OK God, what now?

by Kristin on March 3, 2010

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by katinalynn

The other day, I got a phone call that seemed to slam a door in my face—a door I thought God was pushing me toward.

My first words with God went something like this (hands on my hips, looking up into the sky): “OK God, what now? Sometimes I just don’t get you.”

My next thought went like this (pacing and frustrated): “Right. I realize that’s the point. I’m not supposed to fully “get” you. Because then you wouldn’t be God, yadda-yadda-yadda. But sometimes, when I’m really trying to listen and trust and obey, I’d like to think that you might be somewhat predictable.”

I don’t want to hear about God opening windows when he closes doors. I don’t like the idea that God is simply “testing” me and “teaching me obedience.” I’m sorry, but if I had been Abraham up on Mount Moriah with Issac, ready to sacrifice my dear son to God (Genesis 22), I would have been pissed when God said “Never mind, I was just testing you.” Relieved, yes, but really angry, too.

It feels mean, like an older sibling who dares a younger brother or sister to do something crazy, to make a public spectacle of themselves, and then refuses to hand over the five dollars they offered as a bribe.

I went out on a limb for you, God! I thought I was going to get a prize of some sort, in return!

Not knowing the details, only the goodness

But I don’t think he is just “testing” me. I think he is always working toward some great goodness.

I’m reminded of another time in my life, when I thought I knew what God was up to. My first marriage was falling apart, and I thought I heard God telling us to move our young family to Central Illinois. My husband wanted to move here, but it was the last thing I wanted to do. I decided to go out on a limb and trust God. I was sure he was going to use the move to save my marriage.

Two years later, my husband and I were separated and I felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world. I was really angry.

Four years after that, I was marrying Jason in the church where we met—a church that helped me understand what it means to be a new creation, to be redeemed.

I’m not going to pretend to know, even in retrospect, how God works or exactly why he told me to move here. I will just say this: I am more fully the person I was created to be than I’ve ever been before, and I don’t think this would be the case if I had ignored God and stayed where I was.

That is all I need to know.

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  • http://andrewnorcross.com Norcross

    I’ve always felt that God doesn’t test me. He knows exactly what I am and am not capable of. God pushes me to test myself, but that’s something completely different. Beyond that, it’s a matter of my own insecurities and fear. I don’t pretend to know what God’s will for me is, so I’ve just got to have faith that I’m going to be OK. So far, I’ve never been let down.

  • http://projectmonline.com Kathleen Quiring

    I’m going through one of those “What now, God?” moments right now. I decided not to continue on to my PhD because I thought God was telling me to start a family. I started getting my home and body ready for a baby, started to read about pregnancy and child-rearing, and even started babysitting to get some practice in. Ten months later, I’m learning that my body might not be able to produce children for a long time and probably only with a lot of work. I’ve spent the last several months grappling with God — “I thought you wanted me to have children! I quit school for YOU! Was I hearing you wrong??”

    People keep telling me that God is teaching me something through this ordeal. Maybe they’re right. But who knows. Maybe God did want me to quit school, but for other reasons. Regardless, I’m looking up at the sky with my hands on my hips right there with you.

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew Tatusko

    i am feeling a similar way about moving to BFE pennsylvania where i am now almost certain that i will not get a new contract for anything this year at my current place of employment.

    if god is testing me, god is setting me up for failure. i don’t want that god if that’s what it is. i think we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and that means working up our own good luck in life. if god can’t offer help, then god can go away quietly and let me get on with life the best way i can.

    a really big door is closing in front of me and i can’t stop it. screw the window, or any other metaphor. i have a mortgage, two precious boys, and a wife who is starting to stress a bit more. if god is testing me and obviously not caring for my little ones by testing me, then either god does not test, god is not good, or god does not exist. i am choosing the first right now because i need that, and i could care less if it’s true or not.

    i don’t have time to wait for another door or a window, some stupid narrow gate or whatever. god can either help me or finally die once and for all…

  • http://neverperfectalwaysreal.blogspot.com Sarah

    Thank you for this beautiful post. God is a frustrating bugger sometimes, no? But when we look back we can see how things fell into place (or didn’t right away…but eventually…) and then we can sort of make sense of it. Not always, but I am grateful that you feel that is the case for you, that you were moved toward some larger goodness, and I hope that is true again for this scenario.

  • A

    Yeah, it’s definitely frustrating sometimes, but I suppose in my own way I also do think things happen for a reason and that I am not always privy to that reason…. or I am privy to that reason but in a very basic way that I am maybe ignoring. It’s usually only with the benefit of much hindsight that I can see how some things I railed against when they were happening, actually were for the best. and I like the idea that I am testing myself, more than anything, that’s so true.

    I have noticed that eventually things usually sort themselves out, although almost never when we want them to or in the way we want them to, so experience tells me I’d be better off accepting and moving on. Not that I can do this easily…

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith

    I’ve always really disliked the idea of God “testing” us – I certainly won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve always felt that surely God must have better things to do than devise tests just to see how we might react in certain situations.

