Yesterday I wrote about fear that keeps us from living the life we were meant to live. So often, the things we are afraid of are about as real as flying chairs during a tornado drill.
But sometimes the tornado is real. Sometimes without warning the chairs start flying. What then? What do we do when we take a risk and our fears come true? What do we do when the storm comes without warning? I’m not about to proclaim myself an expert on surviving suffering; I have far too many friends who have been through storms beyond any I can imagine. All I can do is tell you what I have learned when the chairs start flying and you’re knocked flat on your back.
Several years ago we were settling securely into a life in Virginia. Gates was about to turn two, we had just moved into our first house, we had secure jobs, and a church home that we were happy with. So of course it made perfect sense that we would suddenly decide to pack up and move to South Dakota. To this day I don’t understand all the reasons that brought about that decision. Was it a God thing? Simply a desire to be closer to my husband’s family? My gypsy heart that has to keep moving on to new things? Untreated depression that left me struggling to focus at work and miserable in my job? I don’t know, and I may never know. But the decision to move was made. Fear set in. What if we don’t find jobs? What if we don’t find a church home? Will I make any friends? We struggled with our fears, debated backing out, but pushed forward, risking the ‘what if’s’.
Nothing went as we had planned. We spent two months living in my in-laws’ basement. I ended up taking exactly the sort of job I had not wanted to get back into and was only able to take six weeks maternity leave after Indy was born before I jumped straight into tax season and fifty-five hour work weeks that left me too exhausted to even notice Indy’s first few months of life. Our computer crashed, taking away even the photo documentation of those months. Post-partum depression set in again. Months passed without even a lead on a job for my husband. Every church we tried felt wrong for us. I was desperately lonely. I yelled at God a few times.
But I learned some lessons during that time, and this is what I know now:
#1: Before all else, pray. I wonder how much grief I could have saved myself if I had just hit my knees and said “God, I can’t handle this, I need your help to deal with it, I need your help to trust.” But I was angry, and anger can turn into bitterness. And guess what? Bitterness doesn’t help a thing. Prayer might not have changed the order of anything that happened, but it would have changed me.
#2: When you take a risk and it doesn’t work out, be willing to flex and change with the situation. I took the job I didn’t want. It didn’t turn into some glorious job that I loved. But it put me in the right place at the right time for God to bless me beyond what I could have expected the next time I took a risk. Had I stubbornly stuck to MY plan I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.
#3: Look for the blessing in the struggle. It was frustrating for my husband to wait ten months to find a job. But when he looks back now he agrees that he would not trade the time he spent as a stay-at-home dad for anything. I’m not sure how I would have survived the first few weeks of Indy’s life without my husband there to help with Gates. I’m not sure what we would have done if he hadn’t been home during my busy season at work to deal with the cooking, the cleaning, and the laundry. Although we didn’t see it then, it was a time of blessing. Sometimes it may take years to see the fruits of the storms in our lives, but they are there.
#4: God’s timing is different from ours for a reason. I learned this first when I watched all my friends getting married and there was still no potential husband in my life. It was frustrating. But I’ll let you in on a secret…I’m six years older than my husband, and if I had met him at the time in my life that I thought I OUGHT to be meeting him I doubt I’d have been interested. (Ok, and it would have been illegal.) We didn’t understand why it took so long for us to find a church. I think I do now. Our church didn’t exist when we first started looking. If we had found a church that felt ‘comfortable’ we would have settled down and been content, but I’m not sure that we would have grown in the depth that we are growing now. God didn’t want us in a new version of our old church; He had a different plan, a plan that was still only a vision at that time.
#5: Trust. In the end, keep trusting. When the chairs start flying and you’re ducking and wondering when the storm will be over, trust. It took me years to learn that lesson, and I still haven’t learned it perfectly, but ultimately God can be trusted with the details of our lives. He has a plan, he has a blessing, and he has his own timing.
Mark 9 contains a story about someone I identify with a lot. This man had a son who was suffering. The sort of suffering that rips at a parent’s heart; that makes you want to take your child’s place, anything to see them well again. So he brought his son to Jesus, and he said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” When Jesus pointed out the doubt in his statement this man quickly answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”
Sometimes when we’re in the midst of the storm and the chairs are flying it’s hard to trust, it’s hard to believe that God cares, it’s hard to believe there’s a plan in place. And that’s the place where all we can say is “OK, God, I believe, now help me overcome my unbelief.” God hears that. He honors that. And he gives us the grace we need for that moment.