I’d like to give you a very common Bible verse in three very different translations:
People may make plans in their minds, but the Lord decides what they will do. (NCV)
We should make plans—counting on God to direct us. (TLB)
We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it. (MSG)
Proverbs 16:9 (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2016%3A9)
Here’s my question: have you ever been so incredibly sure that God was calling you to do something and yet He repeatedly closed the door?
For me, my time was in Edinburgh. When I was there I felt the Lord ask my heart “if I called you to Scotland permanently would you say yes?” And after much prayer I agreed. My heart was then filled with this peace I have never known before. A sense of permanency in an impermanent world. Saying yes to Scotland was far from easy. Logically it made no sense to even go there in the first place. I have no family there and although I’ve made plenty of friends, the truth is that the majority of them are transient, too. Being part of L’Arche and being part of the International Fellowship Group were both wonderful experiences gathering students and young workers together from around the globe, however, the truth is that while some may stay in Edinburgh permanently, the majority of them will go back to their home countries once their contract or school term is completed. Thus, my decision to move to Edinburgh, which I felt was confirmed over and over again by God was nothing short of a sacrifice on my part. Additionally, it was a real lesson in humility and trust as I soon learned that Scotland is quite conservative compared to Canada. Whereas in Canada my friends knew I was pursuing a pastorate and some still disagreed, there was always a sense of being open-minded and accepting. For the sake of our friendship, people who otherwise were not in favour, soon found themselves attending church on days I was preaching. In Edinburgh I learned that churches are still very traditional and that it is a big deal (perhaps even blasphemous) for a woman to preach. Nevertheless, for the sake of the amazing people I met there and the lovely culture I was willing to suspend even this dream for the sake of the many other blessings being in this location provided for me. That’s why when God repeatedly closed the door I was nothing short of surprised.
Being in Edinburgh taught me that there is so much I take for granted in my day-to-day life. Good friends, a good church, and lovely scenery. The truth of the matter is that for many of us, these things are only transitionary periods. Being surrounded by such Godly and mature people 24/7 may have been the thing of Bible College or the Fellowship…but for many of us they are not the thing of real life. Many of us don’t have those opportunities to constantly hang out with friends, talk about Habbakuk while sipping coffee, or engaging in a debate about predestination while drinking beer.
At first when I started this internal wrestling of why God seemingly gave me a wonderful and profound promise and then took it away, I started doubting. Maybe I had heard God wrong. About a month before I left Edinburgh I was sitting in Prince’s Street Gardens with a Big Mac in one hand and a large soda in the other and a man from my church group randomly walked by. We struck up a conversation and he challenged my optimistic and naïve Facebook posts about coming back being a for sure thing. He said I shouldn’t be so confident because if God had other plans it would save me a lot of embarrassment. I tried to back pedal since that day, but I have to admit, maybe he was right.
A little while later, I started feeling hopeful again. Maybe it’s not time yet, but who’s to say it will never be time? Yet the more I thought about it, the more I decided this may not take place. My brother’s getting married in the upcoming months and since I only have one brother there are just some things you have to make time for. You may need to put aside your nomadic wandering for the sake of family. That might just be what Jesus would do. (Then again maybe not… He did say foxes have holes and birds have nests but He has nowhere to lay His head…but that’s another story).
My last thought on the issue revolved around theological constructs. Maybe God gave me this dream, this passion, and this desire to go back in order to tempt me. Maybe it’s something akin to Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. Maybe I’d start looking up flights and re-entering the visa process just for God to turn around and say “HAHA! Fooled you there, didn’t I? Just kidding” and then re-route me.
The honest truth of the matter is that this detour gives me more questions than answers. Questions like: did God really ask me to do that or was it all just in my head? Did God back-pedal or change His mind? Did my own desires and emotions completely crowd my logic so that my head had no place to swim? Has this interest in going back become an idol or an escape mechanism for the fact that I really don’t want to re-integrate back into Canadian culture? If I actively pursue another opportunity (one with a locked contract of 3 or 5 years) does that now make me disobedient to Christ and His ultimate will and plan?
Although all these questions are valid…there’s something even more profound I am facing. A shattering and dismantling of dreams and with that a bewilderment as to how to put those pieces all back together.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar predicament, I’d like to offer you a message of hope and encouragement. Things may look bleak, unfamiliar, and scary now, but there is something even better over the horizon. Something that will completely dazzle and defy your false perceptions. Something splendid that will become a well-spring of hope and life for your soul.
