Last month, I finished up a year-long program, during the course of which I worked during the day and took 5 evening classes per semester. The classes occupied 3 nights a week until 10pm, and the 3rd semester added to that 8 hours of class on Saturdays. Grueling, brutal, cruel, unusual.
At the end of each semester I would stare into the whirlpool of the chaos that was my life, and I would sigh, and I would say: “God… I could not have done that without you.” At one point I journaled this:
It’s been a fight. Everyday seems harder than the day before. I’m just so exhausted. My eyes hurt. My brain hurts. I have learned how to function as a half-awake human being. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing…
I admit, though: this entire experience has grown me. I have learned how to fight. […] Most importantly, I have learned this – I cannot without God. It’s all Him. He’s been my strength. He’s been the only one I have to turn to, to beg for energy, to beg for brain power, to beg for stamina. And he provides. Even in the midst of my exhaustion, my unfaithfulness towards him, my impatience and bad moods, he is faithful. He provides all I need. He is literally my rock. He is my strength. He is the only reason I can.
I feel those words. I wrote them. But if there is one thing this program has taught me, it’s the importance of the accuracy of words. So, at the risk of coming across as a heretic, I must challenge myself.
“I could not have done that without you.” Is that literally true? Could I not have completed the program without God? Could I not have woken up every morning and gotten myself ready for another 15-hour day on only a few hours of sleep, and chugged along until 11pm when I finally arrived home, and mustered up whatever energy I had left in me to finish assignments and do insane amounts of reading, over, and over, and over again for 12 months? Is it really true I could not have done that without God?
No. It isn’t true.
I could have done it without him. My classmates did it. People before me have done it, and people after me will do it. People have done far more challenging things than this without depending on God. So, while I may have been excessively more miserable, cranky, unfriendly, hopeless, and despairing without God, I could still be sitting here right now with a finished program under my belt.
This, then, begs the question: so what? What’s it all about? What would I have gained from having successfully accomplished this feat without God? Another accolade, another bullet point on my resumé, greater knowledge, better job opportunities? What’s the purpose of my labor? What’s the purpose of my toil? What makes it all worth it?
Not the certificate. Not the earthly rewards. What the past year has done for me most has been in reinforcing Spurgeon’s words: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I was forced to throw myself upon Jesus because I had nowhere else to turn. I had no one else to rely on. Every morning that I woke up in a bad mood and was scolded by my flesh to “keep away from God, you’re a wretch, you’ve neglected him for so long now, you hardly give him any of your time and the time you do give him is fleeting and distracted, he’s disappointed in you, you have nothing to offer, you’re a weak and pathetic little child, you are needy, you are needy, you are so needy” – even in those moments I had to throw myself upon Jesus. There was nothing else. No one else. Nowhere else. Only he offered solace, comfort, rest. Relief. Hope. Breath.
He is the Rock of Ages, the rock that has withstood every crashing, crushing wave of all of time through all of history – and he is my rock. He has proven himself to me all the more this past year. He has made me to know him better as an infallible foundation and an immovable anchor. His goodness is realer. His faithfulness is sweeter. His steadfastness is purer. His presence is surer. I’m still exhausted and I’m still reaping the physical effects of this past year. But I am more sure of him. And this makes it worth it.
Those wonderful worldly things, like successes and accomplishments, they are honestly very nice. But they are not enough. There will always (mark my word: always) come a point when the things we place our hope, joy, and security in unveil themselves as the smoke that they are. The sheet falls away, we see through the haze, and we realize: not enough.
So yes. I literally can do things without God. But I do not want to. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but forfeit his soul? It doesn’t. One year later, I am left staring into the whirlpool of the chaos that was my life, and sighing, and saying: I could have done this without you. But I wouldn’t have wanted to. Knowing him better is the ultimate reward of all my toil. He is the prize. He is the purpose. He is the means. He is the end. He is all, and unlike everything else in this world, he is enough.