“Hanging on by a broken toenail” was the description I gave of my mental state earlier today to a friend who, thankfully, listened to my overwhelming mess of a life until I felt better (thank you, Mary!). If you haven’t been there before, just give it time. It’ll come to most all of us, unfortunately. Which is why years ago certain worship songs started to bother me. They were songs that promised God faithfulness, worship, prayer or whatever “forever”. Not songs that spoke of God’s forever faithfulness, but songs in which the singer/worshipers promised forever.
What a foolish, arrogant promise to make to God, I thought. Forever is not in our ability to promise anyone, much less God. Even wedding vows are only promised until death. Not to mention that it is foolhardy at best to presume that your faith is so sure that you will not waver in it, much less abandon it, for all eternity. That’s just asking to have your faith put to some terrible tests. (And I hate to be the one to tell you this, but that’s pretty much how God works. Tell him what you’re going to do or what you won’t do and he’ll set you straight. There’s a reason that scriptures say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. God doesn’t have many boundaries on what he’s willing to do to redeem us.)
One of my favorite characters in scriptures is the father seeking help for his son who tells Jesus: “I believe. Please help me in my unbelief.” I think that’s the best promise we can give of our own faithfulness. Philippians refers to Jesus as the “author and perfecter of our faith”. It’s not something we can choose or decide to have on our own. If we think that we can create and nurture a faith capable of standing up to life’s blows through good intention, bible study, worship, prayer, good works and self-improvement, we are sorely mistaken. The sort of faith that will actually lasts into eternity comes to us just how this wise, desperate father says it will: in desperate times when there’s nothing else to do but to ask for help just hanging on.
This past fall during some particularly dark days, I stumbled to the only promise of faith that still makes sense to me:
“Lord, please, I hope you will hold onto me, because I can’t hold onto you anymore.”
I had this picture of my faith as a limp, dead body being picked up like a stuffed animal in one of those claw machines by God. My poor faith has been so battered that it was beyond anything I could do to put more life into it. But as Jesus told that man who cried out for help for his son, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” And even when I can’t, God still believes. It is still possible for Him. So now when I hear a song promising forever to God, I smile. Because you know what, they are right. But it’s not our commitment which will lead to the fruition of these promises to God. It is a promise which has meaning because even when the day comes that we cannot hold onto God, he will always be able to hold onto us.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”
~ Isaiah 49:14-16