Silence and Wisdom

September was nothing but a blur.

It seemed like time evaporated in a blink, but it only felt that way because I was forced to slow down and be silent. I was sick with some strange thing and mostly disappeared from the outside world for two weeks.

Now that I’m getting my footing again, it’s tempting to jump right back in. Slow and silent feels awkward and uncomfortable, like the whole world is just waiting for me to catch up to its pace.

Sometimes it feels like I can only make a difference if I’m constantly sharing my ideas and opinions. As a communicator, it’s what I’m supposed to do. After all, if we don’t express what we’re thinking, how will we ever encourage change?

But I’m also realizing in the same way there can be either wisdom or weapons delivered with the words we use, there can be wisdom or weapons in how and when we choose to stay silent. Both have their place. And I only want to use both for wisdom. I’m trying to figure out what that looks like.

It’s freeing to know how much we don’t know, and then to offer a listening ear instead of a well-crafted argument.

I don’t ever want to be the person who always has something to say at the expense of being the person who is always available to hear what others have to say. I don’t want to spend so much of the scarce space I’ve been given in time and energy only formulating opinions so that there’s never enough room to spend on relationships.

So, the past week especially, I’ve written and re-written a hundred things I wanted to say about what’s going on in the world. I wanted to share my stories and change minds. But then I didn’t. I sat in silence and processed how my past experiences shape my opinions, and how our wounds will probably always impact the way we interpret facts. I tried to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I picked up my phone and met up with friends. We shared conversations — the kind that do the real work of creating safe places and opens the door to true healing.

And maybe it made a difference. I know it mattered.

When You Walk Through a Valley [Guest Post]

I’m so excited to introduce you to one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Laing Thompson! I love her writing, her heart, and her books, and I know you will too!

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Who doesn’t love Psalm 23? For three verses it’s all smiles and peace, all dancing through flowers.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

   He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters, 

   He restores my soul. 

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 

If you’re like me, you read this and think, Woohoo! Christianity means I get to be happy, happy all the time! “Green pastures, quiet waters, restored soul”? Sign me up! “He guides me in paths of righteousness”? Yes, please!

But then we hit verse four, and our happy dance skips a beat: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” Wait, what? Valleys and shadows and evil? That doesn’t sound very Psalm 23-ish. I don’t feel like dancing anymore.

We slow down, back up, and read verse four again.

 

             Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

 

Yes, we read it right. So what is Death Valley doing in the middle of Happy Land?

If the Good Shepherd Himself is leading us on paths of righteousness, how can we end up in the valley of the shadow of death—the dark place where evil lives? Did God’s GPS stop working? Did he abandon us mid-journey? It’s tempting to ignore our confusion and hurry past verse four, eager to get to the “my cup overflows” part at the end if the psalm. But let’s pause here for a minute. Let’s take a good hard look at the phrasing, the way verse three leads into verse four (I’m using the NIV, 1984):

 

              He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

             Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

 

So we start out in verse three with God leading us. We’re cavorting down paths of righteousness. Life is good! We’re godly and happy! And then something goes wrong…or does it?

Notice that the psalm writer, David, doesn’t say, “And then we wander off the path and abandon God’s righteous ways, and that’s how we end up in the valley of the shadow of death, being punished for our sins.” No—one minute we’re following our loving Shepherd down paths of righteousness; the next we’re in the valley of the shadow of death.

Do you get what this means? Sometimes God’s righteous paths take us to the dark places. Sometimes God Himself leads us into the valley. We’re still on the path, still being righteous, still in the loving care of the Shepherd, but His righteous path is leading us where we don’t want to go—so close to death we feel its shadow.

It’s big, the valley of the shadow of death. Mile after mile of barren wilderness. The path through stretches long—no shortcuts across. The path of righteousness may wander around dark lands for days, weeks, months—even years.

Perhaps you’ve walked those dim paths before. Perhaps you’re walking them now. It goes something like this:

You’re graduating from college, faithful to God. It should be the best time in your life—the future stretching wide, so many options—but… you can’t find a direction. Everyone else has a Great Life Plan—how they love revealing those plans in Epic Social Media Announcements!—but you just feel lost. Lost and alone.

You’re sad. Endlessly sad. You don’t know why, and you can’t pull out. You pray, you work on yourself, you try to get help, but the sadness remains.

Your biological clock is sending off insistent daily alarms—BABY TIME BABY TIME BABY TIME—but every month, your own body betrays you.

