Scanning the crowd in the restaurant for my girlfriend, I exhale attempting to release anxiety suffocating peace. The result of some disappointing news we received the day before that delays our move to London and creates a tangled web of uncertainty for all of us.
I see my friend digging into her purse lying on the café table, in an inconspicuous spot in the corner, beside a freshly painted wall. I’m thankful for that wall. I know I’ll need something to lean on when she asks the inevitable question, “How are you?”
I’m not very good at small talk. If “fine” doesn’t feel truthful, I can’t permit myself to say it. And on this day, fine will be a lie if I utter it.
Instead of using words, I shake my head, avoiding a spill of emotion corked with silence. But when her eyes search for more information my carefully constructed cheerful countenance crumbles and I quietly admit, “Not good.” Tears pool in the corners for both of us.
When God says no, the offense isn’t easily shaken. And I’ve recently experienced a few divine slaps in the face of perspective, a severe mercy of his kindness that is changing, well, how I see everything.
While sun still blazes high in the South creating strings of wall shadows, it’s been raining inside my house for more than a week, the cloud cover unbearable. Suffering is the new language I’m learning. God is my teacher; empathetic friends, my tutors.
Writing about the ways in which we suffer proves to be awkward, not because of the fear of vulnerability but because a messy middle doesn’t make for good status updates or sharable blog posts. But I wouldn’t be authentic if I skipped through disappointment, tears and struggle only to communicate my happy endings.
It’s the same reason why I don’t enjoy small talk or tolerate pretension. I know a life lived on the surface isn’t meaningful or transformative.
I no longer casually ask “how are you” unless I’m prepared to extend a life raft of time and attention.
Uncertainty in the big things I take for granted like income and job security provide a perfect storm that ultimately reveals my trust levels. When we took a leap of faith, leaving a job to follow a call to London, I assumed that meant God would respond on my timetable. Not so much.
The anxiety, fear and vulnerability as a result of uncertainty make me feel as though I’m walking around naked with not enough written in bold, black letters across my forehead. Suddenly, every cell in my body is reliving my childhood with an alcoholic parent. I’ll do almost anything for relief from the pain that fear is wielding.
But I’m not a child anymore and God is showing me something different.
The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it’s the need for certainty. If I need certainty in order to risk – in my work, relationships, or dreams for the Kingdom — where does that leave faith?
Faith that hasn’t been tested isn’t really faith.
Eugene Peterson says it this way. “We need testing. God test us. The test results will show whether we are choosing the way of awe and worship and obedience (which is to say, God), or whether, without being aware of it, we are reducing God to our understanding of him so that we can use him.
Are we using God or are we letting God use us?”
My friend Misha defines a severe mercy as “something that has to die for my deepest rescue and healing.”
When God says no it is an opportunity for rescue.
God allows the pain of a severe mercy not because he is angry, ambivalent or oblivious but because he is committed to our wholeness. He allows storms to slosh around on the inside as reminders that He is always present through the process of our salvation, even when the heavenlies seem silent. He is able and willing to make a way for us if we will trust Him. (I Corinthians 10:13)
After that tearful lunch, I went back home, crawled into bed and prayed until I fell asleep. I’ve learned that the prescription for calming inner turbulence is the kindness of Sabbath and a few empathetic shoulders to lean on.
We’re not meant to ride out storms by ourselves, I hope you know that. That’s why I’ll be sharing more about what I’m learning with you in the future.
How do you find peace in times of uncertainty?
there is so much that jumped out of this post and hit me square in the face. thank you.
Thank you for sharing it Janel. It was hard to write but I know if I’m suffering then there are plenty of other people in the same boat.
Oh Shelly. So many of the words I’m finding on the internet and in blogs of those I love right now are resonating with my current and very recently-arrived season of aching. “Not good.” The ability to say those words…damn (sorry), but that is hard and powerful in the same rush.
This place, this time of “no,” is holy ground, love. I can feel it. I’m taking off my shoes, right here and right now. Holding you before the Seat of the Lion, beloved. Love you dearly.
