A coworker this week brought us back to Mark 4, where the disciples are on the boat in the storm with Jesus while He is taking a nap. I felt myself so easily fall into this story, identifying with the disciples shaking Jesus awake, fear in their eyes, asking Him to just do something. The dialogue in this story felt so relevant to where I am now; the disciples wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (ESV) I have said a lot of things like that to Jesus in the past year or so. My main attitude towards Him could maybe be summed up by “do you not care…” followed by many specific or general areas in which He is, by my standards, failing me.
But then Jesus responds to them (and to me), in classic Jesus fashion, by handling the storm and then by saying to them: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
I’m not sure where you’re at, but for me this season has felt unending and lacking movement. I find myself asking not just, “What are you doing, Lord?” but also, “Why aren’t you doing anything?” A good friend has articulated recently feeling like God is about to do some big things, but nothing is yet clear and He still seems hidden.
Cue the Christmas story. We imagine it all beginning with Mary with the animals, giving birth to her baby on an itchy pile of hay. But it really begins so much earlier than this, and we learn for ourselves how to pay attention to what God might be doing by looking back at the years leading up to Jesus in the manger.
When we look at Scripture, we flip just one page to transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament, while in reality there are 400 years of silence and space in between the two. 400 years of seemingly nothing from God. No words, no direction, no clarity. And then, suddenly, a baby. This is not the plan that anyone would have imagined. This is not the way we would have pictured God coming out of 400 years of silence. Surely You are preparing something…epic? I’m beginning to realize that I’m believing that God is doing nothing in my life because I have a very specific idea and area of my life where I want and expect Him to be working.
Change. She is unpredictable, sometimes coming in like a tornado, or one of those hippie sort of people that just glides in and suddenly the room feels different. But then sometimes she is subtle, whispering ideas and gently lighting candles, illuminating the way forward. She is unpredictable, and sometimes shows up uninvited. But she can be invited, and she will always come when you ask. She typically doesn’t knock, she knows where you keep your spare key under the flower pot and doesn’t hesitate to come right in no matter the time of day. She is loud but sometimes whispers, she comes with the seasons but also travels unexpectedly. “Why” isn’t a question that she will answer for you, and she might not really give you any time to process it. She likes to get moving and get on with it. I think she has our best in mind, but if I’m honest, sometimes in the moment it is hard to tell. She is an invitation, always.
Working in education, this past year was…challenging, to say the least. My department was asked to take on a lot of the additional work created by the reality of COVID. I learned through our awful fall semester that I do not adjust well to change. In reflection, I have done fine with change that I choose—like marriage, or college—but change that was not my choice? No thanks.
Turns out I can be pretty stubborn when I choose to be (and, apparently, that is kind of often). All these changes were happening and I didn’t like them; all this additional work was being asked of me and I had a terrible attitude about it.
In retrospect, I have described it as trying to stop a moving train by pulling on the back of it and digging in my heels. Anyone looking at that would see it is a hopeless cause. At some point, after months of exhausting myself, I let go and begrudgingly hopped on the train. But how much stress and exhaustion could I have saved myself by just getting on the train in the first place? One of the things that made it all so difficult was my attitude itself. Carrying that around made me even heavier. And granted, yes, we can all extend ourselves some grace; we were operating within the midst of a worldwide crisis after all. But I am trying to learn from it and not set myself up for the same kind of frustration again, and I think there are some helpful questions to reflect on as we move forward.
Faith has felt like a rollercoaster recently; one day I am totally in the right headspace, trusting God in all things and believing His plan is best, and the next I am questioning everything wondering if I even know the God that I have devoted my life to. This is exhausting and scary. If I am honest, in the midst of a challenging and heartbreaking season, my prayers have consisted mostly of questions and swear words. I have small moments of clarity in the midst of it all, but not as often as I’d like. One of those was stumbling on this passage in Habakkuk.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
I have been convicted recently of a few things. One, God doesn’t owe us anything. It has been surprisingly easy to create a God in my mind who owes me the American dream. Whatever specific circumstance you are facing, let me say with all the love and grace I have, He doesn’t owe it to you. There are no promises in Scripture telling you that He will bring you a dream job, a spouse, babies, or a white picket fence (or whatever your personal definition might be). And it isn’t just a “be patient and wait on God’s timing” sort of thing. Get comfortable with the idea that those dreams or ideas might not ever be a reality, because God’s promise isn’t that He will give us what we want, but that He will be with us. A mentor reminded me that God isn’t who we have constructed in our minds; He isn’t just “what has worked for us” all along. Suddenly when things aren’t going the way we thought they would or how we wanted them to, we question who God is and if He even loves us (or at least I do, maybe you’re farther along on the journey than I am). It isn’t that God brings challenging circumstances along to “teach us a lesson” (that turns Him into more of an abusive Father than an all-loving God), but that we live in a broken world where things will surely be hard, and if our faith is dependent on God making all of our wildest dreams come true, we will be quickly disappointed and disillusioned with Him.
I am learning to depend on Jesus in a way I never have really experienced before. I described it to someone as, “I’m depending on the Lord in a whole new way. A, like, not cute way. More of a desperate way.” I told another friend this and we decided: nobody needs cute faith. Cute faith is fun for Instagram but will not hold you up when your world has been destroyed. Cute faith is good for the summer camp highs but will not offer you the strength and grace and courage to continue on when the storms of life hit.
