Last night as I was lying in bed, waiting to go to sleep, I prayed that God would help me with a task I’ve been unable to do: declutter.
I can get about 75% done with picking and tossing and sorting, but every time I do that I’m left with a pile (or five) that I just can’t seem to figure out what to do with. So that pile sits awaiting new clutter and the process starts all over again. When I feel overwhelmed in life, the piles grow faster than I’m able to mentally deal with them. For me, clutter represents decision fatigue–I’ve reached the end of my capacity to think about anything else.
In seasons of my life where depression and anxiety peaked, my house was an absolute disaster. Many of you have been here in those moments, and know I’m not exaggerating.
Recently, God has been powerfully healing me from these mental health challenges, but it’s taking a while to get un-buried from the clutter and the reminders of how things were. I’ve been praying repeatedly that God would help me understand why I can’t just pick it all up and put it in the trash, why I feel the need to sort and sift through every single piece, and last night he brought to mind the Bible story about Saul, Israel’s first anointed king.
At this point in their history, Israel was not content to have just the Lord being their leader. They wanted to be like the other nations, who had a human king. (Side note: Maybe this is where God’s people invited patriarchy…we’ll save that for another day, though!) But God often gives us what we ask for, even when we’re intentionally asking for something different than what he’s wanting to give us. Sometimes we have to touch the stove burner or taste the vanilla extract to finally believe that it’s not for us.
This story takes place primarily in 1 Samuel 9 and 10. Basically Saul is a handsome, tall, “impressive” young man. Kingly material, even though he comes from the smallest, least impressive tribe in Israel. Saul’s wandering all over looking for his father’s lost donkeys when he meets God’s prophet, Samuel. Samuel says, “You’re going to be king!” and Saul says, “Yikes!” Saul gets anointed privately by Samuel, then gets sent home to reconnect with his father–and with the donkeys, who’d already returned from their adventure. This is where things get interesting.
Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah and said to the Israelites, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel out of Egypt, and I rescued you from the power of the Egyptians and all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your troubles and afflictions. You said to Him, ‘You must set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans.” (1 Samuel 10:17-19, CSB)
God brought Israel out of Egypt.
God rescued the Israelites from the power of the Egyptians and all the kingdoms that were oppressing them.
And now they were rejecting the God who saves them from all their pains and problems, because they wanted a king just like all their abusive neighbors have. They wanted less for themselves than God himself.
So Samuel starts going through the tribes of Israel to determine, in their presence, who will be their king. (Now remember, Saul has already been privately anointed by Samuel. By this point, he should be expecting a divine spotlight.) Saul’s tribe, the Benjaminites, is selected. Samuel goes through all the Benjaminite clans, and Saul’s clan is selected. Finally, Saul’s name is revealed–and the man is nowhere to be seen. Where is this new king?
After looking around for a bit, the people inquire of the Lord–and ironically, it’s usually after we try on our own when we finally ask God for wisdom.
They again inquired of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”
The Lord replied, “There he is, hidden among the supplies.”
They ran and got him from there. When he stood among the people, he stood a head taller than anyone else. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the one the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among the entire population.”
And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:22-24, CSB)
I like the ESV’s rendering of God’s response in verse 22:
And the LORD said, “Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”
Oh hey, there’s your new king–aaaaand he’s hiding. With your stuff. With everything that’s familiar when I’ve called him to a new place, and a new purpose.
I used to read Bible stories as if the characters were professional actors given a full script, knowing scene by scene how their lives would play out. But when I read comfortably knowing what happens next in their life chapter, I forget that they, too, needed to rely on God in every plot twist and scene change.
That’s when things got personal for me, as I prayed in my bed next to my pile of clutter here, and there, and over there–and over there, too.
In the past few months, God has become increasingly clear on what he has called me to do with my life. My faith has gone through all the metaphors God uses for spiritual maturity:
Pruning – God takes off the dead stuff so new things can grow. Bitterness and resentment had to get snipped off (maybe chain-sawed off) so that compassion and kindness could blossom.
Burning – God melts the dross off in extra-hot fire so gold is purified. God’s been holding a match to my heart, revealing the things that are not good, and burning it away.
Washing – God cleanses like soap and a sponge, washing the dirt away, so there is purity and integrity. In his gentleness, he’s taught me that everything he expects of me, he’s already done first. Ever so gently, he scrubs until this lie, this doubt, this sin, no longer stains.
Structural testing – God tells us to build our lives on the foundation of Jesus, so that we can withstand every storm that threatens to shatter us. Does what I believe about God hold up when I’m on the floor in a public bathroom with a crushing panic attack? Does what I believe about God hold up when I’m harsh with my children, while my kind and gentle Heavenly Father stands beside me? Does what I believe about God hold up when I compare my faith to my (formerly) all-Republican politics, when it allows me to only focus on justice for me (not you), allows me to condemn you (for not voting like me), and allows me to tune out words like “marginalized” or “oppressed” or “immigration” simply because it’s “Democratic rhetoric”?
It’s a lot. It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen, and while I know vaguely what happens in my next scene, I don’t have a line-by-line script I can flip through.
But I do have baggage, I do have memories and habits from what has been. And those memories and habits are safe. Yeah the Lord brought me out of this. Yeah the Lord brought me out of that. Yeah the Lord gave me more than I needed–as is also evidenced in these clutter piles. But what if I can’t recognize myself any more? What if I look around and no longer see “me” in my life?
Will he be good to me…today? Will he be good to me…tomorrow? Will he fight for me and free me and bring me out of the next trouble or affliction, the next pain or problem?
I guess I’ll have to make some donation trips to the Goodwill and find out. Because I believe God’s goodness will follow me, all the days of my life. I want today’s fresh manna, not yesterday’s maggots. I want today’s mercies, today’s strength.
Church: Where are we hiding in the baggage, when God has anointed us for something new? May we trust God’s calling and obey, eagerly expecting each next good thing he’s already up to.
Photo by Raquel Brepohl on Unsplash