We met in the coffee shop. It seemed a suitable place to officially pass a baton from one to another. She’d take it from here. As I walked away from that meeting, I wanted to wrap up all my best words of advice and press them into her mind. I wanted her to have all the prep and pep talks that I hadn’t had. I wanted to prevent her from being overwhelmed.
But that’s not how it works for any of us, as we step into our callings.
Maybe you’re taking on a new position, founding a ministry, chasing the everyday divine, or learning to pass the baton yourself. Soon enough, there is the point where idealism crashes with humanity and we either get pulled under or learn to stand.
Reality can overwhelm us like a wave, and all we can do is swallow its saltiness.
Because building relational bridges means we will tread on new ground, and we will reach into untouched, rough spaces and islands with Light and with Hope. And the darkness will press, push, overwhelm, and bully us into leaving well enough alone.
It’s what happens when teachers look around the classroom and realize there is no way they can ever meet the needs of all their students. It’s what happens when pastors and missionaries and social workers and police officers and nurses and air-breathers look up and with shaky prayers tell God they have no answers and can’t possibly continue.
Building bridges requires us to focus and to stand strong in the waves.
Because, yes, our calling is beyond us. The nagging voice that murmurs that we’re not capable and can’t handle it all is exactly right. Agree with it. Get comfortable with it.
And then, dig in. You’re in the right place.
We must learn to live daily with the tension of our humanity up against a divine mission.
Working alongside the divine is never going to feel underwhelming or ho-hum or manageable. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed, maybe even right. But we don’t give in to it; instead we sink more deeply into His power. Because He’s bound and determined to accomplish His mission here through each of us, and He gets the glory in our weakness.
Years back, we were discussing with missionary friends how a ministry we knew of had decided to shut down after a little over a year. We explained the stress and the weight and the lack of time and all the reasons given by the leaders. We expected understanding and some comments about rest, importance of boundaries, self-care, balance and such.
“So soon?” one said. “That’s all it took – and they gave up so soon?”
And, Jay and I often repeat that question So soon? to each other when we want to cave and give in to the pounding waves.
So soon? Just a few blows, some grumbling, some financial hurdles, some conflict, some tension – that’s all it’s going to take to shut us down? So soon?
Friends, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, what if we instead go on the offensive, asking God to show us how to envision what needs to change, to increase our minds to contain what He’s up to, to show us what partnerships must be forged to carry this, what prayers need to be prayed to unlock a movement of His Spirit? Too often and too soon, we slip back in retreat, forgetting our identity and the divine DNA that takes up residence in our souls.
What if our dreams are too small?
What tragedy to think we’re not as much of a force to reckon with as we may believe, for all the enemy has to do is throw up an image or plan that overwhelms us – and we double over in the waves.
Certainly, building bridges and staying in complex relationships can be costly and exhausting, but it’s the only way to stay true to our calling as disciples of Jesus. Because the Christian life isn’t lived out in isolation. It’s not lit up in safe places with pats on the back and nods of approval. It doesn’t fit squarely, doesn’t execute easily, doesn’t spread painlessly.
In other words, if it’s not costing us something and not forcing us to dig deep, we may be fooling ourselves.
If we’re not fighting the overwhelming sense of our own inadequacy, maybe we’re not yet tapped into God’s sufficiency.
By God’s grace, so soon? won’t be said of us.
Here is another post I wrote on a similar topic in April 2014:
She and her kids walked across her home country. It took them a year. Their village had been burned in the war, so they had to flee for safety.
And, I can’t get the weight of those lines out of my mind. I could fill you all in with more details, but at some point, it just seems indescribable. Wordless, I want to hang my head and just close my eyes to the pain she’s experienced. I’m not sure I’ll recover or that I even should.
But, you know, it is not the pain that moves me. Countless refugees living in our community have equally emotional life experiences. So, do you know what really sucks the wind from my lungs?
It’s her smile.
It’s beautiful. It’s alive and full of inspiration and light. And, she laughs.
She, one who has faced the fear of not being able to feed her children, one who has stared down the loss of not one but two spouses, one who has courageously envisioned a new life for her kids and works with aching muscles to accomplish it. She laughs.
Somehow, the darkness of this life’s grief and dread is defeated in her smile. Hope wins.
Because, the truth is, hard times don’t always make heroes.
Sometimes hard times just leave people throbbing with bitterness, anger, and resentment. While it may be understandable, it’s not inspirational.
I am honored to walk alongside this woman in this lifetime. She has tread the waters of everything I fear and dread. And, she has survived. But, she’s done more than survive. She still smiles, she still laughs, and, by the grace of God, she has emerged heroic and inspiring.
As she left my house the other day, I told her I’d be praying for her and a difficult situation her family is facing. She was already out the door, walking down the steps. After a moment, she turned around and called back to me:
“I will pray for your dad, too, Anne.”
“Thank you,” I replied, more than a little surprised.
My dad was having an angiogram the next day, and I wasn’t sure she’d even remember. I didn’t expect her to. To be honest, I wanted to call back, incredulous: How are you not just completely cynical about the frailty of human life at this point? You still cling to hope, committed to prayer – you who have certainly cried out to God during that year of walking, or those long years at the refugee camp, or now in the midst of trials again? How are you still breathing… much less praying for my family?
I closed the door behind her and visibly shook my head. What an unsung hero. Her faith has ministered to me over the years; it speaks volumes about the possibility of surviving life’s greatest tragedies with hope unharmed and anger disarmed. Praise God, it is possible.
Human strength is notable, but lasting and victorious hope is found in a Source beyond us. Sharing life with refugees like this woman has given me a constant visual of Isaiah 43:1-3, fleshed out:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
In her, I see one who was divinely escorted as she walked. She has passed through the rivers and was not overwhelmed. She has walked through fire and was not burned or consumed by the flames.
We may not be able to avoid the long, painful walks of this life. We may not be able to sidestep the threatening rivers. Yet, we have the promise of victory through the Lord – victory over the trials but also victory over the destructive reflex of resentment and bitterness.
No, hard times alone don’t mold people into heroes. Hard times simply display the tenacious hope that is anchored not in life’s circumstances but in the person of Jesus.
For those He has redeemed, He promises His consistent love and comfort. And, with that promise, the waters do not overwhelm, nor do the flames consume. We can emerge victorious through abiding hope in the One who has claimed us and called us by name.
Fear not, hope wins.
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s as series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.