Today I Cried in Public

Yesterday marked two months since I moved to Germany.  For the most part, it has been a relatively smooth transition and God continues to be faithful every step of the way.

But this weekend I feel like I’ve hit a wall.  I suspect hormones and tiredness have something to do with it, but that does not negate how I’m feeling.  It is right that I permit myself to recognise it and admit it.  I think up until now I have been so intent on declaring strength and peace and courage in my circumstances (which, again, for the most part, has truly reflected how I have felt) that I have perhaps stifled some of my other emotions for fear of them being construed as negative (whether by myself or by others).

You might be familiar with the movie ‘Inside Out‘ (click for a fun snippet to jog your memory!)  It explores this concept and cleverly personifies the different emotions experienced by a young girl.  This particular girl, Riley, and her family have just moved from the American Midwest to San Francisco, bringing with it new surroundings, a new school, and new challenges.

Inside her brain, we are introduced to her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – all of whom watch a projection of Riley’s life and respond accordingly, depending on which emotion is operating the control panel at that time.

Naturally, Joy endeavours to remain always optimistic and takes the lead, seeking to see the positive in all situations faced by Riley.  However, as the reality of their new life sinks in, Sadness begins to taint more or more of Riley’s thoughts.

The movie follows Joy’s quest to subdue Sadness and restore Riley to the happy-go-lucky girl she once was.  But in the end (spoiler alert!) Joy realises that it is sometimes appropriate and necessary to feel sadness too.  Having run away from her family, it is Sadness that prompts Riley to return home again, while finding joy in reuniting with her parents.  Sadness permits Riley to miss her old friends and recall memories of significant moments of her life back in the Midwest, but Joy encourages her to begin to build that in her new city.  The movie illustrates that no single memory, thought or experience can be accurately described using just one emotion.  Each emotion plays a necessary role.

So here it is – today I feel lonely, sad, frustrated, confused, weak, upset, rejected, exhausted.

I’m finding it so hard to build friendships, especially in a different language and culture.  I’m emotionally exhausted after every church service and every Connect Group.  I feel so vulnerable continually putting myself ‘out there’ – to try to connect with people and engage in meaningful conversation – for fear of rejection.  For this introvert, it takes so much courage to walk into church every week, full of unfamiliar people, desperately scanning the crowd for the handful of known faces that I have already been introduced to.

But while emotions are valid, they do not always portray truth either.  I may feel lonely but I am not alone, for God is with me.  I experience sadness or frustration because my daily reality is not always what I had hoped for, but it is exactly what God had ordained for me that day.  Confusion, rejection, and exhaustion may seek to overwhelm me but I rest in the knowledge that I can wholeheartedly trust God despite those feelings.

None of us feel on-top-of-the-world at every waking moment, but sometimes we try to act like that is the case.  I’m learning that it is OK to demonstrate weakness, vulnerability, and uncertainty because this is when God’s strength, grace, love, faithfulness, power, and glory is best demonstrated.

“…but He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me.  So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak [in human strength], then I am strong [truly able, truly powerful, truly drawing from God’s strength].” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (AMP)

So today I cried in public.  I’m usually a private crier, and a seldom one at that, but today that was not an option.  I fought back tears for the 20-minute bus journey back to the train station and found some relief when a 10-month-old girl initiated a game of peek-a-boo with me on the bus.  But, when I could fight it no longer, I sat outside the train station and cried.  It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t something I was comfortable doing, but in that moment it was necessary.

However, I did not remain in a state of feeling sorry for myself (even though I did feel sorry for myself in that moment).  Instead, I sat on the train and prayed.  I listened to worship music as I walked back to my apartment.  I sat on the balcony and journaled.  I talked through my spectrum of emotions with God; all my frustrations, my concerns, my desires.  And slowly peace returned to my heart once again.

Today may be a difficult day (and I say that lightly, considering the devastation in London last night), but it doesn’t detract from my confidence that:

  1. God brought me to Germany for a specific purpose (of which I am still seeking clarity in) and I experience pure joy knowing that I am at the centre of His will for my life.
  2. Despite insisting that there was nothing particularly special about me choosing to move to Darmstadt, since arriving here I am more and more convinced that God led me to this area for a reason and I am so grateful for a couple of existing friends who have made the transition inexplicably easier.
  3. I have no doubt that Move Church is the right church for me, having been clearly led there by God.  Therefore, the right friends, the right opportunities to serve, and the right provision (e.g transport to make the 80km round trip) is also included as part of God’s plan.
  4. My focus for this season is to learn the language and to learn the culture, both of which are progressing well at a good pace (even if I do get a little impatient at times!)

So if you’re struggling today too, tell God how you’re feeling.  Every raw thought, feeling, and emotion.  He alone can give us the peace, courage, and comfort that we so deeply desire.  We can give Him our worries, our frustrations, our fears, and our disappointments, and He will always respond with peace and rest.

