Several years ago, God asked my husband and I to do the hardest thing in my Christian life- leave the church, home, and city that we loved without good earthly reason. I went. But I went kicking and screaming, lamenting and wringing my hands. It was personally and financially costly. And as our family of five squeezed into my mother’s basement not knowing how long we would be there and where we would end up, God gave me a gift. He gave me Himself. See, I had been a good little Christian girl for years- I was steeped in meaningful ministry, had three healthy children, a smoking-hot man, an affordable brick craftsman on a historic part, two exotic Taiwanese cats- but I didn’t know God’s voice. I only gave Him small, safe offerings. I was busy enjoying the good things in life. But I didn’t have the best thing.
So God asked me to give up everything- except the man, the kids, and the cats. For those seven months I was alone. I didn’t call my old friends in an effort to allow them to emotionally move on to their next pastor. And I didn’t make new friends, though not for lack of effort. I was invited to the obligatory church event but few ever asked below-the-surface questions. (They may have sensed I was a blubbering mess and would suck the life out of them if they opened that can-o-worms.) So Jesus became my friend. In a way that He had never before. He tutored me on how to sit at His feet, to listen, and to cast all my cares on Him. I consumed His word and rolled the psalms over and over in my mind. I began to hear Him speak. And I was sustained. I finally had the best thing.
That chapter of my life has a fairy tale-ending. My husband was hired at the church of our dreams and we have been basking in deep relationships, personal sanctification, and culture-shaping ministry ever since. But I will never forget the painful isolation. And how heavy was my burden because I bore it without friendship.
Then God asked me to do the next big thing. Bigger than the last. I made the grand deal: Yes I will obey you Jesus, but only if you agree to do this “one thing” for me. (It had gone so well the last time, after all.) But this time, I didn’t get what I said that I needed. That one, simple-for-an-omnipotent-God-and-very-reasonable-request that I had made: He said no. And not for lack of prayer and obedience. I was throwing myself headlong at this God-given task, every day waiting for God to give me my “one thing” that would make it all okay. So I could cheerfully proclaim that “God works all things together for my good” which was code for “If I obey I get what I want.” But now, years later, the answer is still no. Daily, daily I tell my Lord how I need Him to change my circumstances. Daily, daily He says “My grace is sufficient.” I move forward, but I do so with a limp.
Tonight my husband is out having a beer with our friend Ken who is gay and celibate. Ken left a long relationship with his partner when he met Jesus. He was a committed Atheist who began to know God through reading CS Lewis. Now he is one of the most joyful, pure-hearted members of our church. He is committed to serving the homeless and needy in our neighborhood. Ken fills my heart with wonder. He has the best thing in life.
When I think about my “one thing” that daily causes me to appeal to God for mercy I sometimes think of Ken and what he has sacrificed for God. I don’t know why God has not granted my request. It would be so easy for Him to do it. But I can say that even though God has said “no” to me, I see His hand at work. This burden keeps me fettered to Him, less self-reliant, and always aware of my neediness. I would pray less without it. I would boast more without it. I would miss out on fellowship with Christ and His intentional sufferings without it. This time, I have a circle of dedicated friends who are bearing my burden with me. Who strengthen and encourage me. Who, when the thorn pushes deeply into my flesh, turn my face to God.
So, not the tidiest blog post. But as I sit at my kitchen table, I think about Ken’s holy life. His sacrifice to Christ and the power that is thriving within him. I am thankful that my unanswered “one thing” gives me empathy and appreciation for Ken. I am thankful that my husband can be a friend to Ken so that he doesn’t have to walk this narrow road unaccompanied.