Returning from Mission
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
“The Real Work” by Wendell Berry, from Standing by Words
Journal entry, 4:00 AM, October 31, 2014:
My allotted three bags are packed and the rest of my belongings are in a container on a ship heading back to Los Angeles. The apartment is clean and ready for the next tenant.
My second international move in thirteen months. I’m waiting for Joe, my good friend who will accompany me to the airport. I return to the States from Singapore dejected and anxious, homeless and soon to be jobless.
How the hell did this happen? My work was so fulfilling. Each day I awakened with purpose and anticipation. Leading and being a part of a team endeavoring to rebirth vision and effectiveness in a worldwide organization—creating, working hard, struggling and then taking the next steps toward the clear road ahead. And yet, after only a year and a half everything fell apart, through someone else’s moral failure—no fault of my own.
Now, two years later, it’s still difficult to make sense of the above experience. And there are still no answers? Why did this happen? Why did I have to leave? Why didn’t the organization honor my commitment? Why was I “let go?” Where is justice?
O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
With sorrow in my heart every day?
But I trust in your unfailing love.
-P 13.1-2a, 5a
Wrestling with God’s Timing
We are allowed to lament, asking why the difficulties happened the way they did, praying along with the psalmists, ‘How long, O Lord,” but the ‘whys’ and ‘how longs’ are rarely answered. There’s only the beauty of what a loving Creator calls forth.
Berry’s poem reveals truth that I sometimes find difficult to accept. Still, after many years following Jesus, I reject suffering, yet suffering exposes my belief, my culture’s belief in magic. That is, if I suffer something must be wrong, I’ve left God. God has left me.
If I don’t have the answers, if I don’t know where I’m going, something is not right. Perhaps if I pray harder, serve more, try more, things will get better. But what if they don’t? What if these days of silence, loneliness, and boredom continue?
As the author of Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, I’ve literally written the book on times in our lives that God sets us aside from our normal work/ministry, when He sits us on the bench, even when we’re performing well and at the height of ministry fruitfulness.
For me, this space invites me to re-embrace a theology of suffering. I believe Wendell Barry points us toward the hidden gifts of suffering, because our God creates, even during suffering.
Most cultures reject suffering. Appease a god. Offer more sacrifices. Obtain merit through prayer. Turn to religious rite. Take a pill. Have surgery. Go to therapy. Get drunk. Take drugs. Have sex. Binge on Netflix. Lose one’s self in ministry.
But remember, there is no part of God’s story that excludes suffering for his people, either because of our own idolatry, the ways we give power to the created, because of failure, our own or others’. Therefore, like the Psalmist, I, we, must live into what’s real amid suffering, and trust in God’s good, unfailing, hesed love.
Whether you’re at the height of fruitfulness or in the dark days of questioning, know that all have their place. In my next blog, I’ll offer more of my journey and current practices that keep me—somewhat—sane.
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