His Plan or Mine?

I was challenged by the book of Jonah this week as I read of his response and subsequent actions following God’s call on his life.

You may know the story already – Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh and declare God’s judgment on the people for their sin, however Jonah chose instead to flee from God’s presence and board a ship headed for Tarshish.

While aboard, God causes a great storm to rise up around them, stirring up fear in the ship’s crew while Jonah sleeps below.  Eventually, upon waking, Jonah admits he’s the reason this storm has arisen and tells the crew to throw him overboard.  They reluctantly do so and the storm dies.

Following a 3-day appointment with a big fish, Jonah hears God’s voice a second time and this time heeds the call and travels to Nineveh to finally deliver God’s message to them.  The people of Nineveh believe God’s message instantly and repent.

“Phew! PTL! The people of Nineveh are saved!” Jonah should’ve shouted.  But instead he goes in the huff.

Can we be like Jonah sometimes?

First, Jonah tried to run away from God’s call on his life.  Why?  Was it too difficult for him?  Too scary?  Not exciting enough?  He just couldn’t be bothered?  The Bible doesn’t say exactly why but it does tell us what happened next…

As Jonah fled in the wrong direction, God sought his attention by raising up a storm around the boat he had found refuge on.  What interested me here was that the ship’s crew first drew Jonah’s attention to God’s part in this storm, not the prophet himself.  But this is exactly why the storm was necessary.

Some of the most significant God-moments in my life have been during or directly following difficult seasons.  It is in those sink-or-swim moments that I have called out in desperation for God to hear me, answer me, save me, direct me.  And He has.  He does.

Jonah had been fast asleep, remaining undisturbed by the wind and waves raging around him while the pagan crew feared the storm and the God who had sent it.  But Jonah can ignore the storm no longer and surrenders himself to the storm, to the big fish, to God.

Then the story appears to have a happy-ever-after ending – Jonah delivers God’s message to Nineveh, the people repent, God grants them deliverance from His wrath, and Jonah is as-happy-as-Larry.

Oh wait…

Following the peoples’ repentance, Jonah is not pleased that the lives of many are saved, he is angry at God for being too merciful!  Hypocritical, much?! God had shown Jonah mercy through his disobedience but he doesn’t now seem to think that Nineveh deserves the same.

I’m beginning to realise that the challenge of our faith is not always during the storm, but often after the storm.  We may surrender to God as the waves toss us to and fro but what happens to us once calm is restored?  Is our faith stronger or are we simply relieved that the danger has passed?  Are we more intentional in our relationship with God or do we return Him to our spiritual First Aid kit ready for the next emergency?

Jonah appears to have forgotten his repentant heart, evident in chapter 2 when he is in the belly of the fish, and returned to his arrogant self, disputing with God over the outcome of his mission.  Yet who are we to stipulate the outcome of God’s call on our lives?  We are simply called to hear and obey, and let God be god.

There’s no doubt about it, God is in the right job!  He knows it all, has power over it all, and has a love for us that we could never fully appreciate.  We may be disgusted at Jonah’s thoughts and actions – I know I was when I read it over – but he simply illustrates the attitudes we can all be guilty of at times.  So despite Jonah’s disobedience, his indifference, his selfish nature and judgemental attitude, God still used him to not only save the people of Nineveh, but the ship’s crew as well.

My point is this – God is God and He is infinitely better placed to navigate the outcomes of our every situation than we are.  He welcomes a dialogue with us, even the doubts, questions and concerns we hold, but then we must release it all into God’s hands and leave the storm, the struggle, the situation with Him.  If He asks us to do something, we obey because He is absolutely trustworthy.

I’ve lived in Germany for a week now; a good first week, no doubt about that.  It’s been surprisingly easy to settle in and feel at home (a reassuring sign that I have correctly heard and obeyed God’s call) but I have also had to regularly remind myself (already) that I am here for His purposes and not my own.  Having taken that initial step to move here, there are suddenly pressures to make plans for what comes next.

“How long are you here for?”

“Where will you work?”

“How long will you attend language school for?”

“Which church will you attend?”

The truth is I don’t yet know what God wants next.  I need to stop and ask Him.  I need to take one day at a time and allow Him to gently steer me as I exercise wisdom and discernment.  I could so easily start making long-term plans – it’s what comes easiest to me – but I must be careful to make plans in line with God’s will, not just implement my own good intentions and ideas.

I don’t feel like I am in the midst of a storm just now – far from it – but I must be careful to not let indifference creep back into my walk with God while I live in (and enjoy) this season on the mountain-top.  God has something to say in every season and I must choose to consistently surrender to Him.  At every junction in life; every trial, change or challenge, we are responsible for making decisions – all decisions have consequences – so lets make decisions based on God’s Word and His will for our lives, and trust Him with the outcomes, not carrying the God-sized responsibility ourselves.