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?