Nothing is random. At least, this is the conclusion I keep coming to as I get a bit older and ponder what God has done in my life so far. If the Lord knows each sparrow that falls to the ground, surely he is present in all the details, big and small, of the lives of his most valued creation. But what about when the details don’t seem to make sense? What about when I’ve heard from the Lord and stepped out, only to find greater obstacles than ever before? Or even worse, when I’ve not been able to pursue what I believe to be his call at all.
I think my experience is shared by many women who are bright, gifted, hard-working, and wanting to make a difference, i.e., most of The Well’s readers. Our gifts can weigh on us like curses if we don’t feel we are in a position to use them and make a difference. Some of you may be young and just starting your job search. Others may have struggled for years already without finding the right fit for a career or area of service. Still others may have focused on raising a family and now find yourselves wanting to engage other parts of your calling without knowing how. How do you live through these situations—the frustration, anxiety, and confusion? And how about when my “God-given” talents and passion to serve him are seemingly squandered on unrelated jobs, uncomfortable relationships, or unproductive circumstances? Certainly if I am willing and ready to follow what seems to be God’s call, it should not be this difficult or frustrating.
But often it is, at least in the short run. The many glorious things that God has done in my life — even some that I sensed were coming — never happened on my preferred timetable, not once. It seems an infinite God had something to teach me about time. There was purpose in the pain of unfulfilled longings and vocational delays. It has been and always will be about my relationship with him. In my own story, I’ve been slow to understand that God cares more about my relationship with him than what I accomplish or do at any given point. In my journey with Jesus, growing in intimacy with him is more important than my “call.” Much like we are encouraged to lose our life in order to find it, when we stop worrying about fulfilling our callings, I’ve found he does it for us.
I’ve spent (I now say “wasted”) too much time and emotional energy imagining a future based on my current circumstances and emotions, then striving to achieve it. Nothing I have ever imagined for my future has happened as I imagined it. Nothing. But here’s the good news: it’s been much, much better. Relax, you can trust him.
My running joke has been that whenever I say I will never do something, that is exactly what God has me do. I never thought I needed graduate school, because I wanted to get out there and fix things. Then the Lord taught me that there is power for change in the interplay of thinking and doing. I never would work for the “50 years is enough” World Bank. Then the Lord taught me that big institutions are not monolithic and small changes within them can have a big impact. I never would work for the “global hegemon” U.S. government. Then the Lord showed me that the rest of the world still listens to what the U.S. government says and that I could be a voice for the powerless inside the halls of power. I never would live in a big city. Then I spent seven years in DC and two gorgeous years in London loving it.
In some cases I almost didn’t take the opportunities God presented to me because they seemed so different from what I thought I was all about: an independent who dislikes politics and is more comfortable living in poor rural villages than wealthy cities. God alone knew that my experience in the rural villages would be the perfect preparation for advocating for the rights of the oppressed in U.S. foreign policy. He alone knew that my unique gifts could be used and strengthened among the great people I met doing so.
God has a fabulous sense of humor. I don’t always like his ways at the time, but looking back they often make me laugh. And I love to laugh. So I stopped using the word “never” regarding assignments or life circumstances. I also went through a phase of forcing myself not to imagine anything good in my future, because I knew from experience it would not happen that way. If I didn’t think it then maybe it could still happen. Silly, I know — but aren’t these exactly the kind of mind games we play with ourselves? It’s a result of misplaced trust. I have tended to trust in my circumstances to reveal God’s goodness instead of simply trusting in the goodness of God. When we truly trust, we can let our imaginations run wild and then know that God’s reality will exceed them.
If you are going through your own times of dryness and waiting, let me offer two reminders I have learned in my own life:
Reminder #1: God has your best interest at heart. He is working all things out for good for you no matter how they appear. It took a long time for me to believe that God knows what he is doing. I didn’t think my eclectic background had any purpose while I was living it; it didn’t seem to make any sense. But the purpose has become clear over time. I lived through frustration, stress, and dryness. In recent years there have been more and more “Aha!” moments. “That’s why I did that crazy thing!” We may make mistakes, but God never does. He can redeem our mistakes in beautiful ways that almost make us glad we made them.
Reminder #2: It’s not all about you! God’s plans and purposes will prevail in his world and he doesn’t need us to accomplish them. However, he wants to involve us because that is how we learn to trust him more. I don’t mean to be harsh here or make light of the pain in waiting. I know how painful it can be and God cares about that, too. But the more we can forget about ourselves and focus on him alone, the easier it is for him to use us for his purposes.
Trusting the Lord and waiting on him will lead to things beyond your wildest dreams. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 3:5-6. Following God’s leading into places, jobs, and paths that didn’t seem to fit with my own desires and calling was difficult, but also wonderful. After over a decade of living far outside my comfort zone, I’m seeing things come together in amazing ways. I’m back living in a town I love and launching my own social enterprise to help orphans and vulnerable children globally. It’s many dreams coming true at once but in ways I never could have imagined. But it never would have been possible without the years of trusting and waiting in the midst of unpleasant circumstances that were difficult to understand. Trust him with your calling and wait. He will, eventually, make you laugh.