Exodus 14:14

I have a tattoo on the inside of my left wrist. You’re shocked, I know (my mom was too).

It’s fairly small – no more than 2 inches long and a 1/2 inch tall – and says “Exodus 14:14” in a very simple font.

Exodus 14:14 reads in the Bible: “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

As Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, Pharaoh began to realize the gravity of what he’d done by releasing them, and ordered that his servants go out to retrieve them. The Israelites began to panic, and asked Moses why he’d led them out of Egypt, if only to lead them to death.

Moses’ response to their questions and, on a larger scale, to their lack of faith, was this: “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of which the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

Moments later, God parted the Red Sea, and the Israelites passed to safety.

I remember reading that passage for the first time and thinking that I needed to write it down somewhere that I’d see it everyday. I believe that it embodies everything we’ll ever need to know about faith: that the Lord is always fighting for us – even when we don’t know it, even when we don’t see it, and even when we are doing nothing.

Once again, Dostoevsky’s quote is so fitting: “behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord, who has been all this time, loving and mysteriously guiding you.” For people of faith, I know that this message rings so true. How often do we look back on our lives in retrospect and see that Divine Providence was gently steering our direction all along? How often do we look back and think, “if only *blank* had not happened, I’d never have *blank*?

God fights for us. He doesn’t wait to be asked (although He wants nothing more) and He doesn’t pick or choose who to fight for. He goes to battle for each of us, all day long, every single day; battle for our happiness, battle for our hearts, battle for our souls.

So a year ago this month, I got this tattoo because I wanted to remember that. And I did not want it in a place that could be easily covered, or that no one else would see, or that I’d forget I even had it. I wanted it somewhere that I could look down at it all day long if necessary, to remember that God is faithful. I wanted to get questions about it – and rest assured, I get many.

But I’m always happy to answer them, because what an incredible message I get to spread: that the Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.

“Ask and you shall receive.”

Around this time four years ago, I was a floundering sophomore at the University of Iowa.

I’d had a rough first year away at school and transferred to the U of I with plans to enter into the Journalism & Mass Communications program after a semester’s worth of work. I had heard that experience writing for The Daily Iowan looked good on the application, so I set out to be a DI reporter.

On caucus day that cycle, I took a quick, 24-hour hiatus from my winter break and drove back to Iowa City to cover my precinct for the DI. The contributions I made on caucus day were the last of the work that I did there, but the weight of the impact that experience had on me had yet to really set in.

Because around this time four years ago, a greater theme had taken hold for me.

And while my reporting position was a wise career move, I believe in retrospect that I chose it to distract myself from a much greater challenge I was facing.

Around this time four years ago, I was begging God for something He did not give me.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on the right road, and try not to leave it.”

He later continued, “But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all of your efforts, you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it – at that very moment, I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.”

Over time, I’ve become a person who is not the one I was four years ago. I love different things, live for different things, prioritize things differently than I did then. I’m not where I thought I’d be, but then again, I no longer want to be there. These changes in my heart happened slowly – like the frog in boiling water metaphor – to the extent that I did not recognize that the changes were happening until they had already taken place.

St. Augustine said that the continuance of our longing is in the continuance of our prayer. Of course, my prayers and longings are hardly the same today as they were four years ago. These changes came as a result of a change in desires, but also as a result of having had no choice but to accept the fact that certain desires I had at the time were simply not in God’s plan for me.

“Ask and you shall receive.” Receive what, God did not specify. He did not say, “Ask and you shall receive exactly what you asked for.” But this is part of the beauty in prayer, and even more so, part of the (infinite) beauty in God. God’s ‘no’ to our prayer does not mean He doesn’t love us – rather, it means that He loves us that much to give us something better than what we’d spent all of that time and energy asking for.

I see now that to have simply given me what I’d been asking for would have been so much less than love. But to instead meet me at my prayer and give me challenges that required me to change, so as to become better and more the way God intended me to be – so as to become more of myself – is a love much more reflective of the inconceivably loving God that we pray to.

And then, to open my eyes to the truth of what is better for me and allow me the opportunity to desire and to pray for that thing, that new thing, that better thing – and to only then grant my request – is a love much worthier of the God who loves us.

What do you do when you’ve got a cut that won’t stop bleeding? Apply pressure. Just the same, how can a person overcome those painfully humbling moments in life that leave us questioning our own character and moral integrity? How can we move beyond those scenarios which challenge us at the very depths of who we are? Enter into them. We must allow ourselves to be submerged in awareness of our imperfection. We must force ourselves to stand toe-to-toe with the truth about ourselves: that we are not so great, not so Christian, not so smart, not so impressive as we might have thought. And then, when we have no choice but to turn to God in our weakness, we ask for more of Him, less of me.

“My power is perfected in weakness,” He told St. Paul.

When we truly get to know God – when we enter into our longing for Him and finally accept that we have very little control over our own circumstances – only then will we really become who God intended us to be.

Because once we’ve accepted these things, fear falls away. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear of sorrow, all suddenly feel like a waste of human capacity. This is because we finally see that rejection and failure are an indication of God’s presence. We finally see that those things we do not receive, God did not intend for us.

Or, better said – we were not intended for those things.

And then, in faith, we anticipate so much more and so much better, because we know that this is the work of God.

In faith, we realize that that ultimate “better” is always Heaven – and there is nothing better than that.