Wednesday, June 29, 2011

God's Contingency Plan

I started this blog months ago at the suggestion of a few other people (coupled with a intuitive feeling that I was supposed to). I jumped in, wrote a few posts, enjoyed the chance it gave me for reflection and introspection, but then life got busy (i.e. my internship started sucking up my life) and it was easy to throw things on the back burner.

Then I got into that vicious cycle of "I should post. But I need to catch up. I don't feel like tackling a catch up post. I should just put it off. Now I have an even BIGGER catch up post to write. But I should post. But I don't feel like posting. If I had just started blogging when we started this argument I could be done by now. Well look who's getting bossy." What can I say? My mind is a scary place.

But lately I've been feeling that urge again, and after a friend of mine approached me on Sunday and commented "I just thought you should know I truly enjoy reading your blog and I really hope you have time to do it more in the future because your last post really touched me right when  I needed it", that was my sign it was time again.

Transparency can be scary. I always juggle the line between opening up enough to get my point across without spilling my guts to an unknown public. I have no qualms with being honest about my thoughts, beliefs, problems, and difficulties, but at a certain point there are some things that should be only discussed in person and not broadcasted to any Jack or Jane with a computer. So this is my latest attempt at an honest, but guarded posting.

Yesterday was a low point for me.

I'm not entirely sure what caused it. Ok that's not entirely true, I have a very good idea at a couple of the contributing factors, but at the same time, the reaction that ensued was not proportional to the preceding events.

Life has been a little rough lately. For those of you not in the loop- I finished my internship on May 6th (at some point I'll try to work on a summary post of everything that happened in rotations 2 and 3... because they were life changing!). After completion, I moved back to my parent's house in SWFL 'for now'. I once went to a leadership conference where they talked about living in transition. It's difficult and it's draining, and it's characterized by the words 'for now'. I'm living here 'for now', I'm doing this 'for now', I'm putting my relationships on the back burner 'for now', I'm taking this job 'for now'. The 'for now' is not purely the domain of college students and emerging adults, many people may face this semi-crisis of faith and life. Going through divorce, dealing with heartbreak, losing your job, battling illness. The heart of the transition period is a heightened level of uncertainty. Uncertainty can be exciting, it opens up the world to many new possibilities, but it can also be frightening, paralyzingly so.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. I don't do well with uncertainty. I'm a control freak, I like knowing what's in front of me, twenty steps down the line. I think this is tendency is a product of both my general nature and the experiences of the last couple of years. I have moved seven times in the last six years. The plus side is I have gotten quite good at meeting new people, establishing myself, learning the ropes. I have my list of places to go and things to do to quickly settle down in a new location. However, it's exhausting to live in a world with deadlines. At a certain point there comes a desire to stop investing in the people and communities around you... because you know that there's an expiration date on the momentary happiness. It's an unfortunate truth that I have trouble letting myself be happy, to enjoy being in the moment, because that voice in the back of my head keeps whispering 'enjoy it while you can, it soon is going to be gone.'

Being in a position where I'm living without my next steps in front of me is frightening. I've been undergoing the job search, and actually had a great site visit with a hospital just last week. I am supposed to find out in the next week or so what their decision is, and the truth is I'm not sure which answer is less frightening.

One the one hand, I'm so ready to have a direction for my life. I'm ready to be able to move somewhere new and feel like I have a purpose again. I've felt so stagnant sitting around waiting for things to happen. The thought that I might get a call in the next few days that says 'thanks but no thanks' terrifies me. I don't want to have to go back to square one; I dread the thought of filling out new applications, explaining to people that i didn't get this job, going back to feeling like I'm treading water with no land in sight. I've been doing all I can to work on my thesis and finish up my masters, but with all the dififculties that have come from there, it truly feels like I have nothing in my life at times.

And yet... as much as I loved visiting that city, I enjoyed meeting new people and visiting with old friends. It would be a challenging position that would certainly stretch me both as a person and a professional. Yet.... the idea of picking up and moving somewhere brand new is scary. Being so far from family and friends, possibly permanently, is not what I saw my life ending up as. I've become more and more aware in the past week of exactly what I'd be giving up to move there and it hurts to think about. It's difficult when  you feel like God has given you conflicting desires, two senses of calling that seem incongruent. In fact it makes me angry.

