with God. In that openness lies the mercy. God sometimes allows hardships to come in order to keep what most separates us from Him in check. The issue is validation, are we getting it from Man or from God? I believe it is the severe mercies in our lives that keeps our focus on God so that we find our validation in Him.
A Severe Mercy. Sheldon Vanauken. 1980. Harper Collins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY, 10022. Page 211.
“E/F: Insecurity (Mike Pilavachi at SoM) Mike Pilavachi” Catch the Fire Toronto Youtube channel. 2012