It’s five months from last year’s end when I had the distinct and profound impression that God said to me, “This is going to be a significant year for you. This is the year that will decide the believer you are going to be.”
At the time, I was deeply excited and eager. I wrote about it here. And I am still deeply excited and eager…somewhere. I am also here to say that this has been an unexpectedly bumpy five months, and I am learning that “significant year” does not always mean “fun year” or “opportunity-rich” year or “year you will enjoy.”
Some of my friends and family members are struggling with significant issues. My car died and we had to get another one. I have had to face a series of several random, unpleasant fears. My career was upended…and then my husband’s career faced potential upheaval, too. I just finished a week of being faced with major, life-altering decisions. I was also recently on the receiving end of an intense professional disappointment.
None of these things are life-threatening or fatal or difficult in the sense that some people define difficulty. And yet I’m more than a little bruised. It’s been the sort of year so far where I’m scared to look in any particular direction for too long lest something immediately go up in flames.
And as I write that, I recognize my words show a lack of gratitude. And that isn’t fair. I am grateful. I love and am loved. A lot of things are going right, and unnoticed because they are so. The days are still full of wonderful small pleasures. God is here with me, and that is no small thing. I have looked the smallness of my own faith in the eye and been blessed by the acknowledgement of my lack. I have room to grow. This is all good.
More than anything, though, I am realizing wryly how much my priorities differ from God’s and how very little control I have over the plan God has for me. When God says to me banner year, my child, I think of opportunities. I think of possibilities. I think of “at last!” moments where things I have been waiting for come to fruition. I think of blessings. I think of hope and success and delight and work for the Lord.
What I have gotten instead, it seems, is a small-scale dismantling of a lot of what I assumed and held dear. That is not my definition of a banner year nor of a year I will remember fondly, and yet God seems to feel quite differently. But even in the midst of all this, I don’t think I misunderstood what I heard Him say.
This will be a significant year.
I have learned that part of what is making this year significant is confronting the limits of my faith. I am learning exactly how far and what it covers. The answer, sometimes embarrassingly, is “not a whole lot.” I handle comfort just fine; adversity ruins me. Giving up the things I care deeply about makes me unhappy – especially when they are things God has given me and I think He wants me to have. Uncertainty makes me a wreck. I think I’ve always known it, but recently I have seen it in action and frankly, I’ve been mortified.
I’m also recognizing how much I want to try to control God and His plan for me. Tim Keller once wrote that we ought to be mindful that our love for God isn’t really a disguise for our efforts to control Him – that we aren’t offering Him worship and faith and love in a subtle effort to get the things from Him that we really want. And I think a lot of us do that, and I think that I have, even unintentionally. Sometimes even without realizing it I fall into the belief that if I pray the right way, or for the right thing, or if I do x or y particular godly action or try to pursue z or q fruit of the Spirit, then God will do whatever it is I think is best.
But letting God do what He thinks is best is an entirely different matter. I only see a sliver of His plan; if I’m honest, 90% of the time I have no idea what He’s actually doing. That is as it should be. At times recently I’ve felt that God is saying to me, “Okay, but will you follow me even if this happens?” I sometimes don’t want to. But I do. And that, too, is as it should be. That is where faith actually begins: I don’t get it, I don’t even know that I want it, but if God says go, I’ll go.
Nor am I in bad company. For too long I’ve looked at the triumphs of people like David and Paul and waited for my godly triumphs, too, waited for the blessing, without ever realizing that they – that every godly soul worth his or her salt – has faced a not insignificant amount of adversity, doubt, and walking-forward that comes of sheer will to believe.
As I sit here and write this, I wonder what I’ll have to say in December, when the year has made its full turn. Part of me secretly hopes that, at that point, I’ll look back – overloaded with blessings and wonderful opportunities – to say, “Wow, look what God did!”” But what I desire, and what I am praying for, is that regardless of blessings or struggles, abundance or lack, I look back and say, “God was able to accomplish what He desired in me, because I was willing.”
Perhaps the fact that I can even write that down is evidence of some forward movement in a direction I didn’t expect. And it will be for you, when your time comes. Because it will. Your banner year is on the way. And when it comes, I hope you’re ready.
It may not look like what you expect.