Setbacks hurt. But sunsets come before sunrises, and trust in God can help us to prepare for them.
Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. – Maya Angelou
Returning to school to pursue ordained ministries at my age, on a very limited income, is not for sissies. You need to trust in God that you’re on the right path, listen to a lot of feedback that you may not want to hear, and to trust in the joy and the grace that brought you to the call in the first place. You work hard, sometimes harder than you imagined possible, learning so much along the way, making great new friends, and sharing moments that you’ll remember forever.
Sorry, wrong number!
And then you hit speed bumps. I got one of those from my ordination committee today. I admit it – sometimes I can be a bit enigmatic to folks. But then you get those days where you think that you’ve been honest, forthcoming, passionate, grace-filled – and people don’t see it. You get feedback that leaves you disappointed, and feeling that all of the effort has been wasted. And, of course, you ask yourself – am I really doing the right thing? Am I missing something? You’ve risked everything to respond to your call, and you get the answer, “Sorry, wrong number.”
Yeah, one of those days. Fortunately my candidacy mentor was there, and was able to give me some honest and helpful feedback. When I got home my wife was there, as she always has been, helping me to work through the facts and the feelings of the situation. My pastor was there, helping me to sort things through with honesty and hope. My faithful Bible study group down at the cafe was there, allowing me to cry humbly at the coffee table, and to encourage in me everything that I have given to them in encouragement. And of course God was there, the God who became human, allowing me to be human.
Dialing “G” for gratitude
Yes, it was a dark day, and a dark night. But I get ready for bed tonight feeling grateful, grateful for the God who first loved me, grateful for all of the people who have encouraged me in this path, past and present, grateful for all of the resurrection stories in my own life and others’ lives that I have been privileged to witness. I dial “G” for gratitude, and it always has an answer on the line: “Thank you for calling, we’re always glad to serve you.” And the voice on the line may come in different forms – friends, mentors, a still small voice within – but I know that it’s God’s voice. It’s the one who breathed life into me to be a part of the mystery of creation. It’s the one who whispers to remind me that my soul was purchased beyond cost with unbearable pain and precious blood, with everlasting love and Easter joy. It’s the one who calls to transform me every day in God’s Holy Spirit, who invites me to seek his comfort and joy through all of the gifts that God gives me in love, so that I may be a healing presence in God’s world. Grateful? Yeah, that.
Trust in God enough to say “thanks”
Sometimes this is counterintuitive, especially in the darkest moments of our life. But I am reminded of a bible passage from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” These were words written to an early church which, in spite of many challenges, was being reminded by Paul how much they are loved by him and other Christians, and how much their joy matters to God. If the Thessalonians were worrying about the line being cut to that joy, Paul reminds them that faith offers us the assurance that God is not the one with the scissors! God did this very thing with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which helped a small and struggling group of faithful Christians to build a joy that has endured for thousands of years. Trust the joy, says Paul’s encouragement – for your sake, and for everyone’s.
And still we rise
Whatever my problems and shortcomings, the sun will rise tomorrow. God’s promise to be there for us through thick and thin is trustworthy, as trustworthy as the sunrise, and then some. God’s promises were there before there was a sun, and will be there long after the sun has sent out its last beam of light. We lose our job – and still we rise. Our loved ones die, sometimes tragically – and still we rise. We experience abuse and cruelty – and still we rise. We do our best, but still have hard lessons to learn – and still we rise. There is always another part to the story, and all stories are part of a magnificent story called life, which offers us the challenge to feel love with the same parts of us that feel pain, but without that, there is no story – no joy, no delight in God’s surprises. There is joy, always, in God’s hands, which invite us into fellowship with others seeking that joy, every day. Let’s be a part of finding it today, giving thanks in all circumstances, praying as we go to remember all of the people who deserve that joy and who need it – including us. Have a great sunrise!