If I founded a church, it would be called The Church of Holy Misery located at the corner of Hard Road and Difficult Way. We'd only read the scriptures about God pruning us and about how all of our human desires are wicked and sinful. Decisions would be made by asking what we wanted and then doing the opposite, and the counseling ministry would center around the philosophy: "Just Suck It Up and Deal With It." Considering how many of my fellow humans also think there's something character-building about being a little bit miserable -- after all, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger (wait… is that not in the Bible?!) -- I think attendance would be good. Oh, and the pews would most definitely be unpadded.
But I'm pretty sure my church would make the Father sad.
I'm joking about the church. My heart knows enough to say that such a church would be disastrous. But the reality is, I worship there a lot. I often feel like God wants me to be miserable, and that somehow that's more holy. It's twisted and bizarre, but I've come to realize that I often equate what I want with my own selfish desires, and therefore what I don't want with God's will.
When Jacob was offered three jobs at once -- two in Portland and one in Midland -- it was easy for us to decide which place we wanted to live. Portland, OR, hands down. Ranked as one of "America's Most Livable Cities," we could both easily imagine ourselves picking berries, camping in the mountains, driving to the beach on a Sunday afternoon, and visiting cute little cafes. It's a city that we both know we would love, and my extended family lives in the area. Easy choice, right?
(Side note: I am aware that you Pacific North-westerners would be quick to remind me that it rains 6 months of the year. Life isn't just a bowl of cherries, or berries as the case may be.)
Problem was, the jobs just never really panned out. Jacob knew he didn't want one of them, so we eliminated it right away. But the other one seemed just about perfect! Although it payed considerably less than the Midland opportunity, we were ready to turn down the extra money -- after all, it isn't everything -- for the chance to live in a place we both love. (Though admittedly we couldn't help but question the wisdom of that.) But we just kept going back and forth... then things sort of stalled with the Portland offer, and we both froze up. We had to make a decision about the Midland job, but the Portland job wasn't moving from from verbal to written offer.
I woke up one morning in tears, convinced we were going to Midland. And all I could do was cry. The wind, the desert, the middle-of-nowhere. There was nothing about any of it that I wanted. And somehow I felt like God was making my life out to be one giant object lesson. I could almost hear Him up above, shaking his head and muttering: You see, Carrie, you need to learn a little more patience. I know you don't like the wind and the dirt, but perhaps if you have to live with it, you'll learn to be content in all circumstances. (Which, by the way, is something you've never really mastered.) Oh, and perseverance… we're still working on that one. Not to mention the fact that this is silly. Do you remember those starving children in Africa?! Do you think they have the luxury of deciding where they want to live? No, no, no, my dear. They're lucky if they just get to live. Don't you think this is all a wee bit selfish?
As I listened to this god of my head lecture me, I would move from anger to shame to guilt. Jacob asked me that morning, in the middle of my tears, why I was so certain we were going to go to Midland when we hadn't yet made our decision -- and were actually leaning towards Portland.
With a fresh fury of tears, I answered, "Because I don't want it."
I don't like that my picture of God is one in which He gives me the opposite of what I hope for; the opposite of what I ask for. I can think of several scriptures right off the top of my head that completely counter that kind of thinking. But as a founding member of the Church of Holy Misery, this kind of toxic theology is buried deep in my soul. Though I'm pretty sure it breaks His heart, I can't seem to fully shake this image of a chronically-disappointed, shaking-his-head-in-resignation, eye-rolling, annoyed heavenly father who is going to teach me a lesson if it's the last thing he does.
To me, the happy kum-ba-yah ending to this story would be if I told you we were moving to Portland. But those of you who regularly read this blog already know that isn't how the story ends. Because right now I'm in a truck loaded high with all our belongings on the road to Midland.
He's taking us to the desert.
The day after my I-don't-want-to-move-to-Midland-sob-fest, Jacob got an email from the Portland company saying that some contracts fell through and they were no longer hiring. With that job off the table, Midland became an obvious choice.
And it's ok. With the decision essentially made for us, I was somehow able to rest in the fact that there must be something good down this path. I still can't say that moving to Midland is what either of us would choose above all else, but I also don't feel quite so hopeless or resigned about it. He opened so many doors in this direction -- from the job, to providing a place to live, to giving us new friends -- that it feels like the right way to be walking, at least for this season. There's this little bird of hope in my soul, warbling a new song whenever my complaint rises up and I start to sing the opening hymn at the Church of Holy Misery. She's singing, "He is good. He is good. He is always, always good."
Can't wait to see what His goodness looks like, because I know beautiful things can bloom in the desert.