At almost nine months pregnant, a lot of things look different in my life. I was processing this with my counselor, and I shared that one of the most interesting things is how slow I have to walk. I cannot keep the pace that everyone else is going at, which feels like an accurate picture of life in general. It is fascinating to experience how challenging it is for people to slow down to my pace, or the many times they don’t even realize they’ve left me behind. Often when people do let me set the speed, observers will comment on how slowly we are walking. “Why do you guys walk so slow?” I respond, “Me. I’m the reason,” and watch their faces turn red immediately.
But this struck me as a metaphor for the reality we are living in – why do we feel like we have to move so quickly? One of my favorite things about walks with my husband is that it is never rushed. We are never power walking, we are enjoying time together at a leisurely pace. But culturally we view life as some kind of race, always moving at lightning speed from thing to thing, juggling way more than we are actually capable of carrying.
I have been thinking a lot recently about overthinking (I know). I caught myself multiple times one morning saying to myself, “…but I’m probably reading into it.” I realized I was giving a lot of mental energy and brain space to how I imagined people were feeling about me or perceiving me, without a whole lot of proof of what was actually true.
I read some inspiring Pinterest quote later on that said something to the effect of: Unless someone tells me there is a problem, I’m going to assume things are fine. I shouldn’t be wasting time creating problems that might not even be there. My counselor tells me I have a tendency towards “catastrophic thinking” which surely doesn’t help me in this area, but we are working on it.
Because here is the thing. No matter how perceptive or intuitive I am, I might be wrong. I might think someone is upset with me because their text was shorter than it usually is, or imagine that someone isn’t happy about something because they didn’t talk to me about it, but I could be making it all up. What a waste!
And no matter if I am right or wrong, I don’t have the capacity to be carrying all of that if someone isn’t going to bring it to me themselves. It gets us nowhere, and it’s heavy. I’m not strong enough to carry all of that around all the time.
If this upcoming season of parenthood is teaching me one thing, it is that I have limits and they are beautiful.
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.
This week I had the opportunity to share some vulnerable things with my staff. We had a meeting with the head of our division and he shared something he had learned years ago: you can choose not to let people into your hard seasons, but then you also cut them out of experiencing the good that might come later — the miracle, the healing, the celebration. It was convicting to me, as I would like to hide the hard things and only talk about them once the solution has already come. But inviting people into our mess gives them a beautiful opportunity to hold hope for us.
A mentor recently shared this idea with me, as I shared what I was learning about frustrating things that people say to you when you’re grieving, particularly overly hopeful “you’ll get through it! God’s got this!” kinds of things. She said, “sometimes all you need is for people to hold hope for you silently.” If we don’t let people into our hard seasons though, they won’t really be able to do this for us.
My boss pointed out something beautiful about practicing vulnerability. While it can feel like you are handing someone a burden to hold, instead you are giving them the opportunity to hold hope for you. Hope that the hard season will come to an end, that the broken thing will be redeemed, that healing will come, that faith will return. We don’t always need to outwardly tell people we are hoping this for them, particularly when they might feel entirely hopeless. We need to let people be exactly where they are, and hold hope for them to come around to a certain outcome.
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.