Rachel, your comment brought tears. I’m so touched, thank you.
maybe the test was ‘will you let go’ as He did with Abraham… then HE GOD provided a lamb. We won’t know the why… We won’t know the reason… we just have to wait and trust.
I have read that portion of scripture over and over again Sharon, it gives me comfort. I’m waiting for the ram in the thicket. Thank you for your encouragement.
Severe mercy indeed. Sometimes the weight of His “no” feels unbearable, but how true it is that it is out of love and commitment to us that He withholds what He chooses, in favor of something He knows is better–even if we are uncertain about what exactly His purposes are. It’s been hard watching this unfold for you, but I am So grateful for your willingness to share. I am praying for and with you, my friend. Just holding your hand from here….
I’m thankful you’ve been with me since the very beginning Kris. You are good sojourner. And you’ll get to share the jubilation of fulfillment.
Shelly, I don’t recall having much peace in the last two years. When I lay down, I don’t listen for silence or even the still, small voice. I just hope for the sounds of battle to quiet down to a dull roar in the distance so that I can sleep for a bit. It’s a sad kind of funny what sounds you can sleep through after hearing them for awhile. I guess I try to remember a young David, many years before he was to become a king. He was horrified that God’s own army, the Israelites, were cowering before the Philistines. This young man, armed with 5 stones and a slingshot, said that he was going to fight the giant to show that there was a God in Israel. During his lifetime, David went to war many more times. I imagine he slept near the battlefield often. He was a man after God’s own heart and he was a warrior king. Now, I don’t know that I could ever be called a woman after God’s own heart, but I know that God has called me to fight in spiritual warfare. I personally would have loved to have been called to be a pew warmer, but that has never happened. See, the problem I have with being a warrior is that warriors often get hurt, sometimes badly. Even knowing God’s power to heal completely, I would rather not get hurt. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but sometimes I think He laughs at me for that. But He never leaves me. When I am hurting, I might pout and tell you He has left me but that is just patently false. He wakes me each day, and against my better judgement, I am still alive and breathing. Then He sends me out onto the battlefield. Not so that I can get hurt, but so that I can show this sinful world that there is a God here. Right here and now, there is Abba, the Almighty, the Most Holy, the Alpha and the Omega, the Father of our Precious Savior. I fight battle after battle for His Glory. I, the least and the unwilling, still go out to fight. And I don’t know if I ever feel the Peace That Passes All Understanding. It might be sitting right there in front of me and I am just too embattled to see it. I do get what I call a “reprieve”, a lull in the battle of sorts. I hope for more than that in the future, but I cannot see it from where I am currently standing. All of that to say, I rarely find peace in times of uncertainty, but I have hope for finding it. Evidently hope can carry me through years at a time. That and the prayers of my sisters. 🙂 I’ll be praying that you get both your share and my share of peace during this time. xoxoxo
Love you Carolyn and you are an inspiration to press on and press through in the midst of uncertainty. Thank you for being here, it matters.
In the boat with you my friend…every storm I’ve ever encountered has ended…hang on.
You know, this is so simple but was somehow profound to me. And hopeful. You are so very right. I sometimes mistake a temporary difficulty as a lifelong handicap. Not true. Thanks for clarity.
Oh Dear Shelly, so much of what you say speaks to me. I hear your deep heart… in the waiting, in the uncertainty, in the “No’s”, in the “Be still’s”. Waiting, I believe, is the hardest thing He asks of us. I’m not very good at it either. Just know you are in my prayers, Sister. I can’t wait to hear you are finally on your way to jolly ole England, and read your writings of all He has taught you through this. Praying you will come forth as gold.
I was just thinking about you the other day Jillie, so thankful for see you in the comments. I agree, waiting is the hardest for sure. And I’m so grateful for the way you believe in my future with your comment. That is a gift.
