I have control problems. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that. I like to consider myself sufficient at determining the best possible outcomes and roads needed to reach those outcomes. When I see someone struggling, I often jump right in, not because I’m helpful, but because I’m sure I can fix it. My husband often says, “You’re doing that thing again!”
Ecclesiastes is arguably my favorite book of the Bible. Every time I read it, it’s new to me. In the beginning when the teacher says, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless,” the word “meaningless” is better translated as breath, or vapor. I once heard someone say it’s like spraying a misting bottle of water. Ecclesiastes shows us that all good things, all bad things, have a season. The wisdom of this book is in being present in the current moment. I’ve often taken this to heart and summed it up as an answer to the question, “What’s this all about?” The only answer I can think of is to glorify God. How can I do that moment by moment, regardless of circumstance?
2022 was a really difficult year for many reasons. People often talk about how the waves of Covid in 2020 made it a disastrous year, and for many that was certainly true. However, 2022 was the hardest for me. For some reason or another, month after month, disaster seemed to strike our household. Every time we seemed to come up for air, we were battered again, pulled under in a never-ending sea of disappointment, loss, and for me specifically, depression. We had so many plans, and at the end of the year we looked back and had achieved exactly zero of them. Have you ever had seasons like this? You feel like you’re working so hard (and in most cases you really are working very, very hard), you’re doing everything right, but still at the end you have nothing to show for it.
I talk to God constantly. There’s never an off switch to prayer time for us. It’s just a constant stream of consciousness: prayers of thanksgiving, admiring his amazing creation on my walks with my dogs, and in 2022 my constant reminder to God that I was working toward and asking for very good things that I absolutely deserve. Have you ever found yourself talking to God and letting him know that your plans are good because you’ve thought through them? I suppose it’s the controller in me. I couldn’t see it going any other way, and I absolutely couldn’t see it being beneficial to me if it wasn’t my way. We are all too familiar with the lovely verse from Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” In the middle of 2022, all our plans failed. If we had started the year with a nice big New Year’s list of “This is the year of…,” you would have seen each one of those goals crumble into dust. My talks with God were sad and lonely. I spent time trying to convince God that our plans were good plans – the best plans. I told him how much it hurt to have disappointment after disappointment. I talked to him about how lost I was, how I didn’t know what direction to go.
Smack dab in the middle of 2022, the strangest thing happened that really brought our family back to finding the joy in the vapor of this Ecclesiastical life. A very small dog found its way to our back fence, clearly lost, covered in brambles and ticks. We took him in, cleaned him off, and through a process that took more than three months discovered that not only was he not very smart, but that his owners didn’t want him back. We didn’t need another dog, and we certainly would never have chosen this dog.
Living in a residential neighborhood in the middle of Homewood, I can’t help but see a glimpse of the supernatural in the placement of this specific, simple-minded animal in our disaster of a year. Looking back, this is such a clear reminder to me of the teacher’s exclamation in Ecclesiastes, “Everything is meaningless.” Caring for this not-very-smart, tiny little creature forced us to appreciate small moments of joy in our daily lives, and encouraged us to be thankful for the gift even though we didn’t ask for it. Still, we were continually perplexed: why did he come to our yard? We didn’t ask for him. Why didn’t God give us the other things we had asked for?
During this time of what felt like absolute darkness, we searched for God’s guidance in prayer by visiting Advent House. I could wax poetic about how meaningful and therapeutic it was to be prayed over, to talk to believers about our specific struggles, and to cry openly about how painful life has been. However, the one takeaway that sticks with me today is a word that was spoken over us, “You don’t need to know which way to go, you simply need to know God.” I find myself repeating this phrase, even now, looking at this tiny, squishy dog that inhabits our house as a constant reminder that I don’t know God’s plan, and I am not in control.
How many months had I spent telling God exactly how he needed to bless us? How many hours had I tried to make sense of the chaos and reorganize my life in an attempt to gain control? In reality, I didn’t need to know any of the details, and I certainly didn’t need to control them. I simply needed to know God. And as it turns out, during the entire year of 2022, I did know God. I talked to God every single day. I think it’s safe to say that more often than not, growth happens in the midst of a storm. And real peace isn’t when everything is going according to our plan, when everything looks good. It’s when you’re in the thick of it and still know, deep down, that you are in the palm of his hand. The truth is that this world is a sinful world. Difficult seasons will come again. The one constant is that God is ultimately in control. I’m sure I’ll struggle with this lesson again; maybe you’re like me, stubborn and hard headed. Thankfully, we worship a God who loves a challenge!