Do you think it’s possible to have a personal, deepening relationship with Jesus Christ, be serving Him where you are, have a calling into to full-time ministry, and still lose hope? I do, but I also know how we approach the wait has everything to do with its fruitfulness in our lives. My wait has been so long, I’d almost given up all hope. But then: Epiphany.
On December 26, 2015, a few friends and I gathered for our third annual “Mom’s Night Out.” This has become one of my favorite Christmas (technically, post-Christmas) traditions, and I look forward to it every year. The MNO is a little something that we do for ourselves the day after Christmas towards the end of an inevitably chaotic and stress-filled holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving dinner and ends with New Year’s Day. We leave our children at home with their dads and head out to take in a newly released movie followed by a nice dinner and fellowship.
Our choice this year was the movie “Joy” starring Jennifer Lawrence (above left). Based on a true story, Joy creatively retells the life story of Joy Mangano (above right), an inventor who created the Miracle Mop® and currently holds more than one hundred patents. The movie spotlights various points in Joy’s life which illustrate her penchant for thinking outside the box, creating practical inventions, and facing challenges head-on. Her journey is rife with obstacles—personal and professional—which must be overcome in order for her to fulfill her destiny. In the end, she develops into a very successful businesswoman whose estimated worth is currently $50 million.1 This movie struck a chord with me on a very deep level, and I didn’t realize it until a couple weeks later.
On January 6, 2016 (Epiphany), I had a “moment” with the Lord during the Communion time of our Wednesday night service, and my heart was stirred in a way that it has not been stirred in a very, very, very long time. I was alone that night (hubby was home sick and son was with the youth group). During the solemn, self-reflective moments which precede taking the Eucharist, I suddenly found myself in tears. The noise of the surrounding environment softened into silence; the activities swirling about me slowed to a crawl; and time seemingly stood still. I remember right where I was sitting, my hunched-over posture, the super-dim lighting, the cup in my left hand, the bread in my right. In the quietness of my heart I despondently cried out to my Heavenly Father, “LORD, I’m going to be forty-nine years old this year. I was called into full-time service when I was nine! Did I imagine it? Was it real? I’ve been waiting for almost forty years!!!”
Then, all of a sudden, there was a sense of His presence. Enveloping. Comforting. Near. Peace-full. Hope-full. Power-full. Real. And I was instantly overwhelmed with the significance of those words: “FORTY YEARS.“
Inhale. Exhale. Reflect.
Forty years…that’s a Biblical number. Who else had to wait 40 years? Noah. Sarai. Abram. Joseph. Moses.
Inhale. Exhale. Reflect.
Time for what?
I slowly came to the realization that the service was moving forward. People were singing again. The pastor would be preaching soon. What just happened? I would spend the next few days processing through it. Really, the next few months. Probably, the rest of my life.
You see, I have been waiting almost forty years for the fulfillment of a calling I received when I was nine years old at church camp. It’s not that I haven’t been actively following the Lord: I have. Volunteering and leading. Living and learning. Faithing and trusting. Serving and teaching. But my calling into full-time service has technically never been fulfilled.
I’ve savored seasons of anticipation, belief, and hope. I’ve despaired through days of doubt, disbelief, and discouragement. I’ve battled depression and struggled with envy of those who were able to live out their calling while I sat at home day after day designing websites and home-educating our son.
So, when God met me where I was on January 6, 2016, I was unprepared. I had come to worship and commune, for sure. But I was not expecting a moment with the Almighty. One in which He stirred my soul. One in which He breathed life into these dry bones. One in which my ministry heart began to beat again.
Talk about scary!!! Yes, I do mean scary. When you’ve waited as long as I have for a dream to come true, you don’t instantly become euphoric about the possibilities: You become cautious. Really cautious. You’re afraid of going down that path again. The path that looks like it leads to an oasis, but turns out to be a mirage. Again. It’s difficult to find hope once it’s been covered by the sands of time.
So, the question that bubbles up is this: Is it possible to have a personal, deepening relationship with Jesus Christ, be serving Him where you are, have a calling into to full-time ministry, and still lose hope? My answer is: Yes, actually, it is. (Just let that sink in for a moment.)
