Gosh, I haven’t been around here in quite a while. Things are crazy, and I’m using lots of my writing time to finish the second first draft of the novel and, yeah, it’s been a little nuts. But I DID want to say a few things about that vacation I came back from a couple of weeks ago. This might have to come off in multiple parts.
Last semester sucked. I don’t think I can say it any more clearly than that. It was one of the most awful experiences of my life and I’m not exaggerating (there have been other awful experiences, but this one’s definitely on the list). Don’t get me wrong–I love the people that I work with, and I think the program I’m helping to run is one that God loves and that is important in his kingdom. But it was handed to me in a shambles, along with a lot of expectations because (and here’s the catch) it didn’t LOOK like things were in a shambles until you gave it a significant examination beyond the surface. It’s always difficult to rearrange expectations, and that was definitely the case here. So I spent a semester trying to meet these high expectations while I had very little to work with. On top of that, my supervisor was on sabbatical and I found out that my very presence in the position I’m in is threatening to at least one person. Yeah, it sucked.
The thing is, it took a vacation for me to realize just how deeply the semester had cut me. I don’t know if I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, or if I just couldn’t bear the full weight of the hurt while I was still having to deal with it (though I suspect a combination of both), but stepping outside helped me feel. So I woke up at 6AM the second morning of my vacation crying. I’d dreamt about work and it wasn’t anything good. It took me a lot of tears to realize I was grieving, not so much because I’d lost things but because I’d hurt so much and carried so much so far and it was hard. Actually, the word that keeps coming to mind is “trauma.” I hesitate to use it because it seems so strong, but maybe it’s right. Last semester did trauma to my soul. I’ll recover, with some rest and some weeks that don’t involve crises, but it’s traumatic, I suppose in a way akin to the trauma done to a body if, out of the blue, it’s given a heavy load and told to walk up a steep hill for four months.
So a big part of my vacation was grief. I asked God so many times why he left me here, why he dumped me into this place and then didn’t change anything so that it didn’t hurt me. I asked him if this job was all I meant to him, if walking in this small place was all I’d ever get to do for him. I asked him if it bothered him that it had hurt me, that his people had hurt me, and no one did anything about it. I asked, and he answered. God said, “You think I left you there? You think I abandoned you someplace small and unimportant? I PUT you there. I CHOSE YOU to walk into that very place.”
I admit my first response came out somewhere along the lines of, “Gee, thanks, God, but if that’s what a gift looks like, could you refrain in the future?” but then, in a still, small moment, I could see. The place I work means a lot to God. And my particular program is close to his heart, too. He wanted the program to live, to survive the disintegrating structure, and so he brought me and the people I worked with last semester so it would. I also saw how heavily a program like ours could come under spiritual attack. We’re caring for the hearts of people who will go on to do ministry, and teaching them to watch and care for their own hearts. How important it must be to Satan to keep that from happening, and how much more attack that must bring on us!
When I saw all of this, I started to realize how so many of the things that went wrong last semester hit me right where I’m weakest. The DID do trauma, because they tore at old wounds, at questions I’d put away because I never found any answers, at deep, dark doubts I’ve carried around for years. And I truly believe that they were DESIGNED that way. It wasn’t just a hard semester. It wasn’t just a program that hadn’t been run well, and it wasn’t just a person before me who struggled with his job. It was a slow, steady peeling away at a program that has the potential to wreak some serious havoc in Satan’s future plans.
So my next question was, “What do we do now? How do we keep that from happening again? Because, seriously, God, I don’t think I can stand another semester like the last one.” And that was the second part of my vacation. And, wow. You know, don’t ask God any questions that you don’t really, really want answered. Because he has started to answer, and it’s rocking my world.
First of all, he said, “Pray. Pray over everything. Pray over your office and yourself and your co-workers and your events and your faculty, but most of all, pray over your students. Pray over their hearts and minds and spirits. And pray with others, your co-workers in particular. Let them share the burden of covering this project in prayer.”
And then he asked me, “Do I love you? Because if I love you, then it doesn’t matter what the expectations are. It doesn’t matter what people want and what they think. I know what you can do and what you can’t, when something is part of your job and when it isn’t, what you can and cannot handle. If I love you, and you walk and work and speak in that love, can you throw all the rest of that away?” And he asked, “What if my love is different than how you learned it was? What if there aren’t any expectations or any responsibilities, but instead a life lived in love? What if I’m a different God than the one you’ve worshiped all your life?”
I can’t answer those questions yet, not really. I can say words, but I can’t answer them with my life. And yet, things are changing. The expectations I encounter at work feel more like opportunities. They seem more like chances to learn rather than things I’m somehow supposed to already know through absorption. The messages I receive that reek of power-grabbing and control seem almost funny because they’re totally unnecessary. I’m learning how to do mental judo throws and turn their power against itself. And I’m learning great and wonderful things about God.
I feel like I need to offer a couple of caveats here at the end, or else I either see my comments section exploding or people praying, trueheartedly but misguidedly, for the wellbeing of my soul. First of all, I’m not hearing voices. Where I’ve put quotations and noted “God said,” I’m phrasing the things that I heard and thought and read in books. While I believe God guided and directed those times tenderly and lovingly, and while I believe he can speak audibly if he so desires, he did not to me. It’s creative license, and I think it makes God smile.
Secondly, I don’t want to single out my workplace as under more or less spiritual attack than other places, or make it sound more important to God than other ministries. I do think Satan found some footholds here that might not be available other places, and he worked with what he found. Most people should probably be praying over themselves, their co-workers, and their workplace, though we don’t often think about it.
Finally, I’m not worshiping another God. I don’t think there are any others. I do think that I’ve had wrong conceptualizations of God and ideas that have hurt me and my relationship with him, and these are what he’s rooting out. In some ways, he LOOKS totally different than I’ve seen him before, but he’s the same, yesterday, today, forever.