    But while you are able to see the goodness and the possibilities of something better, I admit to being much more skeptical. I’d love to think that God is working towards something greater when these “what now” moments happen, but I often wonder about all the other factors that we can’t control and how the decisions and choices of other people can change what happens to us. God may very well have a plan for us (and I’d like to think that he/she does) but what about those people whose choices aren’t part of a plan, but end up affecting us anyway?

    Sometimes, so many things have to come together for something to happen and if one single thing is off, a completely different outcome results. I guess I just wonder how much of that is other people and who much of that is God.

  • http://www.mohrcoaching.com Tara Mohr

    Thanks for this post. It feels really good to be reminded of this idea today.

    I don’t think that God is testing us, but I do think that part of the journey of faith is about trusting, doubting, trusting, worrying, trusting, questioning…..and from all of that slowly learning that we can trust, that there is an order at work – there to support us and guide us if we are open to it and willing to be guided my its whispers.

    It’s hard for us human beings! The picture is so much bigger, and the timeline so much longer than our little egos can stand – and we want to see the whole picture now, or know how the story will play out. And then there’s so much grace when we can begin to see a least a whole chapter or two – as in the story you describe here.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  • suzi w.

    At times like these, I read Phillip Yancey. Because he doesn’t have any pat answers and he is sometimes grumpy. And I hear you, because I’ve had major doors closed recently, yes, doors that seemed the really right way to go. And it’s like, WHAT? Why did you take me that far, only to get smacked back? And I don’t think it has anything to do with “going with the flow” or spiritual maturity. If I think I’m being a baby, I just have to think of Elijah after his mountain top experience with the fire of God. (1 Kings 19) He said, God, I’m done. And I don’t need to know anything else about God except that the angels fed Elijah as he was exhausted. Because in any relationship, we will get exhausted. If we don’t, I think we have to wonder what kind of relationship it is.

    We’ll keep pushing on. Thank you, as always, for your honest writing, Kristin.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Norcross, I like that distinction, between God testing us and God pushing us to test ourselves. I’ll have to think more about how that might pan out in my life. Also, having faith that you’re going to be OK is a really powerful thing to take with you through life. It sounds like you’ve struck a great balance between striving and not worrying.

    Kathleen, that sounds like a really tough place to be. I know I’d be angry—half at myself and half at God. I pray that you’ll have peace that you’re somehow in a good place right now, even if it’s not the place you imagined. Thanks for sharing your frustration with the rest of us, and for making people like me realize I’m not standing here with my hands on my hips all alone.

    Drew, I think it is these ideas about God—that he tests us and sets us up for failure, etc.—that really detract from the loving parent God is. Can you imagine setting your own sons up for failure, in an effort to teach them some important lesson? It breaks my heart to even think about it, and I feel sure that’s not how God works. Regarding all the little things we say to each other in an effort to be encouraging (God closes a door and opens a window, etc.), I think maybe Christians all need to just be good listeners more often, and say “that sucks” rather than trying to work out all the happy logic in our minds. God can handle our frustration and confusion. We don’t need to protect him. (I’m sorry you’re going through such a dark time. It really does suck.)

    Sarah, I love the “frustrating bugger” line. :) Lots of times it seems like things just happen *to* us and around us—not because we’ve been listening to God and intentionally acting on his word, but simply because we live in a broken world full of broken people with free will. At least that’s how I see it. I guess what I’m saying is that when I feel like God is urging me to take some action and I follow with faith, good seems to eventually come from it in the end. That doesn’t mean good comes from every turn life takes, though. Some things just stink.

    A, I have also rallied against certain things, or felt disappointed when something didn’t work out, only to be relieved in the end. It seems like you have the right perspective: Things usually work out, so it’s better to accept them and move on rather than waste a whole lot of time meddling.

  • http://hollyhouse.blogspot.com Jennifer

    I am thankful you worked your way through this honestly and in writing. God can handle a little fist shaking thrown his way. He knows you feel it; might as well express it. And, yes, when the anger subsides and you put the pieces together, even an incomplete puzzle makes a bit more sense. It’ll work its way out. I cling to that, too, as I wait, sometimes rather desperately for the next leg of my journey. The one I think I’m so ready for. Your hanging on inspires me to do the same. Thanks.

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    Some good thoughts here. I don’t like to think of God testing us, even though he obviously did it in the Old Testament. In fact, I’ve read something that suggest the whole Abraham/Isaac sacrifice created something of a rift between Abraham, Isaac, and Yahweh. It was Karen Armstrong, so you know she’s got a good head on her shoulders.

