When you feel like God has forgotten you
I preached recently at my home church. While I typically write about what I'm learning through preparation here, I didn't this time. That is, until now.
To be honest, I wasn't planning on writing about it here. There have been other things on my mind like being intentional about rest and slowing down and living your best life as you allow God to be the author of your dreams and your next steps.
But somewhere in the middle of my new passion for life giving balance came this idea that sometimes our faith gets shaken. Sometimes the life we're living isn't the life we signed up for. Sometimes we wonder if God hasn't forgotten us.
That's what I preached on. We called it WHEN YOU HIT A WALL, but the concept is the same. What happens to your faith when life gets hard, your faith gets shaken, and you feel like God has forgotten you and your dreams and your future?
I was ready to tuck the message away until my people opened up their hearts. The people of the One Foot Community started asking...
What do I do when the life I thought I would be living is not the one I am living? What do I do when God isn't answering my prayers? What do I do when I'm asked to wait? What do I do when I or someone I love is facing cancer? What do I do when grief comes rushing in?
And if our small little community is facing these questions, I'm guessing that some of you are too. Maybe it's not you directly, but someone you love. But you're wondering how to you put your faith in God back together when everything else is falling apart?
God doesn't work in equation
The Danielle of 20 years ago would have given you an equation. You see, I come from a long line of logic. We Allen's like to reason it out. And so in my mid-20s, I had adopted this theory that God worked in equations.
The most famous equation was that if I just stopped looking for Mr. Right + focused on God that would equal Mr. Right coming to my front door. After that, other equations came to mind. If I'm stepping out in courageous obedience, then God will give me what the world would call success. Or if I follow God and do what's right, then I won't face illness or grief or loss.
I had a seminary professor tell me to never say God is a mystery. After over 30 years of walking with him, I think my professor was wrong. God is a mystery. The way He works can't be boiled down to an equation.
And when it comes to our dark places, we can't boil him down to an equation there either. God loves you all while allowing His ways to be a mystery. And sometimes, in the midst of difficult life circumstances, we are called to sit with mystery and unknown and allow Him to minister to our soul.
Dwell in the land in between
As I chatted with a friend recently, I recalled this book The Land Between by Jeff Manion. Jeff, who is a pastor, traced the steps of the Israelites in the wilderness - the place he calls the land between.
The Israelites were not where they had been as slaves in Egypt but also, had not yet arrived at their promised land. Our journeys are a lot like that. Sometimes God asks us to dwell in the land between. The land that feels painful. The land where we have no assurances that we'll arrive at our personal promised land. The land where we can't fix it - we can only ask Jesus to fix it.
Sometimes our greatest healing will come as we rest in the not yet - in the land between. The land between is a land filled with unknowns. Will my body ever be healed? Will I ever accomplish my dreams? Will I ever be married? Or will my marriage ever be rock solid again?
It's in the land between that we learn to trust God with any outcome. It's in the land between that we learn surrender our agenda and learn to follow God's agenda. It's in the land between that you and I learn to love Jesus more than anything else.
Grieve your losses
As I spoke with a friend recently, she asked me to recount my own times I had faced THE WALL. Most recently, my wall is my business. A business I quit my job to pursue at God's leading. A business I assumed would prosper financially because I was being obedient to God. And even more recently, a business that in reality was not living up to my expectations.
Other walls in my life include my parents divorcing, navigating remarriage for my parents and blended families, moving to Minnesota (a land where I knew no one), and the death of both of my parents.
While all those are big walls, the one that had the most impact on me was definitely my expectation of finding love, getting married and having a family. As I prepare to turn 50 at the end of this year (gulp), my dreams of the life I expected get further and further away.
Back in my early 30s, the wall of being single really hit me. I recounted for my friend how I cried myself to sleep at night and woke up with tears in my eyes. I wondered if God had forgotten my dreams and MY PLAN. And I started to entertain the thought that God loved his other kids more than me if He could keep saying no and not yet to a dream that was deeply planted inside of me.
Several things got me through that wall but the most important one was my willingness to grieve that dream at that time. Grieve my expectations of how life should be. Grieve what I hoped. Grieve where I was and where I wanted to be.
It's in the learning to let go that we find God's new dreams for us. Sometimes we need to release our grip on what we thought would happen so we can embrace what will actually happen. The good dream that God has for us.
Word of warning. Our tendency is to rush this part. Your grieving and my grieving may take awhile. We may want to rush through because it's painful. Because it's frustrating. Because we'd rather be in happier spaces.
Here's what James says:
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
— JAMES 1:2-4 (MSG)
My favorite part? Don't try to get out of anything prematurely. I'm the queen of the early exit. But for God to do the work through our grieving, we have to stay for the whole thing. So stay put. In the land between. So you can slow down and God can do His work.
Claim His Promises
As I continued to reflect on that season in my 30s that included crying and grieving and unmet expectations, I also realized that it was a season of strengthened faith. I don't know how or why, but I navigated that season and came out with a deeper commitment to God and His plan for me.
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.”
— PSALM 84:11 (NIV)
When asked how all that happened, I remembered a day during that season so vividly. I had grown weary of crying myself to sleep and waking up with tears still in my eyes. And I happened across a verse in one my devotionals.
For some reason, that verse hit me right between the eyes. NO GOOD THING IS WITHHELD. I applied it to my situation that day. If marriage was good for me right now, He would not withhold it. I clung to that verse. I challenged my thinking and reminded myself that God loves me enough to withhold things that are not good for me.
Don't get me wrong. This wasn't a verse for just one day and done. This was a verse for the season. I would pull it out everyday to remind myself that He is a sun and a shield and he would not withhold good things from me.
When I'd start my tears and my doubts, I'd pull the verse out. When I started to compare my life with the life of my friends, I'd pull the verse out.
I claimed this promise then, and almost 20 years later, I claim it today. I remind myself that God has not forgotten. Good things are from Him. And for you? It may not be that verse, but there's a promise for you to claim from God's Word. A promise you can cling to. A promise that will leave you changed as you hold it during your own season.
As I leave you today, I want to say a few things. The things you are facing when you feel like God has forgotten you are not simple or easy. They aren't fixed by a simple equation or even a verse quoted with the intention of encouragement.
The things you are facing are a journey. A journey of wrestling with questions like "If God is good, then why...?" A journey of grief as you let go of what you thought your life should look like and embrace what God wants your life to look like. A journey where you learn to trust Him not with what your outside looks like but what your soul looks like as He changes you from the inside out.
We're on the journey together, my friend. So lean in. Trust the process. Embrace the land between. And claim His promises. He'll do the rest.