“And surely I am with you always.” – from Matthew 28:20 (NIV)
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me? – Psalm 13:1 (NIV)
If I had known the cost involved with starting my new job, I might have reconsidered. It’s not that I hadn’t expected it to be hard. We were, after all, moving across an ocean, and thus moving away from my husband’s family and many mutual friends. Furthermore, my husband and I were switching roles. He was quitting his job of 9 years, and I, in my new role as campus pastor, would become the one with the full-time job. I would be taking my incomplete dissertation with me, hoping to have time to finish up amidst the transition, while my husband would have the chance to explore whether he’d like to do more academic work or find work in a slightly different area. It was an amazing opportunity, despite the challenges, so how could we not be excited about it?
We’d made plans for me to start fairly quickly, at the beginning of second semester, as that seemed best for the ministry and allowed me to go ahead to get things ready for us moving there. However, we were blindsided by the more than 6 months that it took the US government to give me, a Canadian, a work visa. Thus, instead of being able to start my job early, I traveled across the ocean multiple times, praying each time that the border guards might show grace in allowing me to enter into the country as a volunteer at the job I had been hired, but was not yet allowed, to do. The uncertainty, stress of waiting, long absences from my husband, and the inability to settle into a place and make solid plans for months at a time made the move much harder than I had expected. It was easier to be in denial about the stress and challenges than to ask whether it was worth it.
Where was God in the midst of all this? Where was He in the midst of the chaos of my volunteering in my new position, instead of being paid, amidst the hardship and distance created through being an ocean away from my husband for a month or more at a time, through living in two homes but neither?
I believe God was there the whole time. The promise of Jesus in Matthew 28:20 held true even in the midst of my difficult, long transition. At the same time, I don’t really know why it happened this way or what good it might have brought. I’m not even sure if those are the right questions. I wonder, instead, if focusing too hard on why or how hard it is might take the focus away from other more important things, like trusting that God will make good out of it (Rom 8:28) or paying attention to his quiet presence in being with us.
As I look back on this past year with the hardships of the transition, it can pale in comparison to the hardships that I know others have gone through. Failures and disappointments, as well of lack of funding and support, are all too common in the world of academia. If one adds accidents, deaths, family difficulties, spiritual or mental crises, it is hard not to become overwhelmed. The Bible passage that speaks to this seems less Jesus’ promise that He will be with us, and more the Psalmist cry of how long, O Lord?
Being angry and frustrated in the midst of the difficulties can feel unchristian. Where is my contentment in all circumstances (Phil 4:11)? Where is my faith that God will make all well? Believing is one thing; experiencing is another! As I write this, I am still too much in the middle of my own chaotic transition to be able to see how God is making good out of it. I am certainly thankful for how I’ve learned to appreciate my relationships, but I think I’m even more thankful that it is almost over.
Throughout these hard times, I have found it hard to acknowledge the pain and sadness of everything. I have shown glimpses of it to others because I do want to be honest about my walk with God, but I have to admit that I also do my best to try to ignore it. It has been hard enough simply to get through it, let alone look closely at how much it has exhausted or overwhelmed me. On top of this, I don’t always have the language to talk about how something can be good and hard at the same time, nor do I like acknowledging that I am hurting and that I deeply need others’ care. I do hope and pray that I learn it better, though, as I believe it can be a great blessing to others. In acknowledging my pain, I make space for letting others help me. I also make space for others to acknowledge their own pain and sadness, and so we as a community can reach out to each other.
Where have you found it hard to acknowledge your struggles and pain in your transitions?
Have there been moments when “How long?” has been your strongest prayer?
Psalm 13 (NIV)
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (memoir) by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Pittsburgh, PA: Crown and Covenant Publications, 2012.
Photo courtesy of tpsdave at Pixabay.