This isn’t one of those blog posts where you’ll find solid answers or neatly wrapped up conclusions. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might as well just scroll on by. But if unresolved questions are your thing, if you’re up for reflecting on what life is like when there are no obvious solutions, then by all means, read on. Because I certainly don’t have many answers. I’m not even sure I know where to look for them anymore, or what they’d look like if they did come along. And that is exactly what I’d like to explore with you today.
Let me set the scene, give you a little context so you’ll know where these questions and reflections of mine are coming from. We each have our own challenging situations that arise from time to time in our lives, bringing us questions with no apparent answers. This is mine right now:
My husband and I are both ministers. That’s great in some ways. We share a lot of values and passions, and we could have long, nerdy, wonderful conversations about theology all day long if we wanted to. But both being ministers in what is sometimes rumored to be the most churched town in all of the United States? Where job opportunities are scarce? And ministers who don’t exactly fit typical ministry job descriptions anyway? Well, that’s proven challenging. Over three years of job searching since we finished our master’s degrees have yielded no results for him and only minor results for me. The challenge that poses to our budget, our hopes and dreams, and our spirits is high, at times seeming overwhelming. We piece together enough income to get by from the few part-time or temporary things that have come and gone over the years. We’re making it, and we’ve never not eaten, praise God. But we find ourselves regularly discouraged and longing for something more satisfying. More within our training and our calling. More what God designed us for the in the first place.
So why don’t we leave and go somewhere else where the opportunities are more promising, you might wonder? We’ve wondered that many times too. The thing is, while we can’t find much in the way of employment, we are certain that we have work to do here. And people to do it with. We’re deeply integrated into a house church that is a healthy, growing spiritual family. We’re founding members of an intentional community that is taking steps into its calling to teach and to train people in being vibrant spiritual family in their own contexts. There is even the hope of paid, fulfilling work in that community someday down the road. Our relationships here are strong, and our future here has potential. It’s just that realizing that potential takes time, and in the interim certain aspects of the present leave us reeling on a regular basis.
So while we wait and watch and pray, we do wonder. Every day, it seems, multiple times a day, I find myself asking so many questions of God. What does faithfulness look like in this situation? What do we do when we don’t hear clear direction from God—for years at a time? How do we make decisions when our hearts are torn because all the options before us—options that can set the overall trajectory of our lives in a major way—seem equally appealing and equally disheartening, just for very different reasons? Where is true wisdom found when reason and enthusiasm and common sense indicate one thing but relationship and commitment and resolve indicate the exact opposite? How can we pursue our goals and our sense of calling in creative ways if the conventional ways aren’t working out? How do we maintain our sanity in the midst of so much not knowing? Is there such a thing as enough sacrifice—or too much? How do we regain hope when we seem to have lost it somewhere along the way? And most of all, how do we move forward from where we are now into the future God desires for us, whatever that may be?
Thank God that we are surrounded by strong relationships and strong communities that allow us to ask these questions in their presence. That ask them on our behalf, even, when we sometimes don’t have the courage or the strength to do so ourselves. People who are safe because no fear is ridiculed and no doubt is unspeakable. People who are safe because they hear our hurts, witness our tears, and encourage us in patience and faithfulness and hope all at the same time. People who are safe because they don’t merely watch what we’re going through but rather step right into the midst of it with us. People who are safe because they love us and want God’s best for us and are willing to sacrifice on our behalf as we all seek a way forward together.
Above all else, that is what keeps us where we are until God clearly shows us otherwise. The questions are immense. But the love that surrounds us by the vibrant families of Jesus that we’re part of—that is immeasurable.
So I guess maybe my questions have led me to a conclusion of sorts after all. And that is this: we as the church have got to be a safe space in which people can ask these weighty, soul-searching questions. The questions that linger for months, years, or even decades. The questions that we’re too scared to voice except to those who have proven their safety over and over and over again, both in words and in deeds. The questions that we’re afraid to even have because they cause us to doubt our own faithfulness to God—and, even scarier, God’s faithfulness to us. There has to be a place for these questions, and thus a place for the people who carry them around day after day.
Church, we must be spiritual families who don’t avoid these questions. And we need to go further than merely allowing them. We need to be known worldwide as the people who embrace them wholeheartedly. Because I know that I’m not the only one out there who’s been asking them. Thank God, I have a people among whom to ask them. That is what keeps me sane when nothing else does. But that’s not true for everyone. So we have got to become communities of and for the questioners.
It seems, then, that my conclusion leaves me with another long list of questions, the ones I’ll leave you to ponder for now.
What about those who enter into your midst? Into your home, your life, your spiritual family? Are they safe, welcomed, and encouraged in their questioning? Or do they go through their days still afraid to voice their deepest wonderings and deepest fears? Are you showing the warm, welcoming, undeterred love that these questioners so desperately need? And if not, what is God calling you to do differently? Will you answer the call?