Every time I looked at my left hand, it felt empty without that beautiful diamond ring we had picked out.
I felt as if I had nothing left. God had stripped away the very thing I had been working so hard for. We were almost there. We had almost made it. And then it was all gone.
I set aside some of those hurt feelings and the anger I felt at God and lay down on the nappy carpet of my California apartment. I knew that when times got really tough, we should cry out to God. So I picked up my Bible off my bedside table and started reading. Daily.
The more I read the stories of people in the Bible going on big journeys and being asked to do really big things, the more I saw them move when God said move and wait when God said wait. But they weren’t always good at knowing the difference, and sometimes they moved when God said wait and waited when God said move. But I could see that good things happened when they listened to God. And bad things happened when they didn’t.
Maybe I needed to do this too — listen to what God’s direction was for my life before charging ahead full speed or trying to change course to feel more comfortable. I wanted to call Neil back and tell him that I had made a mistake in breaking up, that we could remain together while he did some deep soul-searching about his future. I wanted to move, chase after Neil, and get that dream of being married back on the table.
Instead, I got really quiet and tried to listen for God’s direction. When I read about God’s promise to the currently barren Sarah and Abraham that they would have generations of children, I heard “wait.” After reading about Daniel in the pit with the lions yet remaining untouched, I heard “stand down.” I heard “keep your hands off” when God instructed His people not to touch the Ark of the Covenant as they carried it through the desert and into the land promised to them. When the Ark started to wobble because the oxen carrying it stumbled, a man reached out to steady it — ultimately touching the ark — and he was struck down dead.
I felt a parent’s angst and heartbreak as a father ran after Jesus, upset that his daughter was dying, knowing that Jesus could save her. Instead of rushing to heal the girl, Jesus lingered a few more days, and I heard “I know it doesn’t look like it, but I’ve got this in My control.” It seemed obvious that God was telling me to keep my hands at my sides. I shouldn’t touch the situation and try to make it work out in my favor. I should leave it alone and watch Him move the pieces around the chessboard to make everything still work out in my favor. After all,
everything He does is for our good.
These two commands — “stand down,” coming from God, and “charge forward,” coming from me — were at war with each other.
Have you been there too? The seas are raging, and your boat is rocking. This boat you built for yourself was supposed to take you to where you wanted to be — where your dreams lived. Dreams of getting married, being a mom, earning the degree, retiring early. But then a storm hits out of nowhere. He calls and breaks up with you. You struggle to get pregnant. You unexpectedly fail the last class you need to graduate. You lose your job two years before you’d planned to retire. You couldn’t have seen any of it coming, but the clouds have rolled in, and the hail is hitting hard. This sudden storm in the middle of the journey was not in the plan, and now your boat is rocking out of control.
We don’t like it, of course. No one likes being out in the open ocean in the middle of a storm. It’s tempting to ask God why He would let us be on this boat in the first place. What kind of God would allow His child to experience such a storm?
We look for where Jesus is amid this storm and, just as the disciples did in Matthew 8:24, we see Him sleeping. Sleeping! Can you believe it? How could he be sleeping?
It’s incomprehensible that anyone could sleep through the thunder and the waves and the rain. But He is. And since He is, it must mean that we need to fix everything ourselves because it doesn’t look as if He’s going to do anything about it. But here’s what we miss when the waves are billowing up over the edge of the boat and drenching us as we hold on to the sides with all our might.
This rocking boat in the middle of the storm is not out of control at all. It’s completely within His control. Completely.
The infertility you are walking through is not unseen. God continues to hold you in the palms of His hands, using this experience to create a future and a family for you. The financial hardship you are facing isn’t a surprise to God. He has not forgotten you and may be using this time to remind you that He does provide for all our needs. Your dreams of being married before you turned thirty were not wrong or embarrassing even as you round the corner to thirty-five. God is still working and orchestrating events in your favor. And the job you lost that seemed to mess up all future plans and paths that you worked so hard for? Maybe it’s a redirection into something better and more suited for your life.
