I'll be honest - this time abroad has been extremely challenging for me. I actually want to apologize if I have made it appear to be nothing but grand, that "eurolife" is nothing but perfection with tea and biscuits, beautiful architecture, and pain au chocolat (though all those things are delightful!). I think it is pretty much built into social media to only portray the good in life, which I guess makes sense because how could you even picture hardship? (Minus the people that post facebook statuses angry at their boyfriends or prayer requests etc.) ANYWAY, I realized that I was portraying my life here as pure rainbows and butterflies when my friend messaged me about how it appeared that I was settling in wonderfully and enjoying Belfast etc. etc. in which I had to respond with the truth that actuallllly, I was having a really hard time.
So for those who want an update and for those who want a life lesson, luckily a life with the Lord almost always provides both. I am not 100% sure why this time around has been so difficult. I actually expected it to be a smooth transition, as Belfast is not as different from America as other places that I have lived. Yet I have been challenged and stretched here in ways that I did not anticipate. In reflection, I guess it maybe has to do with me coming here on my own whereas in the past I traveled with other Baylor students or interns or exchange students etc. The project I am working with is brand new so there are inevitable challenges and unknowns to the start-up of a new initiative. Then there's other miscellaneous hardships and all of this has inevitably allowed a lot of my insecurities and questions to surface.
Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself, remembering conversations before I left about how I was anticipating some loneliness at the beginning, prepared that it would surely be different than my expectations, and that I knew I would inevitably struggle some in transition. Yet here I am - faced with all of my premonitions and I'm crumbling! Oh how we can never be fully prepared on our own. I have said in the past and stand to this now, that in the midst of struggle we can either run from God or draw closer to God. The Lord is teaching me now though that even in times of doubt, in questioning, in crying out; even if we feel as though we are running from God, that God knows our heart and in the end His will is accomplished and He will draw us back to Him. We can never be far from the love of God.
So I took advantage of the Belfast Central Library and checked out John Pritchard's book "God Lost and Found." It has been such an encouraging book for me in the midst of personal darkness. I want to be vulnerable and honest with everyone that I felt my heart growing in frustration and was facing a lot of doubts in my faith AND through this I have learned that sometimes doubt is okay. I think at times believers can get uncomfortable by people who have questions, we much prefer just to agree with one another, quote a popular Scripture verse, throw out some Christian lingo, say "I'll pray for you," and boom...we move on. But I believe the Lord desires that we go deeper with Him, and to go deeper with Him sometimes we have to ask hard questions. Now, that doesn't mean we will always find the answers or even that we will experience peace, but I believe that as we continue searching, asking, seeking God that He will grow us in wisdom and ultimately will use us for His glory.
"A sense of being on a quest is part of this model of pilgrimage.
We can never have the Christian faith caught in a jar and put on a shelf.
It must remain an exploration until the end of our lives."
- John Pritchard
Just as the Lord promises us abundance of life, Scripture also promises hardship within it. This can only mean that full abundance comes from both blessings and hardship. We are told to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Tim 4:7). Through suffering, God can create in us a new mental and emotional landscape. Sometimes, we have to be submerged before we can re-emerge with Him again. After all, was this not what Jesus himself had to do?
Just as Jesus cried out "My God, why have you forsaken me?" there will surely be times in our life as well that we face seasons of doubt. That is when our faith comes down to commitment. I felt so shaken when I would cry out to the Lord and would feel nothing in return. I felt like I was talking to the walls, uncertain whether God was even near. I wanted to feel His presence, I was praying that He would allow me to feel Him near. Anything God! A rushing sensation, a bird chirping, a quiet moment of peace...give me something! But I got nothing. So if God promises that He IS near and He dwells right within me, then what's the deal? I realized though, that my desire for a physical reaction was reducing God to my expectation, as if God is here only to serve my spiritual need. I believe the modern-day church is guilty of an over-emphasis on this experience in worship, creating an atmosphere that advocates that its somehow better to have some mystical encounter with God than just to be in a simple room of believers singing as one, as if God should only appear in some magical way or through physical chills. The truth is though, that authentic experience of the Lord often comes in the mundane of daily life. In the smile of a child, in the display of a sunset, in the smell of the forest - as Creator he is immersed in all things. We can experience the glory of God in all that surrounds us if only we slow down and open our eyes to recognize it.
"It is often in places of fragility and vulnerability that our journey back to an awareness of God begins. When we have lost our spiritual bearings it may be that we should have recourse to some form of desert. When everything else is stripped away and it's just you, nature and God, nature may well respond and reveal the secrets of her Creator" - God Lost and Found
In seasons of frustration and doubt our faith often comes down to obedience and commitment. Like a relationship that has passed the honeymoon stage, the newlywed bliss, the newfound love of young parenthood, there reaches a season when love is simply love because you are committed to that person. It is not always Cloud 9, a butterfly in your stomach, or giddiness in your cheeks - it is a commitment of a different kind of depth and beautiful in its own sense. A unique intimacy undervalued by our society which is more taken by the thrills and the frills. Just like Jesus asked his three closest friends to "remain here, and stay awake with me" (Matt 26:38); He asks us to do the same. It may not be the popular thing, but our task is to stay, whether we feel His presence or not.
"The doubt of the believer is like the roots of a tree searching down into the depths of the earth, going in entirely the opposite direction to that of the tree. But only because those roots are deep is the tree secure from the blasts of winter. Shallow roots would be ripped up. The deep roots of doubt, going apparently in the opposite direction to faith, are actually a guarantee against immaturity and the premature shipwreck of faith. To have entered the zone of dark doubt is to have had to face the demons, the negative arguments, the wondering 'if this was all folly,' and to have found an accommodation, a way of staying in there." - John Pritchard
The older I get, the more experiences I have, the greater the tests and challenges I face, I realize that there are many things in life that cannot be captured or certain. Many things take time for reflecting, discussing, leaving for awhile, deepening, etc. I like to have things figured out, but I'm finding that this is not God's design. God's design is that we must come to him for our daily bread, always coming, always trusting, committing our lives to a never-ending relationship with God. How refreshing it is to praise a Saviour who cannot be figured out, who is not so small to fit into my logical mind, to be plugged into a formula, or to be reduced to one simple answer. The complexity, vastness, wonder of God is the very thing that keeps me coming back day by day. The more I learn the more I love, the more I hurt the more I depend, the more I thirst the more I am filled and I commit to new teachings every day. It is a wonderful life, though not vacant of hardships.
One of me and Mikael's favorite hymns to sing together is Day by Day,
and the words are always an encouragement to me:
"Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here,
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
I've no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best.
Loveingly it's part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest"
I encourage you to embrace a life like this. Not of stale faith, one that simply places a label over a life but has no implication on how you live or how you think or how you feel. Not of black and white faith that claims to know the truth of every word of the Bible, as if we can ever fully know what God's intent was behind this or that. Not of surface level faith that only follows the crowd at church or the words of the pastor but never seeks to personally know more about the Lord in one's own life, never allows the Spirit in, never surrenders to a personal journey towards wisdom and Christ-likeness. And hear me out - I'm not making doubt some kind of virtue or desiring that you indulge in questioning, but simply that you should not fear going there, not fear going deeper with a God who calls us to follow Him into the depths.
"Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt and even at times without despair,
believe only in the idea of God, not in God himself."
- Miguel de Unamuno