In my humble opinion – you have touched on the single most relevant message for the hour we’re presently living in. The subtle rumblings in the unseen world suggest there will be many more disappointments and collisions of theology and reality on our horizon. God has led you to this wilderness to speak the truth you speak. We don’t need more polished up versions of what our faith ‘should’ look like – we need this, truth that leads and points us to the cross. Your current situation has John the Baptist written all over it, “A voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Savior”. He is near, Shelly.
Pat, I read your comment out loud to H because it really stood out as something I needed to take seriously. Thank you for such heartfelt and what seems to be prophetic words today. I appreciate it more than you know.
Shelly, we had similar roadblocks/waiting/disappointments when we stepped out in faith to start our second church in CA. What I hope will encourage you is to say that God’s delays set the stage for the miraculous. His timing is BEST. It is a call to trust, as you know . . . His ways are not just different from ours, they are BETTER. 🙂 Praying for you and H . . . . Janie Seltzer
I read something recently that said just because we are delayed doesn’t mean we are denied. That gave me some comfort. Thanks for your prayers Janie, appreciate them and your encouragement.
Those answers of ‘no, ‘not yet’, ‘not that’ are SO hard! I feel like God’s had me perched on a ledge for a while – called to leap into something new, but not yet the right time and place, not yet time for Him to reveal what I’m to leap into. At once so ready to leap, yet it stings each time he mercifully holds me back before I jump too soon. I find I need to give myself grace to be disappointed and to grieve what I thought would be, then lean into prayer and supportive friends and trust that God will work according to His schedule.
I think the only thing worse than waiting for what seems like FOREVER is taking the matter into my own hands and creating an Ishmael. Timing is everything, yes?
For me, peace in times of uncertainty has come in bits and pieces. My thoughts will start to wander into the cesspool of worry and negativity and with great effort I must turn them toward gratitude and worship. For awhile my spirit will remain at peace, but then something will trigger another lapse toward the cesspool. Again, I must grab myself by the collar and turn my thoughts around–over and over until the crisis has passed. Perhaps this is the work God intended for me, so I could learn perseverance, self-discipline and, humility. Perhaps I’m not always meant to be at peace during a time of uncertainty, so that God’s greater good in my life can be accomplished. But a harvest of righteousness and peace is promised to those who endure (Hebrews 12:11). And that’s a precious promise, indeed.
I’m exactly the same way Nancy. Peace doesn’t often stick when in the midst of uncertainty but each time I practice, the trust muscle gets stronger. And I agree, I think sometimes we need these hard seasons to remember who we are trusting and why it is important.
Wow, Shelly. I wish I could sit down next to you and look into your eyes so you could see in mine how much I get this post, these words, this determination to show the messy middle and the awkwardness of it all. I’m so grateful as I read your words here, because even if they don’t seem beautiful to you, they are resonantly beautiful to me – and they are such deep wisdom. I am praying for you today, friend. Thank you for your brave, honest, searching heart.
Your comment brings me joy Amber. I think this was difficult to write also because the last thing I want is pity or to be self-centered. Thank you for your prayers, I’m truly honored.
Shelly, as I read your post the Scripture came to mind – “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:6). Jesus knew that He was “expected” to fulfill some OT expectations & that some aspects of His ministry would cause some to get offended & reject Him. I cannot help but wonder if the same does not apply when He says “no” or closes doors on what we thought would be a “yes”. The question then becomes, What will we do at that time? Get offended? Get angry or bitter? Or, as difficult as it is, trust His heart & that there is a greater “yes”. Sometimes the pain He allows in saying no is done in mercy to avoid the greater pain if things had been allowed. Grateful you shared this post as it came at a time for me to remember to trust Him even now as well. Thank you! Praying for you this afternoon.
I really love all your insightful thoughts and questions in this comment. You’ve pointed out what I have come to think is really the crux of our life fulfillment. Do we get mad at God when things don’t work out or do we trust Him with outcomes that aren’t what we hoped for? I think our answer to that question really informs everything thereafter. Thank you so much for praying, can’t tell you how meaningful that is to me.
hugs and prayers, Shelly. I’ve prayed myself to sleep quite a few nights this year, too. The waiting is hard.
