As my seminary excursion is headed for a close next semester, I find myself with an increased inability to describe exactly how these past five years have been. Juxtaposed to new friendships, great opportunities of learning and rich fellowship has been some pretty intense personal upheaval. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if I had a picture of how rocked my boat would have been I probably would have stayed anchored in Rhode Island. It has been the best of times and the worst of times.
Disappointments, failure, broken dreams, uncertainty, unanswered prayers.
While I am immensely appreciative of the shake down I received to cut loose some long-held baggage, it’s left me a bit shaken. Shaken in my ability to make sound choices, shaken in certainty of my direction. An unfortunate employment situation has left me even more shaken in my confidence in my abilities. Shaken as a face unemployment, downgrading my resume and trading off some long held components for something else more suitable, hopefully aligned with seminary pursuits. Maybe I’m not as smart, or articulate or as accomplished as I thought. I’m walking that fine line between critical evaluation and crashing confidence. Surely, I have much to offer but also wanting to be honest.
And I cry to the Lord, ‘what has all this been about? Why is there so much uncertainty so close to graduation? Why all this loss and failure? Where are you taking me? Why have you not answered my many prayers, turned things around by now and restored the years the locust have eaten?’ I weep. I grope. I question. I battle feeling like a loser.
But the one place I find solid ground is the resting place in Christ. I’m learning this is where I win, because he already won. In my imperfection, I can rest on His perfection that yields fruit over time. In my uncertainty, I can hope in his certainty that the Father knows exactly what is going on and exactly what he is doing and exactly how this will work out. I can only see through a very dim glass that at times has fogged to minimal visibility. But at the same time with clearer vision.
The one piece of clarity that I do have is how much confidence I’ve placed in the temporal – My marital status or family portrait or lack thereof, my accomplishments, my gifts, my skills and my contributions to the kingdom. It is clear that I can and have placed a great deal of confidence in what I can do or what I have, rather than what Christ did or the blessings that flow through him. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3).
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be raised from this dessert laden valley I’ve been trodding through to a pinnacle of earthly success – a good marriage with a loving spouse, work that I love, a far-reaching ministry, a home united in belief of the gospel. Security! After all, isn’t this what is portrayed as the picture of evangelical health? I’ve found I can only dream so much. Disappointments and closed doors have a way of doing that.
And when I see the many who proudly proclaim this heritage, proudly pronouncing their picture perfect family, their glowing ministry or book reviews, their upbringing or biblical knowledge, it makes me wonder in what exactly do I wish to boast, in the blessings or the Beloved? In the gifts or the Giver?
Sadly, I see far more boasting than I think is warranted, especially from those who are called to be last and serve God’s people. “Come be blessed by my message” “I’m so blessed to have so many people come hear me” “You need to buy my book” “Look at the faith of my kids” But what happens when the platforms, people and parade drys up? Or proud parenting is replaced with prodigal wanderings? Where is your boast then? Of course, I wish that on no one. But it happens.
For I am reminded from Job that the temporal is fleeting and nothing in which to anchor confidence. What we can boast in today may be beheaded tomorrow. As James notes, life is but a vapor. And I recall the people on my prayer list who gave up earthly comforts for the greater joys of seeing others know Christ. Some have done this to the loss of their lives.
I think and reflect.
So I pray the Lord make the most of this mist and leave me on solid ground of his promises. Though life is broken, there are always glimmers of hope. Maybe not today, or tomorrow but at the same time, in so many places, in the small or seemingly inconsequential. I think that is where God does his best work and we have a manger to prove it.
Where is your boast? In whom or what are you placing confidence? Your job, ministry, family or accomplishments? Do you proudly proclaim that which can be gone tomorrow? Or the permanence of eternal hope that in God’s good timing and mercy, we have the benefit of seeing a little bit today.
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31)