And maybe that's what everything boils down to. Anger at God. An inability to truly trust and believe that he has my best interests at heart. I do all I can to consistently remind myself that I need to have faith. I work on building trust, and trying to believe that God loves me and wants me to get where Im supposed to be even more than I do.

But deep down? Maybe I don't.

I have a few amazing conversations with a couple of friends yesterday. I'm very good at recognizing when I've reached my breaking point and I need the advice of others to get me through a crisis. They were both very different but very helpful in their own ways.

One of them said something that suck with me. "I was just telling 'X' the other day that I feel like you can't catch a break. It hurts me just to hear about half the stuff you're going through because it doesn't seem fair that you keep getting hurt and disappointed over and over."

Right then and there, that was exactly what i needed to hear. Because, obviously for me, it does feel like the crap keeps piling on- and yet I feel guilty for expressing that sentiment. I look around at the problems of others and remind myself that everybody has their issues, everybody has their own heartbreaks, how selfish is it of me to think that I've somehow gotten the short end of the sick? To hear an objective party offer an unsolicited opinion that I have every right to be frustrated with things gave me such a sense of peace.

I've been reading this great book over the last couple of months. I read it for the first time about a month before my internship ended after hearing many other people talk about it over and over. "In a pit with a lion on a snowy day:How to survive and thrive when opportunity roars' by Mark Batterson. In short, I read the entire book in 24 hours the first time around, fairly gobbled it up. Life changing, life affirming, life inspiring. And not 3 hours after I had finished the book and was reveling in a new found glow of confidence in god, my self, and my life direction, I was hit with some devastating news that tested my entire resolve. However, sometimes I think God deliberately puts resources in our life to get us through trying situations. I remember being so angry and crying and lashing out at God "I JUST got to a place that I'm feeling optimistic. You REALLY had to hit me with this tonight?! Why couldn't you have just let me be happy for a day before you felt like testing my resolve." And then I heard a voice, my own in fact, respond with "No, my child, I didn't put this on you because you read the book, I already knew that this would happen today and I wanted to make sure you had the tools and ability to handle it when it came".

I'm not a big believer in burning bushes. I get skeptical of 'hearing' the voice of God. But in that moment, I broke down and sobbed for 20 minutes. Not because of what had happened, but because I knew I would get through anything because God would see me through it.

I've been recently feeling the urge to reread the book. I'll pick it up and read a few pages each night, stopping when I get the sense i'm done, and it's amazing how that works because last night I was right at the section I needed to be reading. Right smack dab in the middle of the chapter titled "Guaranteed uncertainty".

Here are a few quotes that jumped out at me:

"I'm convinced that the people God uses the most are often the people who have experienced the most adversity. This isn't necessarily what I want to write, and it isn't necessarily what you want to read, but it's true. Adversity can produce an increased capacity to serve God." (Needless to say I underlined and dated that particular passage last night. My friend had made the comment that she feels like all this adversity in my life has to be leading up to something really big, here's hoping!).

"Benaiah could have run away from the lion. And running away would have reduced uncertainty and increased security. But lion chasers are counterintuitive..... In the short term [chasing lions] increases uncertainty. But in the long term it reduces regrets." (This is the way I have always lived my life. I would rather jump in head first and put my all into something... and then be heartbroken and hurt when things fall apart, rather than live with regret and the wonder  of 'what if' the rest of my life. Sure it leads to a lost of sorrow but the book also talks about how rewards are directly proportional to risk.) "The more you're willing to risk, the more God can use you."

