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On the Other Side of Needing Approval

There’s a deep, white blanket of snow over a gorgeous corner of Pennsylvania. I am there for the weekend, preaching retreat messages from Revelation 2 about wanting God most. We’ve already covered some solid ground, and God has done some good work. As a speaker, I’ve been to a lot of places. This is one that has never left my mind.

It is the last message, at the point when I ask the women to respond to God in this tangible way: write on white note cards what God has told them during the weekend that they need to surrender to Him.

“What do you want God more than?” I ask them, and I take it one step further. I tell them that I do not want their “top of the pocket” response— meaning that quick, churchy response a lot of us have grown accustomed through the years to give at a time like this. “I want the bottom of the pocket response,” and they know exactly what I mean. That harder admission, the one that is buried a bit lower, that may take a more painful unearthing.

I request one final action— to bring their written white note cards to the front and lay them on the altar, which is really just basic auditorium stairs. I love the idea that no fancy attempts were made at this event to dress up the place the women will lay their cards. I’m at the place in my ministry that I long for all of us just to be ourselves and find extravagances difficult. I ask the musician to play, as usual. I pray, and one by one the women begin to come down front. It doesn’t take long for the front of the room to be alive with scattered white papers, anonymous with words that represent lives and situations known only by God, laid wherever the women put them, perfect in their spots. A few minutes pass and the room is hushed with now seated women, deep in prayer and thought over what they’ve just laid bare before God.

But there is one more woman.

To this day I do not know her name.

She brings her card to the front but does not lay it down. Instead, she stands in the middle of the room holding it like it is the last thing she has on this earth, and she sobs in a way only people who know what giving up the thing they love the most looks like. I can still see her now, black jacket, hands clenched tightly in the front, shoulders shaking, an unquieted wail between gulps. I am the speaker in the front, just minutes before about to wrap things up, and now suddenly, something inside me breaks, too, and I fall to my knees and sob with her. I know what it is like not to want to listen to God when He talks. And I know what it’s like to know I will, no matter what, do the very best thing and say yes even though in the moment it breaks my heart.

Sometimes God will ask us to run out of a house when someone wants us to stay, and it will disappoint them.

Sometimes He will ask us to speak up, and people will have preferred we stayed quiet. He’ll want us to adopt a child or sell our home or change careers, but our people won’t all understand. He’ll want us to make a move that others don’t support.

And it won’t always be selfish of the people to be disappointed. Sometimes they will just love us so much they will want what they believe is for our best. But when we get to the point where we are willing to disappoint people to do what God wants, we will have become the most usable version of our created selves. Because that is when we will always obey God, no matter what.