Not What I Expected
Bethany Sweesy, Belguim
As I enter into this new year, I am enjoying taking time to reflect on the year that was. I have leafed through my journal to remember the journey that I have had with God this past year. There are pages of praise to Him and I feel encouraged to look back and see the adoring words draped across cream colored leafs. Other pages hold the contents of my fear— spilling over in frantic strokes of the pen. Still, others expose my confessions, my wishes, and aspirations. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to read what I wrote in frenetic outpouring to the Divine. I have underlined answered prayers and I should probably go back with a black pen to mark out the prayers I no longer hope He answers! (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean!)
Here’s a sampling of the answered prayers this year:
December 4, 2016 – Prayer for restored immigration status
Answered February 2017
December 4, 2016 – Prayer for resolution to my tax situation
Answered October 2017
December 2016 – Prayer to find time to write
Answered March 2017 (by losing my job! – not the answer I had in mind)
March – June – Prayers to write a book and find a new job
Answered June (book completed in 40 days)
Answered July (started a new job)
God granted me so much favor in answered prayers this year it’s astonishing to see it in text.
Until now, I have not fully synthesized these next thoughts. However, it’s occurring to me that a few of those prayers were answered in such unexpected and challenging ways that at the time I really struggled to see God’s goodness in them. Like after a few months of praying that God would “clear my calendar so I could find time to write”… Uh, no job? Well, that just wasn’t in my plans! I was thinking a miraculous gifting to be able to write 1,000 words in two hours a few evenings a week until I had a best-selling book. But you know, it ended up being the most beautiful and intimate experience I think I’ve ever had with our loving God. Each morning I would wake up, have my quiet time and then sit down to write. The Holy Spirit would whisper day-after-day the words that needed to pour out. I would not trade the gift of that time for any job! Yet, sometimes the days were long and lonely and I repeatedly fought against the fear of “never working in my profession again.”
Then the job offers came. I prayed for choices. The Lord gave me that! I almost couldn’t believe it—two offers! After much prayer, I made my choice. Then it vanished. In a political, internal HR conflict that had nothing to do with me, the job I wanted was no longer available. I was left with the job I did not prefer. Again, I found myself asking, “Really, Lord, this is your answer?” I struggled through feelings of anger that I once again faced an expected, unwanted road. Yet now with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how the job I was left with was really the perfect fit for the time even though it matched nothing of my “wish list.” It allowed me to commute without moving so I could continue to invest in an important relationship, to fly to the US and attach a trip to see my dying grandfather, to earn an income while feeling appreciated by a wonderful team. All answered prayers.
Shortly into my tenure in this new job, another company called with an opportunity that fit my “wish list” perfectly. Our Gracious Heavenly Father allowed me to receive that job offer as well.
You know, even though I can find the good in these less than ideal situations, I still shake my head – God can provide in any way He chooses and sometimes I’m left utterly bewildered at how He answers our prayers. He could have protected my job—but He didn’t. Instead, He knew that I needed a season to grow in greater dependence on Him. Gift. I had the opportunity to simply be thankful for all the things I normally take for granted because I have a job that pays for them and during unemployment, I suddenly realized the enormous blessing of financial stability. Gift. I could learn how to live in the present moment and not get tangled around a pole about the future. Gift. I could rediscover talents and hobbies that bring me pleasure because I had time. Gift. Often I miss the gifts that the Lord is giving me because it comes in a package that does not meet my expectations or desires. Yet James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift comes down from our Father above in whom there are no shifting shadows. This means that even losing a job or not getting the preferred one still has some good and perfect treasures tucked inside.
Maybe as you have reflected on the last year as well, you found that you also unwrapped a few gifts that were not on your wish list! If I could offer what I have learned this year it is this: Keep trusting in the GOODNESS of the Lord. His nature is good and He loves you so very much. Allow yourself to release what you once thought was good and embrace the here and now with the assurance that our Father is completely trustworthy. He will never fail you and there is intention in all his ways.
Lord, help me to receive every blessing from your hand with humility and gratitude, even when it hurts or it is not what I hoped for. Thank you that your plan is for good and not harm. Thank You that your redemptive arm is not shortened or unable to save. And thank You that there is no shadow of darkness in your character—that You are completely good and completely trustworthy. Amen.