Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Own Understanding?

{Well, it's been a while since I have had the time/ motivation to post, but this week has had me thinking about some things... and I thought I would share. With that, I must issue this disclaimer: Please do not think that I am trying to unload on you all, neither am I trying to equate my small struggles with the larger ones that many others face daily, it's just that to explain all my thought processes, you need some background on the last few months... also, please bear with me if I wax philosophical/ theological... that's where my brain is right now! }

I have always believed myself to be a spiritually minded person, but I wonder now have I really lived what I professed to believe. Have I really trusted that God was directing my path and that he knew best. I have often asked myself, could I have endured the tests of faith that I have seen some of the people closest to me not just endure but conquor gracefully? And I have wrestled with the fact that my own faith has not been tempered by fire the way others have. The Bible tells us that we will not be tempted with more than we can bear- so did that mean that I did not have a great faith since I had not had to bear such a heavy burden?

The past few months of my life have been very full of changes- some good, others not so great! Many questions of "Why Me? Why Now?" have been asked, many without spoken answers, however, with a little time and some perspective, I can see the answers beginning to truly take shape.

About 5 months ago, I started seeing a man who on the outside was absolutely everything I thought I was looking for. Extremely intelligent, good looking, motivated, fun, and with just as ecclectic a set of interests and hobbies as myself, I thought I had finally found someone who might be "The One". As we spend more and more time together, I saw everything beginning to fall into place for what I thought my life should be. I had even gotten him to attend church with me once. But, in the back of my mind, in that deep place, where you think things, but push them when you don't want to face them, I knew that something just wasn't setting exactly square. But I thought to myself, it's early, maybe it will take care of itself as time goes on. I prayed about it, asking God to handle the situation, but deep down, not really wanting him to, because as much as I hate to admit, I was falling deeper and deeper for this man.

Two months into this relationship, (which for those of you who know me, know is an eternity for one who does not get involved if she doesn't see real potential), I got some very shocking news at work. I have been in the same job for the past 6 years. Most days, I love my job- I love the people I work with and the kids I teach- probably devoting more time than a sane person would to people who have no commitment to me other than that of employee/ employer. After receiving an excellent evaluation, I was informed that due to the current budget concerns and some other issues, I would be making a lateral transfer from the high school to the middle school.

WHAT!!!! As I sat in disbelief, I could think of nothing but how this would affect me! All the work I had done! All the time I had spent!! All my hopes and dreams!! How could they do this to me??? What had I done to deserve this?? WHY? WHY? WHY?

As I drove home, tears still streaming down my face, I began to pray. "Lord, help me make sense of all this! I don't understand!!" Reaching home, I sought out my confidant and best friend, (Momma) to unload the burdens of my heart and find some kind of solace. Unfortunately, she was in the garden with my Daddy (pause now to say that I do love my daddy, being the main man in my life), who is not quite as empathetic as my momma. As I began to relate the "horrors" of my meeting with my principal, momma listened and allowed me to get most if it out of my system. Daddy, on the other hand, after a few minutes of listening, looked at me very pointedly, and said "That's enough, you have a job, be thankful." How could he say that??? I looked around bewildered and then got back into my car and left.

(Side note here, provided after the fact by mom: "Hon, she just needed to vent, and if you don't want to let her do that, we will remember and tell you the same thing next time you need to get something out of your system...") Know now why I belive God blessed me so in the parent department??

Reaching my own house, I called the one person whose voice I wanted to hear the most at that moment. After gathering myself enough to tell the tale without bawling through it, I gave him the short version of what had happened and asked him to come over, needing moral support and not wanting to be alone right then. He said he would be there as soon as he could and I ended the call knowing that I was exhausted. After a short nap, he appeared and we went to dinner, talking for part of the time about what had happened, but trying to focus on other things to keep the mood light. I can honestly say, that I will be forever grateful for his being there that night, if he hadn't, I don't know what I would have done.

Over the next few days, I tried to digest the news. Since it was not public knowledge yet, I had some time to mull over what my public position would be. I had a week to keep it to myself before I felt that I could share it without causing more pain to myself. I slowly began to look at the pros and cons of the situation that I had been handed. I talked to my mother a lot about the situation looking to see beyond my own personal wants and desires to see if I could find more reason. I tried hard to hide the deep personal turmoil, but I know that others could see I had something on my mind. Little did I realize at the time that my turmoil was about to take a different turn.

