My family has been muddling through a pretty tough time for about 18 months now, and I have been waiting for it to end, so that I can craft the perfect inspirational blog post (“3 Things I Learned From My Time In The Pit!”, “Feeling Crappy? Here Are Makeup Tips to Hide Your Tears!”, “How To Plan A Homeschool Lesson When All You Want To Do Is Stay Under The Covers!”), but it has dragged on and on, long past the length upon which I thought God and I had agreed that any bad time should last.
So here I am. I’ve missed writing, and I’m tired of waiting until I can check “Learn Valuable Lesson” off my to-do list, and I’ve missed connecting with you readers out there. So today, you get a big ol’ dose of transparency! I hope you’re ready…
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Until about eight months ago, my husband and I were the Children’s Minister and Assistant Children’s Minister at our church. We were there for three years; those jobs afforded us a flexibility of lifestyle, schedule, and finances that we hadn’t had before, and we were blessed and challenged by our time there. However, it became clear over the course of our employment that, as much as we loved working with the children, and as much as we cherished the freedoms we were granted because of those jobs, we were not the right fit. We left our positions just a couple of weeks before our fourth child was born.
My husband first made the announcement that we would be leaving those positions about 18 months ago, right after we found out that I was pregnant. At the time, we were filled with the hope and expectation that our next step would be a fairly easy one. I was nervous, yes, to be leaving a stable and basically doable job with a stable and basically adequate salary, but we’d always managed to find something before, and I knew we would this time, too. I believe my husband felt much the same way. He began to look for jobs in ministry, human services, and non-profit (the trifecta that makes up 99% of his fantasies) with an air of expectation.
Months went by. Dozens of applications had been submitted. Dozens of follow-up phone calls had been made. Dozens of friends had been asked to “keep their ear to the ground,” or “mention my name.” Thousands of prayers had been uttered. The baby’s debut was getting closer and closer as my husband’s prospects, one by one, came back empty. I began to wonder what would happen to us. My husband had never had trouble finding a job before. I know I’m biased, but he’s likable, personable, intelligent, polite, hard-working, and–as the father of four–he is extremely motivated.
I forget who broached the subject first, but my husband decided to broaden his search to include other fields. He looked into education and then, finally, business. Business was a last resort for him–he has a minister’s mind and a minister’s heart, and he did not see a way to remain true to himself and dive into the world of making money for money’s sake. But there was nothing left to try, and so he sent in an application for a position as an inside sales rep at a local company.
Six days before our son was born, he got the call: he’d gotten the job! We were ecstatic! He’d seen during the interview process that he’d be selling a valuable product at a reasonable price alongside people he liked and respected. Something came upon him when he talked about this new job that I’d never witnessed before: enthusiasm. He was absolutely bursting with ideas about how to sell the product, to whom he could sell it, how much money he could make, how much he could blow our budget out of the water, how long before he would begin to rise through the ranks of the sales department. Even in his preferred field of human services, I had never seen him enjoy a job so much. For him, there had always been too many anxieties, too many unknowns, too many opportunities for him to fail. But suddenly, in a complete twist, here he was, a businessman! And he loved it!
Boy, was I relieved. My father had made a good career as a salesman, and it was a lifestyle with which I was familiar and comfortable. Finally, I could really devote myself to staying home, taking care of the house, teaching the kids, and not worrying about my husband. Four kids, a tense relationship with our landlord, no minivan, and a new adventure in homeschooling seemed like enough to deal with; thank God that He was at least taking away the stress of an unpleasant job and too-tight finances!
As my husband’s training period ended, it became clear to both of us that the road to a successful sales career is a long one. He still likes the product, and he still enjoys his co-workers and the company itself, but he and I saw very quickly what it means to live mainly on commission. About three months into his new job, we hit a wall, and he took a part-time job at Kroger, where he now works weekends and most evenings. The final blow to our egos came in late-July, when several things came to a head, forcing us to move in with my parents.
As I write this, our baby is eight months old, we are roughly three months into our first year of homeschooling (so much harder than I ever thought it would be, and for entirely different reasons), and we have lived off of my parents’ and in-laws’ largesse for the better part of five months. My husband works about 75 hours per week and brings home just enough to cover our expenses. He barely sees his children, and he barely sees his wife. He is tired, he is angry, he is anxious, he is burdened. And so am I.
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So why do I choose today to write about this? Six months from now, God willing, he will have found a way to be successful, and we will have moved into our own place, and I will be able to write an uplifting post about what I will have learned through our travails. Why not wait until then? Reading this must be kind of a bummer for you; writing it certainly is for me.