He uses all things for good. Even this.
At this point in my own storm, I had to ask myself what I was going to do. Was I going to try to calm this storm on my own? Was I going to wake Jesus up with fits of screaming and terror? Was I going to reach out and try to steady the situation around me — even though God had already told me to keep my hands off it? Was I going to call on Jesus because I knew that with two words — be still — He could calm the storm raging around me as well as the storm in my heart?
I knew it was not my responsibility to convince Neil that we were to be married. It was not my job to orchestrate events and situations so that I would win in the end. At this point, the only directive I was hearing when I slowed down to listen was “keep your hands off.” Every sermon I heard and every Bible story I read seemed to tell me to stand down, to wait it out.
The circumstances of my life were not how I wanted them. But I wasn’t in charge of changing that.
Neil had made a decision, and while I wanted to convince him of why he was wrong and how amazing it would be to be married, I knew I couldn’t. I went about my life. I moved to Georgia, started my fifth-grade teaching position, and learned the ins and outs of the mind of a ten-year-old. I spent time in Bible studies and learning how to read my Bible and get something out of it. I made new friends and went to movies. Life went on while I waited for Neil’s heart to change. Either his would change, or mine would. And it wasn’t my place to change either of them. My only job was to follow God, to listen carefully to His whispers and His directions, and to do what they told me. I was in charge only of my obedience.
Sure, sometimes we need to step in and take action. But most of the time — especially for those of us with controlling tendencies — I think we will find that the best plan of action is to stand down. If your husband loses his job, don’t hop right on Craigslist and apply for every position you find without even pausing. If your house seems dirty, don’t neglect time spent playing board games with your kids to instead take a toothbrush to the baseboards. If your bank account seems low, don’t rush off to take out a second mortgage on your house or sell your grandmother’s diamonds. Just stand down for a second. Take a breath. And
wait for direction.
In my own situation with Neil, thinking about all that scrambling to pick up the pieces of something that seemed to be falling apart left me with a sense of anxiety, unease, and exhaustion. And I was tired of that. I wanted to try God’s way. I was going to wait and listen.
I wasn’t going to make a dramatic effort to convince Neil to change his mind. And I wasn’t going to jump right back into the dating scene in search of another potential husband who could help me get my wedding dreams back on track. I wasn’t going to touch the crumbling mess falling down around me. I wasn’t going to move. I would wait with my hands in the air and my feet firmly planted — a stance of surrender and worship.
I wasn’t going to do anything except wait.
This practice of standing down and letting God walk before me was the first time in my life that I heard an almost audible command from Him to keep my hands off. But it wouldn’t be the last. It was the first in a long string of commands to step back and away from what He was trying to do. God had some big and exciting adventures planned that He knew I would love, and He didn’t need me to get in the way of making them happen. “Stand down” became a life lesson I would carry with me for the next fifteen years. Even if my boat started rocking and Jesus seemed to be sleeping through the storm, I still was not supposed to touch anything — unless He told me to.
Despite taking a hands-off approach, I realized my dreams were not at stake. They were not at risk of being lost. Just the opposite.
Dreams are best positioned for success when I listen to the directives of my Father and obey.
My obedience is what I’m in charge of, not anything else. God whispers, “This way,” and I follow. He whispers, “Stay still,” and I don’t move. I’ve realized through this waltz of moving and swaying and standing that God was then — and is today — orchestrating a wonderful and beautiful and amazing path to my dreams and desires. Sometimes I had no idea where we were going, and I often ended up in places that never in my wildest dreams I thought I’d be. But in all of it, He is good. Following God rather than asking Him to follow me might actually be the key to a life full of abundance and surprise and peace.
Excerpted with permission from A Better Life by Rebecca Smith, copyright Rebecca Smith.
* * *
Has life thrown you a curveball? Does it seem like Jesus may have fallen asleep in the storm? He’s still in control. Not us. Not. Us. Just obey, sister! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about following His lead. ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full