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 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.
I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of this whole situation is trying to control everything and protect all the things I love. As I have written before I have come face to face in this season with how little control I truly have. So, here is a liturgy for living with open hands and leaving things in the trustworthy hands of God.
Our plans. Hopes. Loved ones.
Nothing makes us more aware that we are not in control than a time like this.
In fear and grasping for control we want to latch onto these things, grip them, hold on for dear life.
We think we can white-knuckle them into existence, or to keep them from changing.
We control almost nothing.
We have very little say, especially now, over what happens to our plans, our hopes, our loved ones.
I have been asking some big questions of the Lord recently. Mostly one: “Why don’t you do what you are capable of doing?” We can ask this question in regards to a lot of things. Like when someone is sick and in need of healing; “Jesus, you healed and healed and healed. God, you call yourself our healer. So why don’t you heal?” Or when something feels unfair; “God you say you are a righteous judge – why don’t you bring justice?” Recently I have been asking this question in regards to transformation. “God, you are more than capable of changing us. You are more than able to transform us into your likeness. Why, then, does it feel like you aren’t doing anything? Why does it feel like you let terrible people continue being terrible people? Why don’t you step in? Why don’t you DO ANYTHING. DO SOMETHING.”
Even as I write it I realize how much I sound like a two year old who doesn’t understand why they cannot drink their parent’s coffee. UGH YOU ARE SO MEAN. I KNOW BETTER THAN YOU.
In the end it is, like so many other things, a practice in trusting Him and His plan. A practice of believing that He does, in fact, know better than I do. But I am just so sure sometimes that I have better ideas! I know how it SHOULD go. Jesus, why don’t you listen and obey me?!
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.
I decided to give up distraction for Lent. (Queue laughter). I had just started to notice how often I was distracting myself with social media, TV, food, or anything else to keep from engaging in how I was actually feeling. I came home one day and said basically out loud to myself, “I just need something mindless.” I caught myself mid-remote and thought, this cannot be helpful.
So I am trying to give up distraction. This is in no way measurable or practical, but it is real. When I sense myself going to something because I want to tune out, I choose not to do that thing. This looks like sitting in silence doing “nothing” a lot of the time. It means choosing to do something productive over doing something lazy. You know me, I’m all about self-care, but sometimes binge watching a show you’ve already seen all the way through three times is not actually caring for yourself at all.
Instead I’m eating breakfast. Without my phone. And I am cleaning my kitchen while listening to worship music instead of being a couch potato. I am looking out the car window instead of scrolling social media.
Here is what I am learning. When we choose not to be numb, we feel a whole lot more. (DUH.) But really. When I deliberately choose to feel whatever I am feeling rather than stuff it down and pretend to be fine while eating a whole bag of M&M’s (ok fine I still ate the M&M’s), I realize how much I actually feel. So yes, this Lent practice is actually quite hard and sometimes painful.
Thursday I woke up feeling tired and low energy, and it only got worse as the day went on. Late afternoon came and I found myself shivering under a heated blanket and knew that I was in for the worst. The stomach flu is unlike any other sickness; it is life consuming and utterly terrible. I honestly can only think of like one or two people in the world that I would wish it on.
I knew that the following days would be absolutely miserable and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing requires mental toughness like the flu. And there is nothing to make it more obvious that you are single and live alone than being stuck in bed without the things you need because there is no one there to do that for you (thank you, sweet Jesus, for my precious neighbor ladies who brought me the necessities, those darling angel college students).
But these are not the lessons that I want to share. It may seem silly, and hopefully it doesn’t leave you feeling nauseous yourself, but I felt like I found some valuable takeaways from my time in darkness…