There are many men and women all over the world—desperate to live out their calling—who have been left on the bench or sent to the sidelines for a variety of man-made reasons including gender bias, prejudice, denominational politics, and/or marital status (just to name a few). These godly servants are all around us, and they are hurting. They are questioning themselves. Doubting their callings. Feeling frustrated with delay after delay.
These women and men LOVE God, and they yearn for the day they can serve Him in the roles to which He called them. They are serving where they can when they can, but their callings remain unfulfilled. And the longer they wait, the harder it becomes to keep hope alive. No surfacey Christian ‘wisdom’ will soothe the heartache of a minister in long-term waiting. And hope wanes thin.
Well-meaning Believers come alongside with cliché advice such as: “Have faith in God. His timing is perfect!” or “You need to pray harder.” or “They don’t know what they’re missing.” They don’t understand that we already have faith in God. We know His timing is perfect. We are hard-praying people. And whether or not people realize what they are missing by not hiring us, that’s not the point. This is not about losing faith in God or His abilities.
What I’m alluding to is losing hope in your own calling. Becoming discouraged. More than discouraged: disheartened. I’m referring to what happens when you’ve sought the Lord with all your heart, followed where He led, took the required steps of faith, and in His power accomplished great things, BUT, for whatever reason, you continue to not be hired. If you’ve been through anything like this, you know that of which I speak (write).
I know for a fact that I am not alone in this experience. When you journey through something like this—a hot, dry Sahara—it’s not long until you begin to doubt whether you ever heard God in the first place.
- Was I imagining that tug on my heart?
- What was I thinking?
- Why would God call someone like me?
- Who do I think I am?
If you’ve ever packed up your resources and stored them in the attic, refused to unpack them at a new home, or given them away because you just couldn’t look at them anymore, I want you to know that you are not alone.
If you’ve ever reworked your resumé, updated your Linkedin profile and social media presence, purchased a new outfit or suit for an interview, traveled to scout a new home for your family, given your testimony to a committee, answered their probing questions—ALL because you truly sensed the Lord’s leading—only to be bypassed (maybe multiple times), you need to know: You are not alone.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to just drop off the planet or quit the faith—and stopped yourself, because you KNOW God IS who He says He is—you need to know that you are not alone.
Super-long waits can, and often do, eat away at our ability to trust and obey. Repeated rejections result in diminished hope, tendencies towards self-preservation, and a forcefield of cynicism. The forcefield goes up; emotions are stuffed deep down inside; books are packed; and we become a little less of who we’re called to be. We isolate ourselves, because the hurt is too deep and the questions too unsettling to discuss with people who will never understand what it means to be called only to wait and wait and wait and wait and wait for the calling to be fulfilled. They don’t get it. They want to be helpful, but there’s only One who can soothe that pain, and that is God alone.
Before we assign the delay to ourselves or “God’s perfect timing,” we must remember that there are many factors that play into the ministerial or academic ministry hiring process, and sometimes, personal agendas and emotional baggage gets in the way. It’s possible that the insecurities or biases of committee members preclude you from consideration, or it could be something as simple as your spouse’s looking at someone the wrong way. It may very well have been God’s will for you to be at that church at that time, but humans got in the way. The truth we must hold onto is this: God is in control. He allowed the decision to go another way—whether it was His will or not—and He will work it out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
The worst thing we can do after an experience like this is navel gaze and pout for more than an hour. (I think an hour of pouting and navel gazing after an unexpected rejection is perfectly normal and probably healthier than stuffing the emotions inside.) The fact is God is still on His throne; He still has a plan for our lives; He will continue to work things out for us so that, eventually, we will be living out our life’s call…just as He promised.
Click here to read about some practical things to do while you’re waiting on the fulfillment of your calling:
EMBRACE THE WAIT
Lord’s Supper Elements by Alanscottwalker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16842185
Movie Poster “Joy” – fair use from IMDB.com
Joy Magnano photo courtesy of https://joymagnano.com