I’ve walked paths like these many times in my life: a season of unrequited love, a season of infertility, a season of career frustration, a season of loneliness after a difficult move. In times like this, fear rises. Confusion reigns. We start doubting God, doubting ourselves: What did I do wrong? Is God mad at me? Does this suffering mean I’m being punished? Did I accidentally wander off the path of righteousness?

Psalm 23 says no. God says no.

There is more to Christianity—and life—than quiet naps by gentle streams. There’s deep comfort for dark times. Living under our Shepherd’s protection and care doesn’t mean we will never wait, never suffer, never experience disappointment, decay, or delay. God doesn’t promise us an escape from hardship; He promises to guide and protect us as we go through hardship, all the way to the other side. No matter how dark the path. No matter how long the journey. That’s the real message of Psalm 23.

The more I think about this truth, the more beautiful this psalm becomes. Because who lives beside quiet waters all the time? Who experiences a life of constant peace and endless blessing? Not me! Sometimes I have, sometimes I do, but not always. Not today.

Psalm 23 doesn’t promise a life of never-ending peace and happiness; it promises strength and help and hope through all life’s ups and downs. We have a Shepherd who loves us and meets all our needs. He knows when we need rest, and He knows how to provide it. And when He leads us down into the valley, He does not leave us alone. His rod and staff—His presence—are there to comfort and guide us all along the way.

We may have times when we’re wandering, but we’re not wandering alone. We may have times when we’re sad, but we’re not sad alone. We may have times when we’re waiting, but we’re not waiting alone.

He is for us, He is with us, and if we will just keep to the righteous path, He will guide us all the way across the valley, however long it takes. Eventually, He will help us find our footing as the path climbs back up the mountainside. We may be out of breath when we reach the top, homesick and road-weary, but He’ll urge us to rest beside a bubbling mountain stream. He’ll ask if we’d like some water, and we’ll hold out our cup and say, “Yes please.”

 

 

Elizabeth Laing Thompson
Elizabeth Laing Thompson writes at LizzyLife.com about clinging to Christ through the chaos of daily life. As a minister, speaker, and novelist, she loves finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. She is the author of When God Says, “Wait, ”and When God Says, “Go.” Elizabeth lives in North Carolina with her preacher husband and four miracle kids, and they were totally worth the wait.

You can connect with Elizabeth on her author site, Facebook, and Instagram.

Hope Lives

Hope is safe on the altar.

Placing hope on the altar can feel like a contradiction to what we’re supposed to do. I tell myself that if I can hold on, just keep my grasp a little tighter, then hope will lead to realization. But usually it just leads to fear, and disappointment that things did not unfold the way I thought they would.

I’ve been trying so hard to pursue my dreams and I just don’t want to let them go. Letting go seems like a prerequisite to dreams dying, the future dying, never to be resurrected again. And I don’t want to be okay with unfulfilled desires and redirected plans.

I’ve continually come back to Sarah and Abraham’s story over the last few years, asking God not to allow me to see my future with eyes like Sarah; laughing and refusing to believe He would do what I thought He wanted with my life. The solution seemed to be holding dreams so tightly that no one could take them from me.

But life turned upside down, everything felt vulnerable, and I knew He was asking me to place all the pieces of my life on the altar. He promised that when He was done – adding, taking away, rearranging – they would fit back together again. He would give, but only after I first surrendered.

Then I read Hebrews 11 the other morning. It says, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice…Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”

He knew Isaac was safe, even if he had to die. God’s promise was safe, because He would reverse what is irreversible to fulfill what He said He would do. Abraham believed. He trusted. He obeyed. He let dreams die knowing they could not stay dead if God willed for them to live.

Our God-planted hopes and dreams are safe, too. We can place them on the altar. We can let them fade from our grasp. We can let Him do what He will. When the time is right, He will resurrect them and put the pieces back together. Nothing can keep you from what He will do in your life. The altar is where fear dies; not hope. Idols are crushed. Anxiety is restrained. Satan is thwarted. And hope lives.

Prepare. Fight. Go.

I was just beginning to fall asleep last night when the thought entered my mind: What about Psalm 34?
 
I know I’ve read the passage before, but I couldn’t recall it in that sleepy moment. I made a mental note to remember to look it up in the morning. Still, the words kept pressing on my heart so distinctly it felt like someone was whispering into my ear right beside me.
 
