Friday, March 4, 2011

Pause.

Don't talk to me about windows... there are no windows and I'm tired of looking for them.

My Facebook status a few months back. For which I received many types of responses, from the *hugs* of friends who just wanted me to know they were thinking about me, to the "praying for you, let me know if I can do anything" friends, to the person who privately chastised me for being a bad Christian witness. I was venting because I was really tired of hearing the common platitude when God closes a door, he opens a window. That just wasn't true in my life at the moment. There were no open doors or windows.

As Christians we talk a lot about God's plan for us. When something doesn't work out, we say it must not have been His plan. When something goes right, we (hopefully) thank Him for it. But it is in our nature to continue to look beyond the current happening for the next part of the plan. We get a new job and we look immediately to how we might position ourselves for a promotion. We lose a job and we look immediately for the next job God has for us. Forward motion. Our 5-year, 10-year, 20-year, and life plans, revised as necessary when God's plan points us in another direction, and always dosed with a healthy "Lord willing."

Scripture describes making plans as a positive, necessary thing and even gives us some guidelines on how to do it. Proverbs 21:5 tells us that "the plans of the diligent lead to profit as sure as haste leads to poverty." Don't jump in too quickly... got it. Proverbs 12:5 - "The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful." Make sure I'm right with the Lord before I set out... check. Proverbs 15:22 - "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." Get the opinion of others... my 11-year-old daughter counts, right? So we make our plans. And we say Lord willing. But because "all [our] ways seem pure to us" (Poverbs 16:2), we can be devastated when God calls a change of plans. Some of us go before God and cry out, and some of us freak out on Facebook and THEN go before God. Then, spurred on by our own impatience and well-meaning platitudes from friends, we start looking for the window - the other exit out of our current room (place in life), the next step in the plan.

From the beginning of the world, God has had plans for us. He planned his creation, he planned to become flesh to save his creation from the sin he knew they would commit, he has plans for his people as a whole and plans for us as individuals. Romans 8:28-30, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." A progression. A moving forward. So, when God figuratively closes a door, he will figuratively open a window... because he can't move us forward in his plan unless he opens another path. But are we guaranteed that this new path will open immediately?

Imagine a room. There are two doors and a window. One door goes back to where you just came from and it has shut and locked behind you. Where do you go now? The other door is open and through it you see endless beauty and beckoning warmth. The window is closed so naturally you want to head through the door. Surely God wants you to bask in that warmth and beauty, so it must be your next step. But as you get right to the threshold, it shuts in your face and locks. You are disappointed, and maybe angry. Why would God keep you from that wonderful path? There must be something better, you think! So you turn, expecting the window to open. But it doesn't and you're stuck. No progress, no forward motion, no new part of the plan. I don't know about you, but in this situation my nature is to pace. Back and forth, back and forth. Feeling claustrophobic and restless. Why is that window not opening? I know I won't always know where you're leading me, Lord, but please lead me somewhere. What am I supposed to do now?

Jeremiah 29:11 is a favorite scripture-turned-platitude in Christian circles. "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Beautiful and comforting words, which I believe are true for individual Christians today. But when they were originally spoken, it was to the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon. And God did not tell them to hang on for a minute while he opened the window. He told them to hang on for 70 YEARS! He told them to settle down, build houses, get married, multiply in number, and seek the peace and prosperity of the place where he put them. Then he would come back and fulfill his promise.

Those rooms - the ones that have no open doors or windows, the ones that make us restless and full of stress - are our exile. Like Israel,we are there for a reason. And, like Israel we need to wait it out. We might need to get really comfortable in our seemingly stagnant state. So what do we do while we wait in limbo? Surely ranting on Facebook and pacing back and forth aren't the right responses. Here's what I suggest, from my own experience:

Be still and know that he is God. (Psalm 46:10) Put aside the planning, stop looking for the open window... and just be... moment by moment, day by day.

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8) It's easy to leave God's side in our hurry to move on. So... just be. with God.

Trust. (Proverbs 3:5,6.- "Trust in the Lord will all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.") Satan is quick to tell us that God has made a mistake, we need to keep reminding ourselves that God is faithful and just. Fortunately, if we follow the first two things above, the Holy Spirit will take care of this one.

Verse 12 of Jeremiah 29 says, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back from captivity." We might not know how or when our time in limbo will be over, but God has given us the promise that he gave to Israel. If we seek him and call upon him, he will (eventually) lead us out of our exile. The proverbial window will open and we'll be moving forward again. And hopefully we'll remember for next time that the sitting still is just as much a part of God's plan as the moving forward.