Without going into elaborate detail, I want to share a personal story with you about where my life has gone these past few years.
It is a story for people who feel like God is laughing at the dreams they tried to root in Him.
It is a story for people who thought God had given them a vision for how He wanted life to be…and then seemed to deny that vision at every opportunity.
It is a story for people who were headed toward Point A and can now no longer see where Point A even is any more, if it was ever anywhere at all.
And it is a story about how we need to allow God the room to grow us into what He speaks into our lives.
I have felt for a long time, since my earliest childhood, as though God had planned particular things for me, had particular uses for me. I felt as though He had given me a particular set of distinct skills, and I was meant to use them powerfully for Him in some way.
I don’t want to pretend this was a childish wish or me erroneously interpreting my desires as God’s wishes. This sense of God’s plan – more accurate to define it as a sense of calling and conviction – did not come from an internal wish on my part, but rather through a combination of what God revealed to me in prayer and Scripture over many, many years, the counsel of good and wise believers with authority, and many other significant spiritual signs and experiences.
Then life happened, and the particular things I felt God had laid out for me never appeared. God’s plan for my life, around which I had planned my life, seemed nonexistent. It was a fallow time where my every single effort to grow in any direction toward that plan was blunted and cut off at the root. In fact, the thwarting of my attempts to walk in any direction toward what I perceived God’s plan to be was so instant and direct and obvious that it began to feel like a personal insult.
I want to describe the utter frustrating impossibility of it all to you. I felt as though I’d heard God say, “Walk to the left,” but then, every time I turned, another wall rose up before me. I’d walk a little farther ahead and look left again, only to find another wall., What’s more, all the walls seemed to be shepherding me right. Away from the plan.
Eventually, I lost my job, which felt at the time like the death knell of whatever shards of God’s plan for my life remained. I went into a broken, miserable period of mingled despair and resentment, which I vented to God at every available opportunity. I wondered if I was being punished; I wondered if I had misheard God; I wondered if it was my fault for being wed to God’s plan for my life more than I was wed to God; I wondered if every believer who had ever counseled me about what I was “meant for” was wrong.
I got a new job opportunity. I recognized it as God’s grace – the opportunity seemed pleasant enough – but was still deeply grieving, as it seemed like another, bleaker confirmation of what I already knew to be true: The dream you thought I gave you wasn’t.
And then. And then.
I am eight months into my new job, and I have watched with mounting amazement – absurd, slack-jawed astonishment – as every single aspect of God’s plan I have ever dreamed about in my life has started falling into place in the most absurd and unexpected ways. Dream x was realized, suddenly, after a literal decade of desert. A door has opened to dream y. Opportunities are cropping up for me everywhere making use of every strength I have. I am doing things that as a child I imagined I would do, as an adult hoped to do, and in my grief gave up hope of ever doing.
Friend, let me tell you that I feel like I imagine Joseph felt when he was handed the keys to the kingdom after his stint in a cistern and in prison. Oh, I imagine he thought in astonishment, this was what I dreamed! For him, for me, it is all coming true after years and years of drought and struggle.
And I wonder, as I step out cautiously into this reshaped life that I did not dream at all but in which my God-given dreams are inexplicably occurring, and I wonder:
Why did He choose to have it happen this way?
Maybe Joseph wondered the same thing. Why couldn’t he, as his dream indicated, sail on to lordship over his brothers without the whole jail-and-slavery thing? Why was it necessary for him to endure what he endured? Were the obstacles a part of God’s plan – or were they wickedness and darkness that God turned to good? Both? Neither?
The answer I come to is this, and I write it hoping that if you need to read it today you will find it:
- If you are in the cistern or the prison, whatever the reason, God intends for you to find something there, make something from what is there, learn or earn something from the process. If you are willing to endure it, He will transform the barrenness, the hurt, the doubt, the suffering, into something that is necessary for you to be precisely who He needs you to be. He will turn that darkness into light for you in His way and in His time. For whatever reason, that painful part of the process is fundamentally important. God is merciful and quick to spare us, so if He permits an experience to endure, something in the experience must have meaning and value.
- Satan’s greatest trick is making us believe that God wants us to have less than amazing. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but in my misery, part of my thinking was, “I guess part of being a Christian is not getting what God does or why and knowing that I might just have to settle for less than what I dreamed because I’m not in charge and He is.” It is true that being a Christian means you are not in charge, and equally true that you may never understand all of what God is doing or why. His thoughts aren’t ours. But to assume that the “best life” of faith is a “settling-for” means that we are missing something fundamental. It is an erroneous view either of God or of our circumstances.
- And finally: don’t talk yourself out of what God has for you. At some point during the process of deciding whether or not to take the new job, I consulted both my mother and my husband independently of each other. “This just doesn’t feel like where God wants me,” I explained glumly. “This doesn’t seem like part of what I imagined His plan for my life to be. They both, independently of each other and never having discussed it, had the same answer: “But what if it is?” God had impressed upon both of them that this might be a good opportunity for me, because He clearly saw I needed the convincing. And indeed, the fact that both of them prayed at length over the job and came to the same conclusion spoke to me: it was a large part of the reason I accepted the position. What I see now is what they saw then: God was moving to put His plans into action in my life, and yet I had decided He was standing still. I almost talked myself out of what has turned out to be an enormous blessing.
It is easy, when a dream from God doesn’t come true, to assume it wasn’t meant to be. We heard wrong; we messed up; we were too selfish; we cared about the gift more than the Giver. In some cases, and in some cases even in my own life, that’s been true. But in others, sometimes the simple truth is also the hardest to accept: time must pass, and we must face difficulties, before we are ready for what God has for us. Something about us enduring that process is important to God, and important to who God is making us.
So keep on keeping on. And keep on dreaming dreams. Wait for what is coming. You don’t know what it is or will look like, but it will be good indeed.