Psalm 34.
 
I don’t remember what I was thinking in that moment which prompted the question. I do know what’s been on my heart the last six months, and that my heart has been constantly searching for an answer — a response to the prayer from the beginning of that season to have new understanding of His goodness.

Psalm 34:7.
 
With squinted eyes and the words still ringing in my ears, I read it and began to understand.
 
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

Delivers.

Verse 4 says God delivered — natsal, tore away — David from his fears.

This morning I looked up the original Hebrew word for “delievers” from verse 7: Chalats – To be equipped; prepared for war; to draw out. To go equipped.
 
Fight. Go.

Two words that have been significant to me throughout the last three years.
 
And I love this passage shows the process of being prepared to fight, to go equipped, goes along with a season of tearing away from what’s holding us back.
 
No wonder it hurts so much. But it’s drawing us out to receive the promise we’ve been given: Seek the Lord and you will lack no good thing. In order to get there, we just have to be willing to be rescued. 

He will tear us away from our fear to equip us for us every good thing He has prepared. We will not miss out. He’ll bring the pieces together.

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| Psalm 34 |

1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me [tore me away] from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers [equips] them.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

When God Says “No”

I will never forget the moment when I knew God had answered “no” to something I really wanted.

He seemed to whisper this answer into my heart to help me realize I had spent too much time holding onto something I was not meant to have. After months of presenting my request, he gently told me to let it go.

At first, I didn’t realize his plans were better than my own. Moments of heartache and (seemingly) empty hands, left me wondering why he would take away this opportunity I desired so much. I wrongfully believed that if he wouldn’t give me what I wanted, he must not have understood how important it was to me. It seemed like he was needlessly withholding, not giving abundantly like I thought he should.

Permission to Grieve

When we are forced to let go of something we really long for — whether it’s taken away, or it seems it will never be given — grief is a natural response. The weight of disappointment is crushing. It can be overwhelming and take time to process.

It’s not wrong to experience disappointment when life does not unfold the way we hope. If we do not give ourselves permission to grieve, we inadvertently believe that God is more concerned with us immediately feeling better, rather than working through the hurt to bring real transformation to our heart. We lose sight of the invitation he has given us to place our struggles at his feet.

He is not afraid of the pain we feel. His sovereignty is not dependent on our emotions. He will not try to invalidate our hurt with quick and temporary fixes. We are free to express a sense of lack and sorrow in the moment. He lets us feel the void so that he might satisfy us with himself. He wants to draw near.

Finding His Love in Our Lament

The panic I felt over being led in a different direction gave a clear picture of the state of my heart. I was more concerned with not getting what I wanted than seeing where God wanted me.

Disappointment often reveals what captures our affections. Even though the disappointment is not always wrong, it does give us a gauge that shows us where we have invested our hope. Lamenting through our discontentment forces us to carry those desires back to God — even if just to question why he hasn’t given these things to us. It sheds light on the idols we have created in our lives. Through the grief, we dig up our biggest frustrations and unleash our rawest emotions. Grief graciously draws us in to wrestle with God in every wound and disappointment.

The purpose of lament is not merely to vent our distress (which leaves us in despair), but to bring our attention back to God’s promises and the hope we have in Christ. He promises that he hears us when we call (Matthew 7:7). He promises to be near to us (Psalm 34:18). He promises to be faithful (Deuteronomy 31:6). He promises that this hurt will end (Revelation 21:4). He promises that when we seek him, he will transform our hearts to desire more of him (Psalm 37:4). He will not leave us in the misery of our disappointment, because he has not finished the work he started in us (Philippians 1:6). He will assure us of his love as we invite him into the struggle we feel.

His Best Can Be Painful

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Redirection forces something out of our hands we had hoped to keep. Through that, we begin to realize God’s plan for our life does not equate to the easy or comfortable road; but he is working all things together, even this disappointed, for our good (Romans 8:28).

God always has our ultimate good in mind, which means he will pry the idols from our hands. He does this not because he is cruel or depriving us. He knows better than we do, and his “no” is always merciful, even when it hurts. He is for us, fighting against what will keep us from him (Romans 8:31). He knows our hearts can only be truly satisfied with himself (John 4:14). He will not tolerate being second in our lives, because he wants us to have something so much better than what the world can offer.

