Spring is known as the season of change and new birth, and, until this year, the change of spring always slipped by me as relatively routine and unnoticed. However, this year, with the new season, comes a flood of shifting futures all around me. Most of my friends are graduating college and scattering to different cities and jobs across the country. Many are also settling into new marriages, engagement, or a new found serious relationship. Reflecting on my own family too, I’ve realized that, with two younger brothers in college in different cities and one other almost ready to go to college, we also are growing into permanent changes. These events are not unexpected, but I can’t help but feel a little bit lonely in the midst of it all and frustrated that my life is still at a standstill for at least another year as I finish nursing school. Despite my best efforts not to be, I began this week discontent in the shifting friendships and my far off, uncertain future. It’s not abnormal for me to have discontentment and loneliness rear their ugly heads. This time though, I asked God to teach me about the purpose of these two emotions and how to overcome them. This is how He answered my prayer.
Loneliness is a Gift
Every once in a while I’ll listen to the Breakaway podcasts. Breakaway is a college ministry on the campus of A&M led by a guy named Ben Stuart. God has definitely given him a gift for studying and teaching scripture. I always learn so much from listening to him. With a more relaxed schedule this week, I decided that I would use the extra time to catch up on some of the podcasts from this semester. The topic being covered this spring is singleness, marriage, and everything in between. (I won’t go into detail over everything I learned, but I encourage you to take a look if you get the chance.) The main thing I took away from the talks specific to this week is that loneliness is a gift if you allow it to be. Stuart used Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9; 32-35 to explain the gift of singleness is the absence of distractions. Without a committed relationship you don’t have to worry about the needs of another person. All you have to worry about is the needs of Christ in your relationship with Him. Loneliness, wether from being single or not, provides the same advantage. No people equals no distractions, which means you get to let loose and press deep into God. In loneliness it’s just you and Him wrestling out your impurities and washing your soul into this beautiful spiritual intimacy. If you look back through scripture, God chooses to be close to people when they are alone: Moses and the burning bush, Elijah in the mountains, Samuel in the night, and many more. A simple shift from a selfish perspective of loneliness to an eternal perspective of loneliness makes all the difference.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Psalm 62: 5-7
Waiting is a Part of His Design
I came home one night this week and peeked my head into my roommate’s room to say hi. To my surprise, she was reading a non-textbook book, which is a rare occurrence for any nursing student. When I asked her what she was reading, she handed me a stack of books and explained that they were a series by Francine Rivers about five noted women in the lineage of Jesus: Tamar, Rehab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. The series is fictional, written with the intent of giving the reader a more thorough idea of what life would have been like for each of these women. My roommate let me borrow them, and I eagerly started the first book, about Tamar, that night. I never really gave much thought to Tamar’s story. She’s spoken about in this kind of odd rabbit trail off of Joseph’s story in the Bible. However, reading Francine River’s depiction of her left me enamored with how God used her. In that time women’s role in society was to maintain the family line through bearing children to their husbands. When Tamar was chosen to wed into Judah’s family, her goal would have been to bear a child to uphold her honor and the honor of her husband’s house. This goal hit a road block when God put Tamar’s first husband, Judah’s oldest son, to death for his wickedness. It was then expected that his younger brother, Judah’s second son, fulfill his duty to help Tamar bear a child for his brother as written in the Hebrew law. Tamar’s brother-in-law specifically avoided this duty and God put him to death also for his wickedness. What should have happened next was for Tamar to be given to Judah’s youngest son, but this did not happen. Judah denied Tamar her right and left her waiting on an empty promise for a husband and a dying hope for a child. What struck me about this is how much I feel like I can connect with Tamar on that waiting, despite the radical differences between my life and hers. Waiting is hard. It requires a lot of patience, a lot of trust, and a lot of faith, usually with no sure plan. I find myself often trying to put some sort of structured schedule to the waiting period that God has me in right now. It usually goes something like this: one more year: I graduate and get a job here in Dallas, five to six years from now: I finish paying off school loans and get married, seven to eight years from now: I go back to school, ten to eleven years from now: I go into full time mission work in some other country. I know my life won’t look like this. It probably will be radically different. Nevertheless, I am longing to know exactly how long I will be waiting to fulfill what is expected of my role in society and in God’s kingdom. Tamar had to wait to fulfill her role of bearing children for Judah’s family without knowing if she would ever actually be able to. Joseph had to wait 13 years to fulfill his role of saving his family and the Egyptian people from starvation. Abraham had to wait 25 years for a son to ensure God’s promise that he would have uncountable descendants. Moses waited 40 years. Paul waited 14 years. David waited 15 years. The list goes on. Waiting is part of God’s design for our lives. Everyone must wait because in the waiting God’s glory is perfected in us. There has never been a good story without a journey. Characters set out towards their goal, and it is what happens between the point of setting out and the point of reaching the goal that captures the audience’s undying attention. The struggle of the wait determines the valor of the victory. So too, it is in the waiting of a christian life that allows God’s glory to shine brighter in the victory of a fulfilled calling. A longer wait and more struggles means a more intriguing story to tell when other’s ask you about what God has done in your life. Never doubt God’s ability as a storyteller. He will write you a noteworthy story, just as he did for Tamar.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Contentment is Found in Trust
As I was learning these things that God had to teach me about loneliness and discontentment, I was still struggling with feeling them both, despite my growing knowledge. So I called up one of my nursing buds to meet me at the gym for a swim. As we donned our flippers and began kicking down the lanes, I started to share with her about how emotionally frustrating my week had been so far. I told her how all through out my college career God has been asking me the same question over and over and over again. ‘Will you trust me?’ To be honest, sometimes I feel like God is the ‘Can you hear me now?’ guy off of the Verizon commercials. Every time, even when the smallest challenge presents itself, God is right there saying, ‘Can you trust me now?’ And I respond saying, ‘yes,’ praying that I really mean what I say. Speaking to my friend, I said, “I know God is asking me that question again this week. I guess I just need to work on gaining more trust and patience so I can be content.” Looking at me, she responded, “This week is not an opportunity to gain trust or patience for you. It is an opportunity to grow in the trust and patience you already have.” Her words hit home. God has stopped asking me, ‘Can you trust me know?’ and has started, instead, to ask, ‘Can you trust me deeper?’ I have been content in the trust that I have for Him. This week of discontent is an invitation to a deeper trust leading to a deeper contentment. The idea of it reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ quote in his book, The Last Battle. “Further up and further in!” As Aslan finally welcomed his beloved subjects into his country, there was much rejoicing in the realization that they would all live together forever in the most beautiful version of Narnia they had ever experienced. However, Aslan kept pressing them to move deeper and deeper into the country because he knew that an even better, more heavenly Narnia awaited them there. “Further up and further in!” He urged them not to settle for the current contentment they found in their reality, and to, instead, find contentment wholly in the trust and obedience that they had for him. I am thankful to my dear friend for pointing me towards this. My prayer for myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ is that we may place contentment on our trust in God alone and see any discontent as an indicator to press further up and further into Him.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
I didn’t expect God to teach me so much this week through feelings sparked by change. As the end of the week started to roll in and I began reflecting on all that I had learned, God pointed me back to this particular scripture that I have pondered over throughout the past couple years. It now seems to have a little clearer meaning. So I will end with it.
2 Corinthians 4: 7-18
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.