You might read some sorrow in these words, and you’d be right. I have been walking through a really hard thing recently that I’m not really ready to share with the “world.” But I still think there are some things I am learning that can be shared, and I never want God’s grace to me to be in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1). So whatever you might be walking through, and whatever “level” of hard it might be, I hope this is a gift to you.
I have been living in Psalm 18, a beautiful story of God rescuing and caring for David in the midst of attack. The word picture of verse 16-17, “He drew me out of deep waters, He rescued me…” has resonated in moments where I felt like I was drowning in my grief and needed saving. In verse 19 it says, “He brought me out into a spacious place, He rescued me because He delighted in me.” Just like the Israelites, we are consistently experiencing God’s rescue and deliverance. We are often found in bondage, and He brings us into the wilderness to escape. And yet, this wilderness is not the promised land. That is a future destination. This is the in between. We spend much of our earthly lives in the wilderness, experiencing mere glimpses of the promised land that we will eventually enjoy. The wilderness is a powerful picture all throughout Scripture, for many different reasons. We see the Israelites there, Jesus spends time there, Paul too. It is often a place of great wrestling, of “doing business” with God. It is a place of enormous growth and equipping. The wilderness is where God meets us. It is often hard, heartbreaking, life-changing, and altogether transformative. We should not come out of the wilderness the same. It is not a place for cute faith, it is meant to cultivate desperate faith.
This year has been one for the history books, obviously. It has demanded much from us, taken much from us, and kicked us while we’re down. If I take a step back from it, I can see how it offered some invitations as well.
Mostly the past year has offered an invitation, a forceful one, to slow down. Life came to a screeching halt almost exactly a year ago; our social calendars were wiped clean and even our careers changed drastically. The busyness we had grown accustomed to was suddenly impossible to maintain and we had to come face to face with the reasons we fill our schedules. Anyone else? Anyone else learning that they don’t actually
like having all their evenings and weekends filled with plans? That having less social commitments is not only ok, but sort of enjoyable? Just me?
Don’t get me wrong, I will welcome back concerts and events and parties and weddings with the most open arms. But I am recognizing this invitation to really eliminate excess and focus on the essentials has been really, really good for me. In normal life, I am always exercising my “no” muscle and now I just don’t even have to as much.
This summer as I connected with my team, I was anticipating so many feelings and potential frustrations at what this school year might look like. My sweet Assistant Resident Director is a senior this year, and before I spoke with her on the phone I told my husband, “I just wouldn’t even be surprised if she wants to quit and not come to school this year.” Not because we are doing anything more extreme than any other college, but just because in every way and every area of life, things are just not what they should be. We can all agree that a student’s experience this year is vastly different than what it has been and what we would all like it to be.
But then she surprised me by giving this simple response: “I’m just really curious what this year will look like!”
Immediately I was convicted, having expected disappointment and frustration — and being met with hope and expectation instead.
And just that simply, she offered a vision and a posture that I am trying to embody and to pass along to others for life right now. It inspired the question: What would it look like to practice curiosity this year?
At my best, I am thrilled about this option. At my worst, it feels like too much work.
Curiosity is the much more hopeful, eager cousin of doubt. Curiosity is humble, hopeful, and a much healthier avenue for hard conversations.
After a particularly hard week this summer, I received a package in the mail from Amazon. Usually I know what we’ve ordered from Amazon, and we weren’t expecting anything. I opened it to find a pack of face masks (not the kind we are used to wearing now, think spa face masks) that my Mom had sent me.
I texted her and told her they had arrived and she said, “I want you to close your eyes and reflect on God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of suffering… and soak in His love.”
Leave it to my Mother to turn using a face mask into a beautiful spiritual discipline.
She said it made her think of 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 that says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Our faces should reflect the glory of God. Spending time with Him leads to us looking more like Him. We all know that we start to look and act like the people we spend the most time with, it is just as true with God.
So I began a new spiritual practice I like to call “soaking.” I put on my face mask, I set a timer on my phone for 15-20 minutes and then put my phone far enough away from me that I cannot be distracted by it. I lay down and spend that whole time soaking in God’s goodness.
It’s my birthday. Here are my thoughts.
I’ve maybe never been more thankful for life. This year has been a doozy, for all of us. We’ve all been drudging through a pandemic and we all have our “and also’s.” It isn’t even a comparison game, “well my life is harder than yours!” It just feels plain hard across the board. I could list so many challenging things that people close to me have faced. So many circumstances that have pushed us all to the ends of ourselves. And we live in a world that is so divided, our only interaction is on social media where we don’t have conversations we just yell at each other and share our apparently always-right opinions.
Listen, I’m too tired to be a jerk. We are too overwhelmed to be mean to each other. There just isn’t room for it. We have done such a good job at politicizing things that never should have been divisive, alienating groups that should have been each other’s allies, inflicting pain over and over and over again when what we need is to be healing each other.
I have needed to read this over myself multiple times this week. I found even in the midst of writing it how easily I run to anxiety instead of to the caring, safe hands of the Father. Praying for each of you that is experiencing any level of fear during this time, and I hope this provides a moment of peace for you.
Forgive us Lord, for being consumed by fear.
Forgive us for running toward panic as an attempt at control.
When circumstances are blatantly unknown,
when loved ones are in danger,
when hope seems so far away,
forgive us for choosing panic.
Help us choose to trust You confidently, rather than running to other things we think might give us peace: information, numbing, scrolling, hiding.