When God takes something away, he creates space in our lives to fill us with more of him and his blessings. That is the greatest gift of all. It may not feel like it in the moments where we are forced to reconcile disappointment, but he wants to help us understand it is true. He wants us to experience for ourselves — to taste and see, and know that he is good (Psalm 34:8).

Disappointment may be part of living in this world, as we struggle to let go of our earthly desires and open our hearts to receive the good things God wants to give us. But if we are in Christ, our struggle with disappointment is only temporary. The promises of God, and the joy we experience as we realize them, are eternal.

This article originally appeared on Desiring God.

Keep Hoping

I read an article a few months ago by a woman who said the struggle of undesired singleness prepared her for the future struggle she would have with infertility. Sharing her story was a profound encouragement for single and married women to minister to each other by drawing parallels between their experiences. To both hope and struggle together.

Reading her words was a raw and tender moment. I had never heard anyone make that comparison before, even though I wondered why people seemed to always tell couples desiring children it’s okay to grieve and keep holding onto hope, but then point out to singles that they may never get married – as if squelching the unmet longing is the only way they can serve God and be obedient in singleness. Singles are usually told to love their single life while they have it, like they’re supposed to attach themselves to it out of some kind of fear of missing out. No one ever said it’s okay to feel that unmet longing, much less acknowledge the struggle of being held in this tension between what we hope for and what actually may or may not happen.

A few too many, “You don’t need to worry about marriage because it may never happen,” taught me not to talk about those unmet longings. I decided it must be foolish to hope for something that might not ever be and I didn’t want to blindly walk into inevitable disappointment. But the last several years have shifted my perspective. I’ve been learning what it looks like to hold in my hands hope, reality, and assurance of the eternal future.

Hope for future marriage, reality of present singleness, and assurance that neither will be part of my eternal future.

It’s this last promise that enables me to be comfortable with the other two.

God longs to give us good gifts. Even though I don’t always understand, He also promises that all things work together for our ultimate good. That is the gift. Singleness is working together for our ultimate good. Hope for future marriage is working together for our ultimate good. Living in the middle of the unknown is working together for our ultimate good. Constantly reconciling the surrender of those dreams is working together for our ultimate good. Holding onto hope is working together for our ultimate good.

And hope will not put us to shame.

That’s because our ultimate hope is in Christ. If this hope is primary, it opens the door for secondary hope to exist, because we know that whether it becomes reality or stays unfulfilled, it does not have the power to bring us disgrace. Even if we experience disappointment on this earth because secondary hope only ever remains unrealized, we know we will not be disappointed in the end. Whatever happens, we still receive His best.

Christ gives us the freedom to continue desiring good things, and God-honoring marriage is certainly on that list. This hope – even this unmet longing – is all part of His plan to work in us and prepare us for what’s next; the immediate and eternal future.

I’m not going to tell you to go after contentment in singleness as you wade through another awkward and lonely Valentine’s Day this year, because there is no such thing.

I don’t want to be the voice that tells you to prepare for unfulfilled hope out of fear of disappointment, and I don’t want to make you think a deep and relentless desire for a good thing prevents you from serving the Lord and living the life He has called you to today. It doesn’t. This place between hoping and receiving is where He has you today and it is a safe place to acknowledge and wrestle with it. All of this is working together for good.

But I also know I can’t be the voice that tells you it’ll happen someday, just wait, because I don’t have that authority and the Bible clearly shows us there’s no guarantee. So there has to be another option.

Singleness won’t make you content. Marriage won’t make you content. Paul said Christ’s strength working in him is what enabled him to be content in any situation – with unmet longing or the fulfillment of it. That’s what we always seem to miss. When Christ is at the center and we allow Him to be the source of our strength, the weight of the unknown becomes a lot lighter. We can be enabled to pursue and live out marriage or singleness when Christ is our anchor keeping us grounded in what is true.

From this place, we’re also equipped to keep hope in the right perspective. We can hope for it while also keeping our eyes on its temporary status. Unfulfilled longings won’t be met with the accomplishment of that thing. We’ll just move on to the next unfulfilled longing, however good it may be. That’s why I won’t pursue being content in singleness. It doesn’t work. Christ’s strength and His grace is the only way to live and embrace the life you hoped wouldn’t still be reality by now. The only true and lasting fulfillment of longing will be realized when He returns.

