Last week I was remarkably privileged to spend three days with global women from around the world. I love the work of Thrive, a ministry which works diligently to provide a respite from the very real demands of cross-cultural work. Personally, you know a bit of the discombobulated state in which I left for the retreat.
It was in the meal line when I was laughing with a young 20-something who’d just left her home in Sweden after years serving there. As I reached for the fresh berries (berries! I missed those in Uganda. I may have taken an inappropriate amount, maybe four times), I was getting her name, her country of service, her tenure. “And you’re back now?” I asked.
Her: “Yup. Um, transition stinks.”
Me: “Yes. Yes, it does.”
Recently I sat with a friend who’s undergone such remarkable suffering over short years. I should tell you: She’ll be the first one to respond with hope. But I can also tell that what she has is faith, not answers. I can see question marks curling around, pointing her year after year to the God who will, someday (and even now) reward those who earnestly seek Him. Her sinewy, muscled joy is built on what she can’t see; on decisions of trust she makes over and over again.
Since I’ve been army-crawling through my own questions lately—today I’m yanking together some of the best advice I’ve received for seasons when God seems…away.
Missed Part I? Get it here.
- Remember the mourning. Looking at Scripture, it seems God sometimes simply asks for us to witness what is not right in this world, and to participate with Him in lament. Maybe you’re flirting with failure in part because of someone’s hard-heartedness; because the forces in this world were stronger. I wonder if sometimes we’re not just given a glimpse into why this place is temporary; why it is passing away; why this place and this body and this fallen version of me is not forever. Sometimes failure, I think, can shape a mental sticky note to me: You are not, Janel. But He is. When you mourn with God, you are blessed. And you will be comforted.
Let me just lay it out for you here: I, uh, may have actually started these memos for me, while I huddled in my bedroom chair on a Sunday morning, hoping it would be a few more minutes before the kids popped in or started fighting.
And then I thought maybe you’d like to read over my shoulder. Because maybe I’m not the only one who grapples with what may be…failure.
Failure seems to flay open my skin, unveiling raw questions inside. Questions like, What does this say about me? Or, Why didn’t God show up? Or maybe, What do I do now?
I have been waiting.
The dust, fine and red, coats the plants lining our roads. Sweat beads on my upper lip. Last night as my children lay awake in bed, I stuck my head in and reminded them to keep guzzling plenty of water, after a friend of theirs landed in the clinic for dehydration. Cooking in the warm afternoons in my kitchen, with my hair twisted off my neck, I’ve been praying, coaxing the weather. C’mon, rainy season.
Author’s note: It was two years ago that our family received unsettling news that began an extended holding pattern for us, news which wouldn’t be resolved for another eleven months. That period of gray, unsettled twilight will stand out in my life as one where I became well-acquainted–more than I would have wished, for sure–with the chisel of God that is waiting.
Yet in an odd way, it also brought me to love its sculpting edges, planing away curls of my own impatience and distrust.
I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately, dreams.
Since I’ve already confessed that I’m a feeler, I’ll tell you that a lot of feelings and thoughts swirl around them too: Hope. Confusion. Anxiety. Zeal. Guilt.
They’ve come center stage lately as I wait…and wait some more. It’s to see, really, if my dreams match up with God’s as future plans unspool. If my idea of green pastures and still waters are really His—or just the “good thing” that is not His best thing. As Donald Whitney writes, One way to clarify your spirituality is to clarify your ambition.