"Faith doesn't reduce uncertainty. Faith embraces uncertainty...I believe in planning. I believe in goal setting. But there are some things in life that you can't plan or predict. And that drives the obsessive-compulsive part of us crazy. We want control, but the decision to follow Christ is a relinquishment of control. Following Christ is letting Jesus take the wheel. Of course some of us act like backseat drivers. Or worse yet, we're like little kids that make their parents crazy by asking one question over and over again: Are we there yet?... We never outgrow the desire to know exactly where we're headed and exactly when we'll get there... We're control freaks, but faith involves a loss of control... I used to hate uncertainty, but I'm learning to love it. It is an acquired taste. I am discovering that the greatest moments in life are unscripted. They are unrehearsed and unplanned and unpredictable and that is precisely what makes them unforgettable.  Embrace relational uncertainty, it's called romance. Embrace spiritual uncertainty, it's called mystery Embrace occupational uncertainty, it's called destiny. Embrace emotional uncertainty, it's called joy. Embrace intellectual uncertainty, it's called revelation."

God wants you to get where you're supposed to go more than you want to. I love that thought.

Maybe God is like a GPS (not one of those crappy ones that can never find your location and takes ten years to download the route). The destination is programmed and he tells us the steps to take, but sometimes we choose not to go down that path. Because it's scary. Because it seems ridden with heartache. Makes me think of the scene from the movie Beauty and the Beast where the father is faced with a choice between the open happy country side and the dark ominous forest. We chose a different path then the one God set out for us.

And yet... the GPS doesn't give up on us. It blasts for a while "Make a U turn, at the nearest intersection, make a u turn. Turn around, it's not too late, go back to the intended path" And when we stubbornly ignore those signs what does it do? "Recalculating". The GPS takes our present location and direction in account and finds a new route to our final destination.

I like to think that God works that way too. He has this great path in mind, and when we veer off he tries to prod us back, but sometimes we get too far off the beaten path. So he has to direct us in a new fashion... It's going to take longer than the original plan. We may have to make more pit stops, drive through scary parts of town, and spend more money on gas- but eventually we'll get there. God can work around our circumstances in ways we can't begin to understand.

The other friend I talked to last night made a comment about that very fact. She told me "I think God has a lot of contingencies for us. Specifically he has a habit of making sure we have the exact people in our life when we need them. I think you and I were supposed to be friends Bethany. We had a very specific purpose in each other's lives, and we've learned certain things from each other that no one else could have offered. But what if you hadn't come to Wesley? What if we had never met? I think God would have then provided me with someone else to fill that hole. I think God has countless 'people' for us, both friendships and relationships. And maybe he has certain pairings in mind, but we are products of our own choices and he's not going to leave someone hanging because the other half of the equation made different decisions. God's bigger than that. He's going to provide you with exactly who and what you need when the time is right"

And maybe that's the point. Maybe instead of trying to figure out that one perfect job, the one perfect boyfriend, the one perfect house, the one perfect school, the one (or two) perfect friends... we should isntead look around at what God has given us. And trust that when things don't work out the way we had thought it doesn't mean we weren't on the right path. It doesn't mean we did anything wrong, it means that sometimes even God can't control the actions of others around us. I truly believe that sometimes we don't get the exact blessings God had intended for us because either we or others stepped in the way. But that doesn't mean God can provide something entirely different. There's always going to be a Plan B, and Plan C, Plan H... and Plan T.

Sometimes I just don't trust that God has my best interests at heart.It's easy to see the immediate and forget that there's so much ahead of me. "The greatest haphazard to your spiritual health is thinking that your past is haphazard or that your future is left up to chance alone. It is anything but, I can't promise that everything will make sense on the near side of eternity, but that shouldn't shake our confidence, because our confidence isn't contingent upon the character of God. Our circumstances may not make sense, but we know that God is planning His work and working His plan."

"There is nothing easy about taking risks.... But lion chasers have the courage to overcome inaction inertia. Their fear of missing out is greater than their fear of messing up."

So where does this leave me?

With a whole lot of questions and not many answers. But a conviction that something big is coming and the best thing is to stop trying to figure it out before it gets here.

It's a constant daily, hourly... by the minute battle to give things to God. I give it up to him and enjoy the temporary relief... and then drag it back in again because I don't trust him enough to take care of it.

So I pray, and do my best to trust, and just believe that when the time is right the answers will come.

Until then I guess there's always blogging ;)