But before that happens, there are a few things you may need to do first. I’m not going to give you those stereotypical answers of just praying more, leaning into the Word, or speaking with your pastor. Those things may help and maybe you should do them, but rather than giving you these pat-answers in the unforeign language of “Christianese” I’d like to give you three very practical steps we all can take and that don’t sound so daunting.
#1: Acknowledge Your Loss and the Subsequent Pain That Goes With It
Recently I made the difficult and painful decision to leave L’Arche completely. Those of you who follow this blog know that L’Arche has been an incredibly big part of my life for the past 3 years so without it I feel a sense of impending grief and it covers virtually every fibre of my being. The fact that I have decided to leave L’Arche also marks the fact that it is now going to be much more difficult for me to get back into the UK because L’Arche was quite honestly one of the few tickets back to Scotland I had. Many people are congratulating me on the decision which seems strangely odd. You see, I studied to be a pastor not a Personal Support Worker, a deacon not a Developmental Social Worker. People think “finally, she’s growing up! She’s going to be doing something in her field! Something ‘worthy’ of all those years of education and finances invested.” And that may be true. People are excited that I’m now pursuing kids ministry and they think I’m going to be a great children’s pastor. Thank you for your encouragement! This may all very well end up being the case and maybe God is going to call me to a wonderful church, introduce me to that man who’s been looking for a Godly wife his entire life, and then I’ll settle down and increase the number of children in our kids program by 5 or 7 in the next 10 years. However, at this particular moment I feel sad. I feel a great sense of loss. I even feel a wave of anger and discouragement. And on top of it all, I feel like a failure. I feel like I didn’t give it all I had and I am disappointed with myself because I always try to be passionate.
The first step in the healing journey is not to ignore or downplay your feelings. It’s not to justify what you’re doing next. It’s to quite honestly look yourself in the mirror and say “right now I feel like crap. I feel like this situation is crappy. I feel like it might not be getting better for a long while and that’s completely okay. My feelings are mine. They don’t belong to anyone else. I am entitled to feel them in anyway that I feel them.”
#2: Look at the Whole Picture, Not Just One or Two Broken Shards
When you discern that your time in a particular ministry is up, it’s important to look back and reflect on the whole rather than fixate on one or two failures. The truth is, that I’ve made plenty of mistakes in L’Arche. I’ve burnt food, forgotten to sign documentation, and raised my voice once or twice…and that’s completely normal. But I’ve also done lots of really good things with people and for people. It can be easy to think that there’s something missing when you’re leaving…maybe you could have done more or done better at something, but you won’t get that time back. Worrying won’t get you anywhere, but planning for future improvements will. Conversely, you may feel like the time you spent in ministry was wasted. Maybe you could have started your career as a pastor 3 or 5 years earlier instead of going on a wide-goose chase that ultimately you feel amounted to nothing. However, that’s really not the case. The lessons you learned along the way will be invaluable and you will find that you use them at the randomest of times. Don’t blame yourself, the organization, or the people you work with…cherish your fondest memories and hold them close.
#3: God’s Not Disappointed With You…So Don’t Be Disappointed With Yourself
I planned a blog post in advance and scheduled it for this weekend…that was before I officially put in my resignation. But instead of changing the date and putting that one first and this one next… I decided to leave it as it is. And if that makes it all seem a bit disjointed and unorganized, then so be it.
Anyways, my original blog post is called “God’s Not Disappointed With You” and it recounts how stepping down is not a sign of moral failure or weakness, but can actually be a profound gift from God.
We are often hard on ourselves and our toughest critics. The truth is, no one in this world is looking as hard at you as you are looking at yourself.
Just yesterday I had hit an all-time low. I was feeling depressed about leaving L’Arche and this sadness caused me to distance myself from the others. Over my break, I did my daily Bible reading and it just so happened that the passage I landed upon was Psalm 34. Suddenly those words washed over my soul and gave me a brand-new outlook filled with future possibilities and hopes. Instead of writing a conclusion about how God’s got this and suggesting you look up, I think the Word of God is the best possible ending I could ever leave you with. So to close, let me just leave this here and see how it speaks to your heart and soul especially in these present circumstances.
Grace and peace for your journey!
Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.
1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.