Until it Sinks

When I was 15, the pastors of the church I’d attended all of my life retired. We had new pastors who stepped in and took over. Over the course of the next year, the church atmosphere changed, the number of members dwindled and it seemed like as soon as I blinked, we were down to a few key families that were keeping the lights on and the doors open. My parents were Children’s Pastors and some weeks it would be the three of us running everything from the nursery to 6th grade. It was work. It was exhausting. I was watching something I’d been a part of all my life slowly fall down around me.

I decided I was ready to leave. It looked like just about everyone else was jumping ship, and it seemed only logical that I got to as well. If we left, they wouldn’t be bringing in enough money to keep the doors open, and would have to turn the church back over to the denomination. In my eyes it was a mercy killing. I took my plan to my parents and begged them to leave. To let me leave, and go find something new.

I knew they were as stressed out and tired of it all as I was, so I was incredibly surprised when my dad’s answer to my proposal was no. He said that he’d prayed about it, and that he felt like the Lord wasn’t releasing us to go.

I was furious.

Why on earth wouldn’t the Lord release us to go? No one else seemed to have that problem. Some days it seemed like we were just enabling some of the things that were happening because it couldn’t have kept going without each of the handful of key families. I made my frustration known, and spent a lot of the next 6 months incredibly bitter. I wasn’t being fed, I wasn’t growing (I thought) and I wasn’t in a healthy situation. All things that I knew could be better, all things I saw people in other situations getting to have, all things I wanted. But the Lord didn’t release us to go.

The next few months saw an even greater decline, and finally the church was turned back over to the denomination who sent an interim pastor for several weeks. Eventually our former pastors came out of retirement, and much of the former congregation came with them. I still remember the barbecue that we had as a church to celebrate everyone coming home, and people kept stopping me to say hello and would end with some variation of “isn’t it so good to be back?!”

All I could think at the time was that I hadn’t gotten to leave in the first place. That those of us who stayed were the only reasons that anyone had anything to come back to. That I was tired of being firm and rooted, of digging in and holding on. We all were.

It was the first time in my life that I had encountered a problem I, and the people I looked up to most, couldn’t solve and that God wouldn’t let us run from. I have been, for most of my life, an expert problem solver. If I can’t find a way around it, I do what I can to avoid the issue to begin with, and I couldn’t do either of those things here. It was the first time, other than when elderly relatives had died, that I had had to endure something that didn’t seem at all holy or growing, and be reminded that God and His plans were still good. It certainly wouldn’t be the last, but it felt a little like being tossed into the deep end and being told flippantly, “Don’t drown.”

There are times where we are in seasons that are ugly and painful and we want nothing more than to pull a Jonah and book the first ship in the opposite direction. We tell ourselves that if we are following God, it won’t be this difficult. We tell ourselves that this can’t possibly be God’s will for our lives. That we should just leave before it gets any worse. (Sometimes – especially in situations of abuse, neglect and unhealthy boundaries – I believe we are correct in thinking that God does not want that for us. That God is not the reason we are there, and that He is not honored by staying. In those instances, I believe that we have to choose ourselves, and get out.) But then there are times where despite all of our protests to the contrary, we aren’t released to go anywhere.

Sometimes we have to stay on the ship until it sinks, trusting that God is at work and will rescue us even there. Sometimes we have to listen to the well meaning people talk about how good God is to have brought victory, as they unknowingly discredit the bloody battles we endured long before victory got there. Sometimes we pray and pray and pray for the burden to be lifted, the healing to come, the miracle to happen – and we see nothing change. Sometimes the weight is so heavy that we aren’t quite sure where the line is between pressed and crushed and we aren’t sure how we will even get through the day – let alone the season.

If that’s you, I feel compelled to encourage you here. I see you. I see that struggle. I see those days when you aren’t sure where the money for your next tank of gas or grocery trip is coming from, or how you’ll keep the lights on. I see you as you fight everything in you that screams at you to cut your losses and run for the hills. I see you as you doubt God like you’ve never doubted Him before. I see that bitterness that threatens to overwhelm you. I see that heartache, that frustration, that bone-deep sense of weary, that fear that this season may never end.

I wont reduce your struggle so much to say that I’ve walked where you’ve walked, but I know what that brand of joy-leeching season has looked like in my own life. I’ve walked it, so angry at God that I wondered why I messed with any of it to begin with. I’ve attempted to level with people about where I was at in my struggle and had platitudes tossed back at me that felt like salt in an open wound. I’ve turned corners to discover that what I thought would be the end of the whole mess was only an intermission. I’ve run from what God has asked of me, getting on my own boat to Nineveh.  I’ve managed to find an unfortunately high number of the ways to handle hard seasons wrong, but even then I come, each time, face to face with grace.

There is grace for you, friend. There is sufficient and abundant grace here. I know that knowledge doesn’t make the work in front of you much, if any, easier, but it’s the truth. You will likely handle parts of this season more poorly than you could have. You will probably flounder and doubt more than you wish you would. I wish I could say that this season will all whiz by, and you’ll look back and clearly see the hand of God in all of it. You may…but I think it’s more realistic that you’ll get bits and pieces of what God is doing and have only faith to fill in the gaps. You’ll be faced with the knowledge that God is good, but also have to admit that it looks like everything is falling apart around you, while the God who storms in and saves the day is mysteriously silent.

The good news, if there is any to be found, is that things are growing in this space. There is a resilience, a grit, a laws-of-nature-defying tenacity that is birthed out of seasons like these. You discover what you can withstand, usually through circumstances you wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it’s so much more than you’d imagined. You discover the magnitude of the scripture that says, “My grace is enough. It’s all that you need. My power comes into its own in your weakness“, as you come to know that grace is not portion controlled or rationed by those who judge you for needing it to begin with but that it is both constant and exactly enough.

You are not alone here. Not alone in this season of waiting and praying and aching. You are not alone, not forgotten, not abandoned. I don’t know when it will stop, when the storm ends and the skies clear. I don’t know why this has happened, to you of all people, why this part of life has looked the way that it has. I don’t have nearly enough of the answers, but what I do have is a gentle reminder to rest in who and whose you are. To be encouraged in the midst of this mess with the knowledge that there is infinitely more happening here than what we can see.

{So we’re not giving up. How could we?! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.}

2 thoughts on “Until it Sinks

  1. So true Hannah
    He says I have for your life, plans to prosper and give you life but I know for me sometimes I don’t really his word

    Like

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