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.
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.
So I was sort of dark and twisty last week, and I am now reveling in the Colorado sunshine and the resolution of hard situations. I am looking with anticipation towards Easter and springtime and new life. We are going through a devotional currently about God’s goodness, and one day included reflecting on Psalm 145. I was so struck by the rich truths and wisdom within this passage, so inspired by what it has to teach us. (To balance out how holy I sound right now, I just need you to know that I am listening to the Jonas Brothers while I write this.)
If I was writing a Bible study, this is where I would make you go and read through this chapter and write out all the qualities this chapter attributes to God. (If you’re a student of mine, there is a good chance I will make you do this at some point.) Since you have landed here, I will do you the delight of just telling you the answer. This chapter speaks of God’s greatness, abundant goodness, righteousness, graciousness, and compassion (on all He has made!). It describes Him as being slow to anger, rich in love, good to all, and faithful. He has a glorious Kingdom, an enduring dominion, and upholds all who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down. He satisfies our desires, hears our cries, watches over us. Basically, if you need a description of who God is and what He does, this chapter is where to go.
I have always struggled with that verse, and that line of the hymn, that God turned His face away in Jesus’ moment of greatest despair. That has never felt entirely fair or loving. It is finally landing with me, and giving me a new understanding of the Father’s heart.
In my job, and I know many others are in the same boat, I sometimes come face to face with the darkest of situations. We get the privilege often to step into people’s heaviest, hardest moments. That is a privilege, and a weighty one. Sometimes it means sitting across from someone who has wronged another person in any number of egregious ways. I have come to know my justice-driven heart much better through the last few years. I am protective and incredibly loyal to my people, and I am angered when someone, anyone, negatively influences the community of which I am in charge. I am consistently bringing to mind the Mr. Rogers phrase: “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” And if I am honest, I have not yet found the answer.
This week I came face to face with the heaviness of the broken reality of humanity — and that concept finally made sense. I wanted to turn my face away. It hurts to look right at it. I experienced a kindness in realizing that even God was unwilling to look at it straight on. His heart was so broken, and so mine can be too. And it is okay if I do not know what to do with that.
I chose discipline as my word for the year. I chose this because I have seen in myself quite a lack – in all areas of life. In the past year or so, I haven’t exercised hardly at all. I don’t eat well (see last week’s post), and I have not been as dedicated or regular in my pursuit of Christ recently as I wish I had been. Because I felt sick for so much of 2018, I really want to make some different choices this year. What I am learning is that it really comes down to caring for myself. I am allowed (and even responsible) to take care of me. My body has put up with my poor eating and exercise habits long enough, and she needs and deserves better.
So I have been thinking about this word discipline, how really it is in no way an attractive or sexy word to choose for my year. It is so much more fun to choose a word like “adventure” or “hope” or something like that (no judgment if you chose one of those words. You get me.). But I find myself more and more attracted to normal and less and less interested in extravagance or extraordinary when it comes to most things in life. Social media world makes us think our lives have to be this over the top, ultra-significant, world-rocking thing. That makes me feel…tired. Normal feels beautiful and lovely and – enough, I guess.
Here we are, a week and a half into 2019. New years always inspire writers – maybe we need a fresh start given to us, or maybe we are motivated by the turning of the page. Nevertheless, here I am, reflecting a little bit.
One of my favorite writers to follow, Emily P. Freeman, shared a post reflecting on her year that was broken down into two sections: What worked for me in 2018 and what didn’t work for me in 2018. I loved this and thought I’d try it myself.
What Didn’t Work for Me in 2018:
This fall on my church retreat we were led through a meditation on the story of “Blind Bartimaeus.” This is a commonly used passage for the kind of Scripture meditation we were practicing, but I always find something new in it each time. It humbles me when I begin to think Scripture is old news or I have read it all enough; sometimes we just need a new approach, a new lens, fresh eyes. So as I let the words soak over me, this phrase stuck out:
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Mark 10:48-50
“Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” The ESV uses the phrase, “Take heart.” The Passion paraphrase says, “Have courage! Jesus is calling for you!”
I have spent some time thinking about why that particular phrase stood out this time as I read that passage. God’s call, the invitations He extends to us, are never something to be afraid of, mad about, or to drag our feet in response. It is always for our best. It always involves JOY, even when it involves major change or challenge.