Key Text: Genesis 41 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+41&version=NIV)
If I were to start one of those online campaigns, I would call it #rawhonesty. There’s just something about being vulnerable, being open, and being willing to share that shows our common humanity. There’s something about being truthful in the most painful and difficult sense of the word that somehow draws others to us and makes us more approachable. So here it is: some #rawhonesty from your fellow MennoNerd.
Chances are, you’ve probably read some of my writing on depression…you probably just didn’t know it was me. I’ve actually written quite a few magazine articles and blog posts for outside organizations, usually under a pseudonym in order to protect my identity. It is a sad reality, but we, in the church, still see these struggles as something akin to not lining up with our full potential in Christ. Quite unfortunate if you ask me since Scripture itself suggests that many of the great spiritual leaders (including David, Elijah, and Jeremiah…perhaps even Jesus) struggled with these types of intense, unpleasant emotions. But now I am stepping out, trying to change that. Let me be totally frank for a moment: [my mother doesn’t like when I use this word, but it’s the best word to sum up my thoughts at this present time] Life just sucks right now.
In my attempt to live into #rawhonesty, let me elaborate further. I had no idea how hard it would be to reintegrate back into Canadian culture after a year abroad. I’ve shared this before in a few other blogs, but I basically went from having the life of my dreams to having a life I never chose. You see, I CHOSE to go to Edinburgh, Scotland. I CHOSE to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I CHOSE to be part of a life-giving community. I CHOSE to be part of an international students group and to open my heart to wonderful friendships. I CHOSE, I CHOSE, I CHOSE and God provided. When I think back to my year in Scotland, there is honestly not a single thing I would change because even though living abroad is challenging, for me, it was where I truly learned how to soar. Now I have found myself in a place which I never would have considered. I didn’t CHOOSE to live in the bush, to be away from civilization, or to be cut off from my need for church involvement…it simply happened because, I, like so many other Canadians out there needed a job and the job didn’t show up when I needed it. So here I am. I’ve been trying to make the most of my situation, to look for the positives, and even to believe that there is a reason God called me here….but I have to admit (sorry, Mom, I’m going to use that word again): It still sucks.
This is the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend – a 3 day break right in the beginning of October to mark the abundance of our harvest, the beauty of our land, and the faithfulness of our God. I know I should be thankful – I’ve spent the last few days trying to compile a list in order to change my perspective. But instead all I can ask is this question: “how can I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” There’s much to be grateful for: a brilliant blanket of stars each night, soaring hawks and eagles, fish jumping out of the water, and the fall colours. Instead I find myself griping over bad Skype connections, unstable internet, and faulty phone lines. To make matters worse, my distance has caused me to miss one of my closest friend’s weddings…a terrible weight that will likely cause me remorse and guilt for quite some time. This is compounded by the fact that I missed the wedding while also being somewhere I don’t want to be.
Nevertheless, although I cannot manufacture happiness (nor do I think that’s what God is calling me to do), there is still a key lesson to learn in this trial and it all goes back to Genesis 41. You see in this passage, Pharaoh had a dream about some fat cows and some skinny ones. Joseph, the master dream teller, suggested that his vision portrayed 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of want. The key warning was to take those 7 years of great abundance and to store up a reserve so that during those long years of famine, people would not be left in want. They would lack nothing.
I believe that this is the same in our own lives. We all go through joyous moments where God is our very being and where everything is going the way we hoped, and then we plummet down into the depths and we are face-to-face with our own doubts, fears, and nagging worries. But, if we’re strong in the Word, we know there is still something for us to receive.
Prior to my time in the bush, I was really growing in leaps and bounds spiritually. I’ve alluded to this in a previous blog, but before Scotland, my theology was largely wrapped up in my head. That’s not necessarily a negative thing, but it’s definitely something most theologians have found. We are so used to source criticism and contextualization that we often forget how to make the Bible accessible to us and those closest to us. God becomes a foreign concept rather than an intimate personal encounter. Christ because a theological construct rather than our Lord and Saviour. That’s why Edinburgh was such a breath of fresh air for me. It was just that boost I needed and provided just that source of growth that is so imperative. I had all that head knowledge, which is a great place to start, but it begin to trickle down into my heart and really change and affect the way I thought about and related to others. While tightly holding on to my academic head, I also began exploring my pastoral heart. Due to my many years in Bible College and Seminary, I feel like one year was probably all I really needed to get my priorities straight, especially since I wasn’t starting from scratch. On the other hand, moving from such a close-knit group to relative isolation has been most tricky. Yet, a wise person will realize that they can take those vital lessons they learned, which they now hold in their reserve, and use them to supplement their faith during times when it might need to be stretched out. Of course, we should always keep feeding our souls through worship, prayer, and Scripture…but sometimes when those things are not as readily accessible to us, we may need to jolt our minds back to remembering what we were taught in the past, what we have seen with our eyes, and experienced with our hearts. If we aren’t able to do that, we’ll constantly just be running on empty fuel.
Maybe you are also in a time like this. You might be wondering where God is and what His purpose is for bringing you into such a trying time. The truth is, we often don’t know…at least right away. Sometimes God makes it clear, other times, we might not realize until 6 months, 1 year, or 10 years down the line. Often, we might never know this side of heaven. However, we must continue to trust that there is a reason for all we struggle with, even if only to produce character and hope. Of course, I’m not saying our trials are easy, nor am I using this common thought as an excuse to avoid the deep spiritual work that must take place. All I urge you is to remember those reserves when you’re about to give up. Remember that there’s still food somewhere, and then don’t be afraid to break in and use it – because that’s what you’ve saved it up for all these years.
This Thanksgiving, I really want to encourage you all: dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness, find reasons to be thankful even when life just sucks, and practice good stewardship of those reserves. I wish you all God’s richest blessings regardless of where you may be over this long holiday weekend.