Oh Lyli, we’re in this together friend. It is so hard, yes it is.
I love this post! I, too, have had a few slaps in the face recently that have reminded me…I am NOT in control! I am learning to hand things over to God and get away from the “need to know” mentality. Thanks for sharing your story!
Laura, sounds like I have some good company in you. Thanks for being here.
This journey, the painful one of waiting, trusting, trying to keep hope alive and, meanwhile, re-walking through old childhood wounds is a familiar one for me, Shelly. I often worry if I write about the darkness others won’t want to read – there’s so much prettier more uplifting stuff out there, but I’m with you – the truth of my life seeps out through the cracks, so I may as well address it head on. May you continue to rest in the truth that God is With You in the here and now.
Nice to know I have an empathetic sojourner in you Kelly. Appreciate your candor.
“One of the greatest strains of life is waiting for God.” – Oswald Chambers. So grateful that you are willing to share your journey as you wait. So often we walk these roads alone and because we don’t talk about the wait, others feel unable and it becomes a vicious cycle in which no one bares burdens so no one bears burdens. Thank you.
I’m so grateful for you Natalie, you’ve been such a gift to me, truly. I think being vulnerable leaves no room for the enemy to get a foothold. He would love nothing more than for us to think we’re the only one suffering and everyone else has the perfect life. Even though its a sacrifice of sorts to be honest, I’m usually blessed by what comes from it.
Oh, Shelly. This part is hard. Go ahead, ask me how I know. Waiting with you, praying with you, trusting with you. And after reading this today, wondering if there is (as always) more healing work to be done with your childhood self as a part of this whole process. Now that is not fun. At all. But as with so many things in life, sometimes, it spirals around again as we reach a new age/stage/transition. Praying that this hard season will make space for some new, hard work in an old sore spot. Much love to you.
I think healing is definitely a part of God’s intention in this. I can now say I’m grateful as the sun lifts with hope on the horizon but going through it is very painful indeed. Thanks for being here with me, for praying and believing and loving me.
Whew… Lord…deep, thats all. Deep. And when deep waters call, you have to lean on the LifeSaver…Jesus
Yes indeed. I’m leaning and He is able.
Shelly – thanks for sharing so openly. I find peace in prayer. Only time I find it really. I am praying that you would see the hand of God in the waiting, if not today, then one tomorrow. He is there. <3
Thanks for praying Kelly. I have seen His magnificent timely hand today and I’m so grateful.
I’m so glad we don’t have to ride out storms solo…thank You, Father, for assuring we’re never really alone…
and thank you, Shelly, for allowing us to be your Aaron…we’ll lift you up to Him, the One who knows what waves will carry you the farthest.
Nikki, I am sooo excited to see you here. It’s been way too long since we’ve connected. Thank you friend, for being here and yes, I’m so overwhelmed by the Aaron’s . . . so many of them. I’m truly humbled.
I’m so sorry, Shelly. I too have taken a leap of faith only to find myself standing, shaken, in a shallow puddle. It is frightening. Disorienting. Praying for strength and rest in this messy middle.
That is such a great way to illustrate it Christie. Disorienting is also such a great word to define this season. But today, I’ve seen light breaking through on the horizon. Hope is rising and I’m grateful for the prayers that lift my head to see it.
I wish (often) for peace from the internal ramblings that go on inside my head.
Sufficient to say, I will read your words, like this blog post from two, now three days ago and I find a glimmer of comfort when I have someone whose story I can identify with. I recall praying for you immediately after I read your post.
No miraculous answers except that I suddenly realized the ” tie that binds”, to use that phrase.
One only has to read the following comments to know that there is an outpouring of love and support within, mingled with the source of power from without.
Perhaps therein lies the peace that is beyond understanding.
I often think of the words, ” in the shadow of His wings”.
