By Stephanie Thompson, Crosswalk.com
I’m not one to find an adrenaline rush from an unknown thrill. I do enjoy the buildup of the plot in a book or movie and can even refrain from giving into the temptation to get a peek at the ending. But, personality coupled with other factors have led to a strong desire to maintain control over my circumstances.
One of the venues that has challenged me to learn to embrace the unknown has been riding roller coasters. The drop over the hill used to terrify me. As we made the crescendo up the hill, slowing down as we lurched forward, fear would clutch me.
There’s no way off. And suddenly, my eyes were staring down at the ground below me-way, way down there. I grabbed the bar and screamed; my stomach feeling as though it is dropping through my seat.
I have always felt more comfortable in the front seat because that way I can see what’s ahead. Not feeling in control is an area of challenge for me. But sometimes, you don’t get the front seat. That proves true not just at an amusement park but in seasons of life.
In recent years, I have challenged myself to embrace the drop. There’s something gratifying about knowing you overcame a fear, particularly the unknown. Because, in truth, not one moment of our days is guaranteed as we expect it.
So how do we learn to find peace and clarity in those seasons of life that don’t unfold as expected? Here are 5 things to consider.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Naassom Azevedo
1. Remember That You’ve Navigated the Unknown Before
We have all confronted unfamiliar seasons. Sometimes, they are related to natural transitions of human development for which we, personally, have no experience. Other times we enter more complex seasons including physical/mental health crises, death of a spouse, divorce, job loss, unforeseen financial hardship, or relocating.
Nothing is guaranteed. If we reflect on our lives, we recognize that we have encountered numerous new seasons of “normal” that all look different from each other. And without realizing it, we adapted. Even when those “normal” places felt exhausting, inconvenient, and confusing. We did it because Jesus breathes life into us through all times and all places.
My friend Gina Butz offers this reminder: “But as I look back on my life and the seasons where I most wondered, ‘What is He up to?’ I see the fruit. I see that the ways He worked things really were better than I could have imagined. That gives me hope to keep leaning into the mystery of God.”
We can be thankful that God’s voice speaks into our fears, regardless of time, place, and people.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9.
2. Recognize That Your Story Stories Is Part of a Bigger Story
Our personal stories fit into the bigger story God is writing through creation. That narrative is woven through the lives of those who have come before us, are present in this lifetime and after us. We belong to each other.
We tend to live according to our own narratives and forget that encountering unexpected seasons with no clear answers are not limited to the present year. Our human companions in other generations and in other parts of the world know firsthand of experiencing seasons which feel confusing and offer few concrete answers.
We share the anguish that comes with living in a broken place.
Hearing from others how they navigated through difficult circumstances reminds us that we live in a place that is aching toward restoration. But it hasn’t yet arrived. Affliction, political unrest, losses of varying origin, disappointment and death are realities that we encounter. All of humanity.
But, we are also reminded that God is in it with us.
Biblical scholar N.T. Wright shares insight into the way the early church’s response speaks into the current pandemic crisis:
“It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.”
3. Approach God with Your Fears
Henri Nouwen aptly describes how it sometimes feels when praying. “So I am praying while not knowing how to pray. I am resting while feeling restless, at peace while tempted, safe while still anxious, surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, in love while still doubting.”
Being thrust into a circumstance with a foggy view challenges us. Clarity regarding future agendas, ideologies, and even theology can appear hindered. The new path doesn’t match previously held expectations.
In addition, encountering the character of God in ways never before, creates questions. Is God listening? Am I praying for the right answer?
Scripture bears witness to the fact that God can handle our frustration and anger toward Him for situations that seem unfair and cause us or others pain. Job, the Psalms, Lamentations and other texts provide affirmation that our feelings matter and that we are heard even when we don’t understand what is unfolding before us.
The Apostle Paul reminds us: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7).
Trusting God to hold us up in times of uncertainty transforms us and points others to the Holy Spirit at work.
4. Make the Best Decision You Can
It’s been said that hindsight is 20/20. Of course, it seems that way because we often must make decisions quickly given limited amounts of information.
Sometimes, the choice doesn’t carry much weight because the consequences are not life-changing. Other times, we recognize that the choice directly impacts not only your own life but others close to you. As a parent, those kinds of decisions feel especially worrisome.
What if I make a mistake? What if others don’t agree with my choice?
Several years ago, my husband and I made the decision to home school my daughter. At the time, our children were all enrolled in public schools and we were satisfied. However, it eventually became clear that it wasn't the best fit for her.
After much prayer, research, and consulting with others, we decided homeschooling was what God was leading us to do for her. We felt a mixture of peace, fear of the unknown, and wonder. But we knew it was the right decision for us.
Emily P. Freeman, in her book, The Next Right Thing writes, “Regardless of your own degree of personal choice, you have a God who walks and talks with you, who moves in and through you, who sings over you. How he moves in you may be different from how he moves in me, but one thing is certain. He remains unchanged.”
King Solomon's encouragement still speaks: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
5. Know That Adjustment May Feel Like Straining Forward
Paul’s prophetic words speak through hard times: “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
It’s not easy to let go of securities. They shape our earthly narratives without realizing it. There is a reason why Paul uses the word “straining.”
Recognizing that obedience to God’s redemptive plans supersede anything else we thought brought identity and safety: career, financial status, church infrastructure, educational setting—it doesn’t come naturally. Without a doubt, life as we knew it will change for a while… or longer.
None of this is easy to embrace from a human perspective. But recognizing that facing hardships is nothing new and embracing the blessing (whatever that looks like) as we “strain ahead” reminds us that God is still at work in the world. We just must expand our view.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Motoki Tonn