Several months after I first noticed the sometimes interesting, often thought-provoking epigrams on Lake Washington Christian Church’s marquee, there appeared a truly noteworthy post: “What if God is waiting for a sign from us.” As I continued up the hill towards home, I wondered how the pastor would address this topic in his sermon the following Sunday; would he tell a story like mine?
Five years earlier, when I was pregnant with my son, I found myself backed into a corner as it became increasingly hard to balance my pregnancy, my family, and my job as a high school English teacher. In an attempt to be and do everything, I was teaching four different classes, co-chairing the School Improvement committee, chairing the school AVID program, directing the choir at church, being a mother to my one-year-old, and trying to be a good wife.
About 18 weeks into my pregnancy, I got sick. At first, I didn’t think much of it; but driving home from school one day (having gone in even when I had substitute), I blacked out – I “woke” up when I was almost home, having driven most of the way on autopilot. My guardian angel was most certainly with me that day! Needless to say, I was rather unnerved.
During the next few days my health continued to go downhill as I experienced episodes of short term memory loss, a sub-temperature, and tachycardia; I ended up in the emergency room. My husband and friends suggested that I should take some time off, but how could I? I had so much responsibility. What about my classes, the choir, the committees, the people who would have to pick up my slack? What about my family? If I exceeded my sick-leave, what would my family do without my income?
All the things I thought I had been managing so adeptly were now crumbling around me. Looking back later, I realized that I had never been in control; rather I was relying on those things as a way to find control – like climbing on top of a rock to keep from falling when in reality the rock is falling too.
In his book Journey to the Kingdom: Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, Fr. John Mack writes, “God allows these things to happen to us so that we would be reminded that we need Him, so that we would not seek to control our lives or the lives of those around us, so that we would know freedom – the freedom of faith” (22). However, letting go of that control, even if it is an illusion, is terrifying because, as Mack says, “we cannot control God” (21). Though we can’t control God nor know His mind, we can trust in His love for us.
Backed into a corner, pridefully thinking that the world couldn’t go on without me, terrified of what would happen, I let go. I had been desperately trying to hold my life together and it wasn’t working. Letting go meant surrendering control and allowing my husband, whom God had given me, to carry me through my troubles. As I write this, I’m struck by how timid that sounds: I gave myself over to my husband? And yet, it was by trusting in someone other than myself that I could begin to trust God. And God was there; He provided a way. I went to my see my midwife and when my baby measured small, she put me on medical leave for the rest of the year – which answered the question of income. Then, my husband, knowing that I would feel guilty about not being at school and so not be able to stay away from work, called the school himself and explained the situation.
It is hard for me to convey my relief as my worries were put to rest; though I didn’t bring my needs to Him in prayer, God answered them anyway. He provided a way because I let Him. Nor can I convey the sense of unworthiness in receiving such grace – that He would consider me, take care of me, love me – when I had been so determined not to trust Him.
When, five years later, I read the topic on the marquee, I immediately thought of this time in my life. I imagined God patiently and lovingly waiting for me, the petulant child, to stop struggling and settle down so that He could help. The key word here is “waiting.” Having made us in His image and likeness, we have free will. We can choose not to trust God if we want. He will not force Himself on us. However, He can remind us that He is there. Fr. John Mack writes, “The Fathers refer to God as the Hound of Heaven … He will not leave us alone … God hounds us with His love” (23-24). Are we worthy of such love? Fr. John adds, “Grace is God’s. And it never comes because we are worthy. Grace comes because we are needy” (32).
Leaving the illusion of control is no small thing. It is terrifying and, the world would have us believe, stupid. But when we come to ourselves and see the reality – that we are not in control – we can let go and return to God. God is waiting for a sign from us; He is waiting for us to let Him work in our lives.
Am I suggesting that whenever we’re in trouble, we turn our problems over to our nearest loved one and say, “Here, I trust you; solve my problems for me, please?” At times, when trust in ourselves has brought us to the end of our rope, this may be the best solution. However, learning to trust God is a better struggle than struggling for control that we can never have. How do we do this? For me, it means remembering to make the sign of the cross or say the short and powerful prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” when I get out of bed, before I teach my children, when I’m preparing a meal, as I get into the car – that His will be done in all these things, that they may be blessed. Do I always remember? No. I all too often forget to allow God into my life; I fall back into the illusion that I am in control. But when I do remember Him, I dare to trust that He has been waiting for that sign from me.