If we really believe this is true, we should be comfortable allowing the hope for something more or different to sit in the room as we continue still to seek what He wants for us today. It’s beside us, but it doesn’t control us. It’s held, but held in context of the reality that longing is both a part of this world in some form and promised to end. It whispers our precious desires, but also our precious hope that even this season is working together for our ultimate good.

So when the weight of singleness and the unknown of how long the season will last is overwhelming – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.

When you think you cannot last another day if something doesn’t change – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.

When well-meaning married voices tell you to stop waiting and the fear starts to creep in – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.

When disappointment steals your joy and you begin to wonder if it could ever happen – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.

When shame threatens to invade as you continue to desire the fulfillment of these unmet longings – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.

Then keep hoping.

God Is with You, Mighty Warrior

Fight.

I feel like I’m not a very good fighter. I’m more the kind of person to wait and watch to see how God will accomplish it for me, without me, than step in to fight with Him.

Yet, that’s often what He calls us to do.

So when more than one friend sends you the same passage, with the same encouragement – that we are chosen and commissioned for the work, the fight, to move toward the plan God has set in motion – you stop and listen.

Even if you’re not quite sure what you’re supposed to be fighting for.

A few days ago I read the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel and the picture began to come together. My mind immediately went back to things that have stayed with me as I’ve transitioned from end to new.

Invite God into this space.
Let Him work in your circumstances.
Trust He has the power to accomplish anything.

I paused mid-passage, struck by the example of Hannah’s aching heart that drove her to prayers so honest they made everyone think she was crazy. I knew that’s who I wanted to be. As the bottled up words began to slip past my heart, I remembered.

I remembered why I had stopped asking.

Should you really be asking for this?
Remember, disappointment is exhausting. And embarrassing.
You wouldn’t feel so eager if you knew He was going to give you the exact opposite of what you ask.
Why are you so unwilling to accept this is never going to happen?
It’s all just the long way around to get you to agree to do what you don’t want to do.

I defaulted to my typical response that always kept me quiet: fear disguised as disappointment. That sinking feeling, making me regret I had ever asked. Is this feeling confirmation of an answer?

I usually convinced myself it was.

Or an opportunity to fight?

Then I remembered.

Perfect love drives out fear.

Maybe I had already started fighting.

I envied Hannah. All I wanted was to be able to pray like her. No shame, no fear – no doubt He could grant her request, daring to hope He would before she ever had the assurance.

And she didn’t let go. Even when those who watched didn’t understand, she wrestled with God and trusted He heard her cry. Her understanding of God’s greatness and power was so much bigger than her sorrow and she knew what to do in the face of it.

She prayed.

She fought for the child she longed for in prayer and surrender.

If I was going to fight, even if I wasn’t sure what for, I at least needed to know how.

With weapons not of the flesh, but of divine power, to destroy strongholds, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Every thought. God desires obedience not just from our hands and our heart, but our very thoughts. Their tendency is to run wild, and we must capture them and teach them – fight for them – to obey.

When our thoughts wander from whatever is true, whatever is noble and lovely, fear invades because we stop focusing on what Love has done. Each fear derives from a false belief that we have been or will be punished. We justify them, giving it names we can accept, failing to remember there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We can approach Him without shame.

So we must teach those thoughts to obey the same way we were taught: with His Word.

Extracting from our mind what is designed to do us harm and planting what will do us good and make us flourish.

We arm ourselves with Truth, knowing nothing else has the power or authority to redeem what seeks to destroy. Nothing else has the ability to take all things, even broken things, and allow them to be used for good.

This, not even this, will overcome you.

It may come after you, but you’ve been called and equipped. You’ve been commissioned to fight.

And when it feels like the strongholds are so strong you can’t even whisper the words your heart so desperately longs to say, longs to ask for from the One who hears and sees and works and is fighting with you – know this:

Nothing can keep you from Him.

Because of Christ, we have access to the creator of all, who faithfully and patiently listens. Even to the thoughts and requests we didn’t know we had and didn’t know we needed to ask. We have Someone advocating on our behalf.

But we still have to fight. Not so that He can hear us, but so we can hear Him.

So that we can hear His voice drown out the others; those voices designed to make you question and fear and doubt.

He speaks Truth over us as we read it off the page, undoing what we now know is wrong and making clear what had been distorted. It’s living and active, and sharper than the sword.

It’s the weapon, and it’s what you need to fight.

It’s what you need to let go of what was old and step forward to what is new.

You are a mighty warrior. And God is with you.

So let’s fight.