By nature wings indicate lifting up, a motion upwards. I think that if we are joined with him if covered by his very presence, his wings, then the shadow is not a darkness at all but the power of protection while we wait for that onward, upward lifting.
Celeste, I read this three times. What you’ve said here is truly beautiful and deeply meaningful. I’m honored you penned these words and that you prayed for me — thankful for the gift of your friendship. Lots of love to you.
I love your post Shelly. It makes me want to sit down with you… I can’t do chit chat either. I can’t do the standard “I’m fine thank you, how are you?”. And there is not enough of that in my opinion.
God bless your walk. I know it’s hard, I also know God is doing a GOOD thing!
Yes, he is doing a GOOD thing! I wish we had the luxury of sitting down and talking about it too. Thank you for being here.
Just one month ago I was in a very similar place. We were called to atlanta with the new ACNA Archbishop but no house as yet and definitely no job for me. No female priests here in this diocese. I haven’t been able to write through it. I wasn’t even been able to read, to focus. All I can do is love my family. Now, one month later? The grief is still fresh. Thank you, Shelley, for daring greatly.
Summer, sorry for the delay in responding. I am so sorry you are in this predicament. I know it isn’t easy, hang in there, God will provide purpose in it. Why is it clarity is 20/20 when we look back but so muddled in the middle? Praying for you this morning.
Shelly, thank you. I so needed to hear your wisdom this day. And I am so grateful for how you are willing to dig in to the deeper places of your heart and share them. For we are stirred, and we are prompted to change, through your beautiful clinging to God. You lead, sister. Thank you–but I am also praying for you right now, for His strength to energize you and His provision to continue to sustain. Much love to you.
Always so honored by your kind words Jennifer. Your presence here is a gift, thank you.
Shelly, I’ve been thinking of you and praying for you since reading this post the other day. I think I’ve been in a similar situation, having lost full time work four years ago… Wanted to share something encouraging with you that I just posted – these words came out of a deep time of prayer for someone years ago and I felt impressed to share them tonight. Now, I realized that there were two pages to this and I posted the second page only… 🙂 So I will also post the first part tomorrow – in the same vein (a letter to us from our Father) that I think will lift your heart too. Anyway, if you get a chance to hop over… here is the link for this first part: http://wordglow.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/when-insecurities-keep-echoing-back/
Pam, apples of gold
Pam, I immediately went over and read your beautiful inspired words stirred by the Holy Spirit and tried to leave a comment four times, in four different ways without any success. I just want you to know how much it means to me that you are praying and were thoughtful enough to post such a meaningful gift in response to this painful waiting season, thank you.
Well… I just went in and added the first part that I was telling you about since not that many have read it yet… so now if you go there, you will see it all. 🙂 Certainly not things you don’t know, but encouraging words we always need 🙂 to lift us out of anxiety in these times that echo back to old fears and loss… Love, Pam, apples of gold
Faith that hasn’t been tested isn’t really faith.
Truer words were never spoken, or more painful! This was so well written I could feel your heartache. Thank you for your honesty in this difficult season.
Sarah, I’m thankful for your kind comment, grateful you are here.
Earlier today I said to a friend who is going through some brutally hard times, “I HATE how difficult this season is for you but I LOVE how the Lord is using it to draw you ever closer to Him.” And I say the same to you, dear friend.
Thank you for peeling back the in-process layers so we can see the gritty hard stuff of faith and cheer you on as you lean hard into God. That friend I spoke of is fellow Sabbath Society peep Elise Hurd (my online but real as real gets friend). She wrote a post this week that I believe will bless you deep. http://www.wheregivinghappens.com/when-you-desperately-want-your-circumstances-to-be-different/
Your words to your friend echo my sentiments Becky. Painful but sweet. I did read Elise’s post after you shared it on Facebook but I’m glad you left the link because I forgot to leave a comment. The title drew me in since it defines my current situation. And I also saw your beautiful new blog home. It’s so fun redecorating isn’t it? Hugs to you. Hope your Sabbath was restful and your week starts with joy.