Quite simply, I am compelled. The only reason I can think of for that is that maybe one of you is dealing with a situation like mine. Not like mine in the sense that you’re struggling in the same way. But maybe your situation is also making you feel hopeless. And tired. And burdened. And scared. And angry.
If that’s true, let me break it to you gently: I. Know. Nothing.
Except, right now, for this:
Life is really really really hard. And, God is still good.
This kind of chaos and disarray is not supposed to happen to people like us. We have always worked hard. We have always asked God for His guidance in our life. We have always wanted good, noble, modest things–a big-enough house with a yard for the kids to play and enough flexibility to enjoy time together as a family.
But as much as it hurts me to admit this, God did not send His Son to die on a cross and save me from my sins so that I could live in a big-enough house with a yard for the kids to play and enough flexibility to enjoy time together as a family. Jesus came so that I could have life, and life abundant (John 10:10). Right now, the abundance part seems like it’s all being collected in IOUs, but what if what He’s really talking about is the abundance of a relationship with Him?
Frankly, I don’t like that possibility. I like for things to be neat and square and predictable and orderly. That’s why I was such a good Jew. As a Jew, my concern was being good. And I was very good at being good. In Christianity, I have come to realize, being good doesn’t cut it–the underlying point is the relationship that we have with our Creator (the Father) and our Savior (the Son) and our Helper (the Holy Spirit). And when the relationship is hurting, God is not above messing things up to get our attention.
Here’s my problem: when something happens that I can’t control, I devote all of my energy to grasping what little control I have left. As I grasp more and more tightly, life spirals farther and farther out of control, causing me to hold tighter and tighter, and so on and so forth, forever and ever, amen. People tell me to “let go and let God” and that “true freedom comes from relying on Christ” and that “the more tightly we close our fists, the less capable we will be of catching God’s blessings as He rains them down upon us”–people tell me these things, but I don’t listen, because I’m too busy, trying to maintain control. Because–and here is the kicker–if I am not in control, that means someone else is, and that someone does not know me as well as I know me.
For a woman who wholeheartedly believes that God is kind and merciful and tender and gracious, this obsession with control is a disappointing and humbling thing to face. How can I be so afraid? Don’t I tell people all the time about how God ministers to me through my depression and how He’s used every one of my babies to show me a different facet of His character and how He’s been wooing me, in ways that would only work on me, since I was a child? Haven’t I been listening?
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Whatever I think or whatever I feel or whatever I want, the undergirding truth is that God is still good. Believe me, I don’t always feel this way. Even now, as I write this, I know it’s true, but boy, I don’t feel like it’s true at all. I feel like, if He were good, He would give my husband success in his job and enough money to make me happy. (If He were really good, He would have done that when we first started asking for it, over a year ago.) Doesn’t He want His children to be solvent, to be financially responsible? How could He want us to be living this way? Why isn’t He honoring our hard work and our diligence and our continued prayers?
Hell if I know.
Yes, I’m angry, and I’m scared, and I’m hopeless. But I cannot stay there. Because, no matter what war is being waged on my spirit, God is good anyway. I have no stinking idea why He’s keeping us in this situation, but I do know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-5) Do I live that out all the time? Not even in the slightest–you have not seen entitlement until you’ve seen me on some of my most recent days.
My work right now is not to figure out what we have to do in order to convince God that we’re serious, or to hurry up and learn the damn lesson already so we can move on, or to magically hit upon the single combination of words in my prayers that will flip some cosmic switch and make things suddenly go my way. My work is to figure out the answer to this question: Do I love God for who He is or for what He does?
When He isn’t being nice–when He allows me to stumble and fall into the pit–is my faith so shallow that I turn my back on Him? I’ve been painfully convicted lately because, if I’m being honest, I don’t know. Some days, my faith feels strong, and I can look the Devil right in the face and say, “Get thee behind me, you piece of [insert that day’s favorite curse word]!” and some days, there is a clawing and a tearing inside my chest between what I know to be true and what I feel to be true, and I can’t say for sure which side will win.
If we’re being honest (and let’s, shall we?), God might never give Dale financial success. He might never make it possible for us to live on our own. He might take my husband or my children away from me tomorrow. I might only have begun to scratch the surface of the pit into which I could fall. These thoughts terrify me, but I have to consider them. I have to look them in the face and let their reality wash over me and sit in the grief they bring until I find that I can stand again under the burden of all that pain.
Under the burden of all that pain, God is still good. I don’t understand it, but I know it, and in the pit, I can cling to it.