Marked by a Question

Marked by a Question

It all started with the smallest of promptings. So slight they nearly went unnoticed. Questions. Wonderings. You could call it a gentle nudge, an open tab on my mind’s computer that wouldn’t quite shut down.

But when the noise around me stilled enough to give it voice, it founds its words:

Is it time to think of moving on?

I remember the day I first actually wrote it out loud in my journal. The first time I voiced the question in a quiet prayer to the Almighty, asking Him for arrows. Giving it voice terrified me.

For me, the question came far sooner than I was expecting. Midway through my second term in my host country, my first in a new city, a new project, and a host of new friends and contacts.  Surely at this point the question was not a prompting to heed, but rather one to silence in the name of commitment to calling.

That’s what all the great men and women of faith did, right?

But it didn’t go away. 

How do I know if this is from you, God?  Can you give me arrows that show your direction?  

For weeks, I kept this voice hidden inside me. Only the Almighty knew what was churning in my thoughts. Daily, I’d ask for arrows, for confirmation or redirection. While there was no fire from heaven or lightning bolts of direction, I couldn’t miss the gentle nudges toward something new. When I started bringing others into my questions, asking them to pray with me, small confirmations arose, and I began to sense from somewhere deep within me the should I go question was being answered: it felt like God was leading me on to something new.

So I settled on a decision, gave my notice to my sending organization, accepted the offer to join a teaching team in my passport country the following school year, and dove into my final ten months on the field.

And so began the hardest and best eight months of my life (eight because, as is the case of so many others, COVID robbed me of the last two). Relationships flourished, doors previously shut swung open, hearts once closed seemed ready to allow me in. I saw my host country through new eyes, loving the cultural quirks once more, living with eyes and heart wide open.

And along came so many questions: Why on earth am I leaving this place? These people? This home? Is this God telling me to change my decision? What if I got this all wrong?

Those were possibly the busiest eight months of my brain’s life.

I knew that underneath some ugly questioning was happening, such as: What will others think? Will I be judged as a worker who just couldn’t quite make it? Are people rolling their eyes at another change Maria is springing for?

Sometimes obedience doesn’t look really splashy. When God asked King Saul to destroy the Amalekites, He meant what He said. But Saul interpreted God’s instructions for his own gain, saving the spoils, claiming he saved the animals as offerings. Samuel asked the burning question: “Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings as much as in obeying the Lord?  Look, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Saul’s showy sacrifice may have been great fanfare, but all God wanted was a heart willing to obey. 

The should I go question is such a hard one, because obeying God’s prompting in leaving the field brings a thousand questions. Questions of calling and commitment and direction and timing. And it brings with it mountains of loss. Loss that doesn’t make much sense; a loss you choose is a strange loss to grieve.

In her book Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (excellent book, by the way) biographer Ellen Vaughn tells a striking story. Early in her ministry in South America, Elisabeth, or Betty as she is called in the book, spent nine months working on a translation project for a remote tribe. Those nine months held great sacrifice, living conditions were hard and she longed to be with her fiancé on the other side of the jungle. But Betty knew that this was an assignment God was asking of her so she obeyed. Finally, the project completed. Feeling a sense of satisfaction and a deep peace that she had followed God’s voice, she packed the nine months of tedious translation work into a suitcase, passed it off to her friend who would continue the work, and boarded a bus to the city that held her future.

And soon the unthinkable news came: the suitcase had been stolen. Nine months of hard work, sacrifice, obedience, seemingly wasted. What could God have meant from this? Elisabeth reached a conclusion that I think each of us can hold to: God is far more interested in the people we are becoming than in a great list of our successes. 

It really does all come back to obedience.

God has written going into my story just as He wrote coming, as a way of forming me more and more into His image.

The going has left me with questions, with scars. It has left me changed, new. There are times when the rear-view mirror helps timing make sense, and there are days when I could still question it. 

But above all, He is forming me. In my comings and goings, I choose obedience. And I ask Him to give me eyes to see that what He is doing in me is His greatest work. 

How has the “should I go” question affected you?  How does it change when we consider that the most important thing to Him is the person we are becoming?

5 Comments

  1. Monica F June 13, 2021

    Oh, I love this post Maria. Even though “I left” the field 6 years ago, I resonate SO MUCH with your words. Moving on was more frightening than staying, I could hardly entertain the thought of leaving. Thank you for sharing your process, how it affected you, and what you’ve learned along the way. Comings and goings are always an opportunity for growth, even in the questioning and unknowns. Thanks for this post!

    1. Maria June 14, 2021

      Thanks for sharing this, Monica! Crazy how 6 years down the road it still resonates – but actually not that crazy, because it’s such a deep part of our hearts that is affected by the comings and goings. You’re right, they are invitations for growth. I’m so glad that VA connects us to each other! Isn’t it helpful to know we’re not alone?

  2. Ruth June 13, 2021

    This is beautiful! In this year of rough reentry, I too have been learning that who I am is more important than what I do. I preached this morning on 1 Samuel 16, Samuel anointing David as king. I was thinking about how God’s standards of success are so very different than ours, even when ours are good intentioned and an attempt to be faithful.

    1. Maria June 14, 2021

      Hi Ruth! This is so true – success is measured so differently in the heavenly kingdom than in the earthly one. It’s hard to live in the tension between the two, and I think it’s really important to remind each other of this. I’m glad we can walk this reentry journey together!

  3. Ashley June 24, 2021

    Beautiful. Thanks for sharing! My family unexpectedly left the field five years ago and I STILL wrestle daily. We had planned to spend our whole lives there. I finally got the courage and strength to blog my re-entry experience over a series that I poured my heart and soul into in 2019. In 2020, I lost my entire blog and didn’t have it backed up. I was devastated. It took me months to grieve the loss and it still hurts. Being reminded of Elizabeth Elliot’s loss really struck me when you said, “God is far more interested in the people we are becoming than in a great list of our successes.”

    So beautiful and so true!

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