Knocking 22 years’ worth of dust off a resume stretches the definition of “creative writing” to its limit. After giving my time away for two decades, can I convince even myself that my skills are marketable? Am I still capable of holding my own in the workforce? The questions hang in the air like a challenge.
My job search did not happen at all the way I had planned it. Certainly, I had always expected to return to work someday, but only after the graduation party for son number four, the culmination of my career as a homeschooling mum. Naturally, I would observe a few weeks’ intermission to beautify my future Pinterest-perfect home. Then and only then would I break out the resume and step magically into the job of my dreams—or else … just crank out a runaway best-seller, the smoke rolling off my keyboard from the intensity of its truth-telling.
However, with reality comes the quaint truth that “making ends meet” may simply mean bringing them into the same zip code. With my teacher-husband home for the summer, why not let him manage the family mowing business—and the family? Why not see if I can land a summer job?
Whenever the unexpected happens, I’m thrown against the framework of my theology. Will it hold? Does what I believe about the sovereignty of God accommodate a veering turn that was not anywhere on my roadmap? With anxiety over the unknown comes a greater need for and reliance upon a sinewy faith in God’s good intentions toward me in this following life.
In the past, I have found that the disruption of my plans has been a salutary thing—not a sign from heaven that I have disobeyed or ignored God’s direction, but rather, an assurance that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “serene providence” is at work behind the scenes. Listening to truth and remembering God’s record of past faithfulness, I begin to hear that God has said words of promise over me: I have other plans for you, plans which will open a way for you to learn to know Me—which is far better than what you had planned.
Naomi would agree, I think. Senior heroine from the book of Ruth, she encountered the unexpected when Bethlehem, “The House of Bread,” was stripped by famine and left without a crumb. The journey to Moab with Elimelech and their two young sons would have been a desperate act, and it was followed by a decade of every imaginable kind of loss as, one by one, her men—her protectors—died.
Even the comforting presence of devoted daughter-in-law Ruth could not dilute life’s acrid brew that transformed Naomi the Pleasant into Mara the Bitter (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi’s jarring change of direction leaves me breathless. How does a woman ever absorb the loss of a husband and two sons? One thing she discovered (and I am slowly learning) is that God is the only One who is equipped to recognize a detour while it is happening. While He views time and the span of my days from celestial heights, it is only from the vantage point of the rearview mirror that we mortals are able to verify the truth that, all along, God had in mind our best interest and the furthering of His Kingdom.
With the sadness of mourning still roaring in her ears, Naomi could never have imagined that her slow trek back to Bethlehem would be a journey toward life and joy—and grandchildren! She could not have discerned that her time in Moab, temporary after all, would reap a bearer of strong genes for the making of the Messianic Line. Naomi’s return to Bethlehem with her load of bitterness was the occasion for God’s strategic placement of King David’s great-grandmother, Ruth, the gleaner of barley who gathered grace as well.
With this in mind, taming anxiety over the unknown rests in a willingness to apply truth about God in ways that are both deliberate and unaccountable apart from faith.
*** It goes without saying (nonetheless, I will say it) that clinical anxiety is a medical condition and if you suffer from this affliction, these thoughts about anxiety as worry rooted in unbelief do not necessarily apply to you. ***
Ironically, for those who believingly follow Jesus Christ, anxiety goes beyond the vexing footfalls of a sleep thief, and stomps into the room as a perplexing theological ogre, for if I believe in the sovereignty of God, the burning question is: Can God be counted on to protect me and guide me into an unknown future?
My anxiety becomes an occasion to look to God instead of turning from Him as worry is overcome by the expectation of peace from God. I will admit that I would prefer to get peace from circumstances that suit me: a calendar with no surprise entries, a family that is not subject to the unexpected, and a firm grasp on the aerial view of my days.
Of course, that is not our condition, so in the interim, therefore, we wait; and we pray for grace to trust God’s motives. For today, I am vulnerable to the murky fog of unknowing. This waiting is something I’ve never been good at, and yet, I can attest to the deep groove that is formed in the soul by waiting, and praying.
Paul Miller in The Praying Life advises:
“Instead of trying to suppress anxiety—to manage it or smother it with pleasure—we can turn our anxiety toward God. When we do that, we find that we have slipped into continuous praying.”
How delightful to think that if I can adjust the angle of all my concerns at each blind turn in the road, if I can move the trajectory away from worry and toward petition, I will “slip into” prayer.
What a mercy.
“Expect delays,” say all the road signs, and while, so far, my detours have been only the palest adumbration of Naomi’s jarring ride, I am blessed by her words to Ruth:
“Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out.”
And note to Soul: While you’re waiting, let the memory of past deliverances teach you to hope against all hope in today’s uncertainty, knowing that with every unexpected bend in the road you are veering into the loving and wise sovereignty of God.