    But it is hard when we feel like we’re trying to follow God and listen to his Voice, only to have things not work out (in our preferred timing). Sometimes that’s just part of it, my Baptist friends would suggest that’s the Enemy working against us. And maybe it’s not supposed to always be easy, for things to work out neatly…they have to struggle and stumble along a bit.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Meredith, that’s a funny image, of God devising tests for each of us! What you’re saying about how the actions of others impact the way things work out for us is very true. I guess that’s how I look at God’s ability to take a mess that we’ve made (usually with lots of help from others) and redeem it. In the case of my divorce, I don’t think that mess was a part of God’s plan, but I think he worked within the mess to create something beautiful. There’s really no other explanation when I think of how Jason and I found each other. Does that make sense?

    Tara, I love how you put this: “…part of the journey of faith is about trusting, doubting, trusting, worrying, trusting, questioning…..and from all of that slowly learning that we can trust, that there is an order at work – there to support us and guide us if we are open to it and willing to be guided my its whispers.” Beautifully written and absolutely true! I have nothing to add but Amen!

    suzi, maybe I should read some Phillip Yancy again. It’s been a while. I really like how you characterized our relationships with God—that it’s going to be exhausting, just like all relationships are at times. But the fact that God can send angels to feed us is a huge bonus! I’m going to try to stop focusing on the exhaustion and keep my eyes out for the angel food instead.

    Jennifer, isn’t it funny how we try to protect God, sometimes? Like he can’t handle our frustration and anger, our doubts and questioning. Not only can he handle it, he knows all about it—he made us this way! I will pray that you find some peace and even a slow reveal of understanding as you wait for the next leg of your journey.

    Sam, yeah, I’m not surprised Abraham, Isaac, and Yahweh had a bit of a rift on their hands after that ordeal. :) I guess I have this sense of justice that is unrealistic in this world. I know that I can be lazy, careless, and strong-headed at times; when I am, and things go awry, I feel like I deserve that result. I just have a really difficult time coming to terms with the idea that I can be obedient, thoughtful and open, and it doesn’t seem to change things (at least not in immediate and obvious ways). Sigh.

  • http://etherealjoy.blogspot.com Joy

    I love your honesty in this post.
    There are times I do not understand why I am being guided in the direction I am. There are times I go to my comfort beach and with tears streaming down my face ask why, please just tell my why. Sometimes it’s just for me to obey, without knowing. Quite similar to when I tell one of my children something because I have the knowledge to look ahead and know that what I am trying to guide them to is wise, and they look at me and ask why. Inside I know ‘why’ but to conceptualize it for them is too much for their comprehension and I think please just listen because *I know*. *I know* it will work out if you let me lead. I think God is sometimes like that:)

  • Ron Simkins

    Thanks Kristin for the way you often remind me both of what I have experienced with God, and of what I believe, but all too easily seem to let slip out of the front of my mind.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Joy, I think that’s one of the beautiful things about being angry—it strips away all the pretense and facades. Of course, what’s left can be pretty ugly, too, but at least it’s real. I completely know what you’re talking about with the parenting analogy. I just had a situation like that recently, when I really wanted my daughter to just trust me, but she kept pushing and asking why and complaining. Those moments are difficult for both the child, who thinks she’s ready for more of the world than she probably is, and for the parent, who is filled with so much love.

    Ron, thanks! I love having a pastor who grapples and struggles with God right along with the rest of us. It makes that wealth of Bible knowledge so rich and real.

  • Joi T.

    Commenting rather late in the month to this good post:
    This is what I think about the Bible story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham, so culturally influenced by the pagan ways of worshiping gods (remember, he was the first to know our God), “heard” God telling him to take Isaac and offer him as a sacrificial offering. He assumed God wanted this. God corrected Abraham’s assumption by providing the sacrificial ram, revealing to Abraham the deep loving grace of our God. In similar ways, the mind of modern day human beings rationalizes decisions, influenced more by drives within us or because we are more tuned in to our culture than we are with God, and impatient with wanting a sign from God. It’s our nature to take the reigns and look for some sign of affirmation. I am learning finally in my older age to present my question to God, hold on to it loosely, and then “watch and see what God will do.” The test is in the release and the willingness to wait. That’s the faith part. I think when you came to a point in your life, Kristin, where you truly “let go and let God’, that’s when God was able to pour out the blessing on your life.

  • Dana

    Kristin,

    I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was to read your posts. Not that I was happy that you were frustrated with God, but to know I wasn’t the only one! Sometimes I feel like my weight that I’m carrying gets bigger and bigger no matter how many prayers I pray. Who knows? Maybe I just keeping picking it up again after I say that I’m handing it over to him. I just know that for over two years my husband and I have been praying for guidance from God about different issues (a house that won’t sell, exes that drive us both crazy, and work —or lack there of ). I feel like I have cried, begged, screamed, asked nicely with a cherry on top,etc. and nothing seems to work. I even say to God, “If you are sending us a sign, please send us a guidebook to go along with it.” Obviously we are clueless to them if he is sending them.