My most common refrain these days is, “I just don’t get it.”
And I truly don’t.
At a friend’s house a few weeks ago we were discussing the parable of the sower from Matthew 13. And, while I’ve heard the parable a million times in my life, there was something new in the story for me this time.
It felt sad.
Because I don’t understand how, in a good God’s economy, He could invite you to serve and watch you labor doing all the right things–even doing them with joy–but never allow you to see the fruit of your labor.
Why would God ask us to glorify Him in our failures when He could just as easily give us great success?
Why would God ask us to be satisfied with itty bitty seedlings when we know He could have grown the whole damn fruit tree right here before our eyes if He wanted to?
Last summer, my husband and I walked away from a church where he’d been serving as the pastor.
My husband and I have always shared a dream to serve a church in our neighborhood. We thought God opened a door for us at this church but, after four years of laboring, God did not bless our ministry.
We did not find favor with the members.
We did not see the Gospel take root.
We did not see the church renewed.
At least that’s the way it appears from this side of the situation.
(And there is, obviously, so much more to this story…)
We walked away from a really big dream. And it hurt really bad.
And while I don’t feel traumatized or bitter by what happened, I really don’t get it.
You see, this most recent failure has not been our only failure, alone or together. We’ve got a lot of unfulfilled dreams between us. And nothing good we’ve done together has come easily.
We both seem to have a habit of taking uphill climbs that end in nothing but cloudy views, proverbially speaking.
In middle school, I had a particularly heinous homeroom teacher who tortured the class with stopwatch speed drills and disciplinary times tables. She never liked me. And there is one conversation between us that has haunted me since.
“You could be so much more,” she said.
I was probably about twelve years old. And she probably meant it as a motivational exhortation toward excellence. But, instead, I heard it as condemnation and felt the immense pressure to be more, to do more, to achieve more.
For most of my life, I think I’ve been living in the shadow of my potential.
I could be more.
I think most of us find ourselves caught in comparison at some point in our lives.
Sometimes we’re comparing ourselves to other people, perhaps those who have been given the good things we thought God was going to give us.
This comparison game is dangerous, of course. And indulgent. Because everyone has unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. There are things that God has allowed me to have–children, for example–that other people are never given.
Yes, this comparison game gets us nowhere helpful. I think most of us know that. But, maybe the real heartbreaking game we play isn’t when we compare ourselves to someone else, but when we compare our real self to our “could’ve been” self.
Identity crisis. Midlife crisis. Whatever you want to call it.
Most (honest) people will tell you that you can be 100% satisfied—in an immediate, existential sense—with the life you’ve been given while still wondering at the life you could have had instead. Or wondering at the series of circumstances that brought you do where you are rather than where you intended to be.
What would my life look like if I’d gone to the that other college? If I’d never moved to Cincinnati? If we’d waited longer to have kids? If I’d pursued a career? If we’d bought a different house?
Maybe you’ve been there, too. My sense is that this is a pretty universal experience at some level.
When you believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, you have to reckon with not only the providence of God in giving you good things, but also His benevolence in withholding things from you.
That’s really hard.
Who’s to blame for the ”missed trains” or disappointments or unfulfilled dreams in my life?
I vacillate pretty frequently between alternately blaming myself, then God, then back again, for my failures. I can spiral quickly from confusion and dissatisfaction into self-loathing and hopelessness. I can feel trapped in my circumstance, incapacitated by personal weaknesses and bad decisions.
“Why didn’t God pick me to do that thing that He put in my heart to do?” I ask.
“Because there’s something wrong with me.”
I’ve had this internal dialogue a lot this year as I watched our last big failure fizzle out. It’s been a lot to process. I feel pretty disappointed and humbled and insecure.
I don’t know why I’m sharing this. I’m not really looking for comfort or reassurance. And I’m not ”struggling” in any urgent sense that I need an intervention from my six loyal readers. (Ha!)
Maybe I’m just banking on the fact that you (Unnamed Mysterious Reader Somewhere) feel the same way.
And if you feel left out, like you missed the train, like you’re caught on the outside looking in to the only party you’ve ever wanted to be invited to—
You’re not alone.
I know how it feels.
It’s like you got an invitation to the game. You practiced real hard. You put on the uniform and showed up and smiled and were really eager but you didn’t get picked for the team.
God didn’t pick you.
You’re right. It’s hard and confusing.
I just don’t get it.