A week to the day after I found out about changing jobs, I announced to my students what was going to happen. We cried a little, but knowing that I was only going to be right across the hall, they resigned themselves to continue on the path we had set and work towards their goals, which would hopefully mesh with the goals of their new instructor. As I left work that day, I felt for the first time in a while, like things were going to be okay.

After running some errands, I decided that a visit to my friend would be a great way to end the day and I called, planning to stop by and see him before returning home. When he answered the phone, I could tell that something was off, but thinking that it was stress, I thought little of it. We talked pleasantly for about half an hour and then he got this look on his face that I could tell meant he needed to say something that he didn't want to say. I asked what was wrong, never suspecting what I would hear. My stomach dropped. My hands tingled. As I clinched my jaw and blinked to hold back the tears that were welling in my soul, I listened as he told me that he thought we were not working out.

WHAT??? How could this be happening?? We had never even had a real fight! It was always so comfortable when we were together. He had asked me to meet his parents. Where had this come from?? He looked confused when I didn't agree with him. Knowing him well enough at this point in time to know that when he made up his mind, he had thought long and hard and considered all the posibilities in a situation, I knew that expressing my own feelings would do nothing but make things more uncomfortable. I sat taking it all in and finally said "I guess I should go."

That was it. I don't know if he expected tears or yelling or screaming or throwing things or what, but I just walked to the car, said good bye and left. As soon as I was out of his range of vision, the tears began to flow. I felt like I was in a dream. I didn't want to tell anyone what had just happened. How could it get any worse.

As the week wore on, new collegues began telling me how excited they were about my move and how they hoped I would be happy. I tried very hard to be excited and positive, but the double whammy that my heart had just taken was about more than I could bear. I found myself alternating between being just fine one minute, drowning in panic the next, and bursting into random fits of tears with no notice or reason. I don't really know what everyone thought, but I do know that the second was harder to deal with than the first, but because it was so personal, others probably thought my actions revolved around the first.

Up until this point in the story, I had been teaching the elementary age sunday school class at church. As we typically trade out teachers ever 3 or 4 months, my turn was up and I was released to return to the adult bible classes. On Wednesday nights, we are studying the book of Proverbs. As I sat in class, praying to understand the reasons for all of this we reached the 3rd chapter of the book. My own mind far away from the discussion that sometimes wanders onto topics that are more nit-picky than profound, my focus shifted as the teacher began to discuss the following verses.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all they ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones." (Proverbs 3: 5-8 ESV)

As I listened, I began to pick apart the verses, applying each to my own situation at the time.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart"

Was I really trusting that he was sending me the way that I needed to go? I thought back over the past few years. Many times, (almost yearly) I had attempted to find a new job. I tried repeatedly to "Get out" Yet, something always held me in place. For the first time, I felt the call to stay where I was and the work was only getting harder on my part. I still had many misgivings and doubts about myself, but I was content to work them out where I was, not try to run away from it. And yet, now, of all times, God was sending me to a new role. Not far away, but one that would require me to humble myself and approach my work with a different outlook and goal.

"Do not lean on your own understanding"

Many times over the years, I had found myself consoling (or so I thought) a student with a reminder that we did not always understand why things were happening, but there was a reason for it. How quickly, I began to rethink and to some extent regret my own high-minded assessment of other people's situations. As I looked at my life in the moment, it seemed that all the walls seemed to cave in at the same time. Yet, reading that verse, I began to see that maybe God was preparing me for something different than what I had been selfishly building for myself.

"In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths"

Another fork in the road? I had always professed to trust in God to lead my steps, and so far, felt that he had opened doors he wanted me to go through and had closed the ones that would lead me away from his will, protecting me from those who tried to harm me, and giving me the strength I needed to be faithful, but at times, I had fallen, more so lately, into thinking in worldly ways about what I wanted for my life. I knew then that I had a decision to make. I could continue to drown in the sorrow of losing what I thought was rightfully mine, or I could turn to God and say "Father, give me what you want me to have. Lead me back to the plan you made for my life. (Jer 29:11-13) Teach me to seek only your will for my life." The ball was firmly in my court.

