Sometimes staying is one of the hardest things God will ask of us. We stand in the midst of an ever-rotating circle of people and circumstance. We don’t move, standing firm with God. Life becomes familiar, even change becomes familiar. Surely this means I have learned to stand firm, to be strong, to stay well when told to stay. So why does it still hurt so much?
After three years on the field, I returned to my home culture weary and feeling like a failure. It was time. I knew that. The transition was challenging and more than once, I wondered if I should just go back. It would be easier but I knew going overseas at that time would be running away and that is not what our Father wants for us. I stayed and I waited. Through a number of challenging years God taught me how to move forward again, the worth in staying. He brought healing, community and joy in the place He had me. I was, finally, content.
Then he began to whisper in my heart that my contentment was becoming an idol and he asked if I’d be willing to leave again. I said, “Maybe.” My maybe wasn’t quite what God desired. I knew that he wanted all of me, but I still resisted. My routine life began to be shaken, things I relied on were broken and my contentment lost. The joy I found in my routines was gone, some connections were gone, and I faced a potential loss that, if it does happen, would completely change my current life. I have been left in a place with more questions than answers. Certainty and control were gone. I had clung too tight to other things besides God.
I broke and I cried out, “Your will, my Father. Take me from this pain. I’ll obey.” He said, “Wait.” In the span of six months our Father took me from “Maybe” to a determined, teary “Yes,” a desperate desire to be obedient and to let him have full control of my life. And he said wait? What was the purpose of the last six months of pain, loss and questions? Why did He want me to let go of everything just to leave me in the mess I was in… the mess He allowed. I was a angry and confused.
What do we do when staying feels even more painful than leaving? What do we do when God says stay and we look around us and say, “Here? Really?” Our circumstances seem intent on wearing us down. The people we are surrounded with seem determined to break us. We can even see our work coming to an end just in front of us. It’s time to prepare to leave. It’s time to cut our losses and move on. Isn’t it?
Yet, sometimes, God says “Stay.” No amount of arguing, tears or desperation changes His answer. Why? Why would He leave us in a place where we feel useless? Where others continuously hurt us? Why do they get to leave but I have to stay? Isn’t He a God of love? Doesn’t He care? Is He worth obeying when it hurts this much?
As I find myself in such a season where staying is painful, where I’m waiting with anxious anticipation for the Father to finally say, “Go” I have found myself clinging to His word more than ever before. Surprising, to me, two of the passages he has kept me in are about perseverance.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV)
“…but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV)
Perseverance has always made me think of going forward; of working or striving, not waiting. However, I am learning that to not move even when we want to is an opportune time for God to grow and love us. It is him reminding us that he is in control so cling to him, hold tight and see his glory while we stay. Watch him move as we let go.
Let us stay in his grace so that we can move in his power.
Has God ever asked you to stay even though it hurt and didn’t make any sense? What’s something he showed you in that season of staying?