"Be wise not in thine own eyes"

Had I really been guilty of this? Was I really that person that was saying to myself, "Well, if I were to follow my conscience, I would say that .... was the answer, but do I really want to do that?" Had I actually allowed myself to give up on what I believed because I wanted something that didn't fit into the framework of my spiritual walk?

"Fear the Lord, and turn away from evil"

Evil is not always dark and scarry. Sometimes, it smiles at us with beautiful eyes and delights our senses. It lures us into thinking that something this wonderful can't be wrong. It fools us into a false sense of security and trust. But that doesn't make it any less evil. The fact is, anything that does not give glory to God is wrong. And if we allow ourselves to be so pulled into something that we forget to Fear (or reverence or be in awe of) the Lord, we have sinned in our hearts, even if we have not commited the physical act we desire.

"It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones."

Admitting wrong is hard. There is honestly nothing harder than asking someone to forgive you for doing something that you knew was wrong but did anyway. However, not dealing with a situation, not asking for forgiveness, not making things right, only leads to more sin and more rottenness in your soul. Hatred and Sin are poisons that if they are not let out of our bodies can do more than condemn our souls, they can wreak havoc on our physical health as well. That gnawing in the pit of the stomach when others talk of their faith and struggles, while you fail to confess your own. That tension that results from hiding anger from someone close to you or from guarding so hard your words because you have lost the ability to trust someone who hurt you. All of that goes away when you work to resolve a situation. And the same is true when you ask God to forgive your wrongs. There is perhaps no greater feeling than knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you can move forward with a clear conscience.

The more I thought on these things, the more I began to try to apply them to my own situation. Dealing with my job, I began to search for all the positives I could. I looked at the students faces. I realized that I was tired of fighting with jobs and sports and attitudes and senioritis and all the other things that go along with teaching high schoolers. I wanted to be able to spend more time doing things for myself and my family and friends that I had been neglecting because of my job. And (being completely honest) I looked at the students that would be entering my class for the next four years, I can honestly say that while there are some I am sad not to be teaching, there are others that would have tested my faith more than I think I could have borne. I began looking forward to the enthusiasm that my new, younger students would bring, and the potentail that I saw for growth and success for all my students, old and new.

That's not to say that there were not anxious moments. Waiting for the announcement of who would take my place was extemely difficult. Probably making it more so was knowing that the man who had so recently broken my heart was applying for the position, and admitting that while that would be extremely difficult for me personally, there where few others who had applied that I felt I could work with better than him. The fear that I would find myself working with someone who did not share my goals and vision for the entire program was also there. Not to mention the fact that I was leaving students that I cared for tremendously in the hands of someone who might not be willing to help them.

All I could do was pray. Just like I had done a year before when my other teaching partner was hired, I sat in my own chair this time and prayed that God would put the right person in that chair. That he would take care of us all and that he would continue to direct my own path, wherever that may lead. That being said, when the announcement was made, I was so excited to find that I would be working with someone I believe will only bring good things to our program.

As to the other matter. I began to seriously examine the entire relationship. I can say many good things about that man. He is just and fair minded. He is honest and caring. He helped me to realize that what I am searching for really is out there and that lowering my standards would not make my life better or happier. He is someone I still feel that I could turn to if I needed a friend. And while there are questions in my mind that may never be fully answered (I chickened out when I attempted to ask them of him myself) I believe that God knew eventually we would not work out. In spite of being externally almost everything I could ask for in a mate, spiritually, we were walking much different paths with goals that did not seem to be leading towards the same end. God provided a way of escape that I might have chosen to ignore if it had been left completely to me. I can't say that all of my feelings have faded into memory, but I do know that the logical part of me has reined in the emotional part that I had let take control. And the warning signs that I was trying so hard to ignore are the things I cling to during the lows.

As the fog clears around the last few months, I am reminded of another scripture along the same lines. Proverbs 16:1-3 says, "The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established ."

When Christ's Church was first established, the Jews all sought to silence the Apostles in their teachings, but Gamaliel (who happened to be Paul's teacher) advised the council like this. "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men." He went on to recount to them the attempts of several to claim rights as the Messiah, noting that each of those attempts failed and the imposters perished. He charged them that they should " keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail, but if it is God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" What a fearful thought! To be found opposing God!

Oh, how I pray that my life never be found in such a state. And I am even more thankful every day that I do not have to lean on my own understanding to make it through the trials of life!