Those were the thirteen words in an impersonal email that rocked my world. It doesn’t matter who said it or why, just that it was a sentence that started to short-circuit my confidence and hope. I had never really experienced a huge rejection and a lot of my future plans rested on this one audition.
Now I found myself asking God “Why?” and making deals with him to help me fix what had just gone horribly wrong. Certainly I could talk with someone fix this. Certainly a stranger who didn’t know my heart or my story wasn’t going to be the final word on my vocational destiny. But my attempts to understand and maybe get another shot were met with more harsh responses.
I can honestly say that this was the first time my confidence in God and his purposes was shaken. Was he really leading my life or just sitting back in his cosmic recliner with buttered popcorn watching the good and the bad movie of my life unfold? Didn’t he care that a huge, defining door had just slammed shut for me?
I am humbled (and a little embarrassed) to share that it only took one job rejection to send me spiraling down in doubts. I had lived with a certainty that had not been tested very much. And the subtle pride I had developed in helping my friends wrestle with their God questions, suddenly crumbled. So, if you have spent any time of your life asking very honest and valid questions, I apologize for any of mine or anyone else’s obnoxious certainty. If it’s obnoxious faith, it is probably an untested faith. It’s still faith, just a faith that will probably function at a deeper level after a loss or tragedy.
There are definitely days of our lives that we wonder where God is, or if he is even there. It’s easier to trust that he is there when life is going as planned and we feel good about things. But when something goes really wrong, we ask questions like, “Where are you? Why this pain?” or “Don’t you care?”
Here is one of the most important truths I have learned on my spiritual journey: we need permission to live in the tension that we undoubtedly may feel when big faith questions come up to the emotional and spiritual surface. I remember being told by a teacher once that there are no bad questions. It’s the same with God questions. There’s no harm in asking the question. In fact, it’s truly an act of bravery to march straight into the army of unknowns.
One way the baby Jesus is described, even before he was born is that they will call him Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23). That’s another truth I have always heard, but feel like I have experienced in a raw and surprising way over the last decade. I do believe that God is there. I do promise an attempt to dig into why he lets bad things happen to us on another day. But today, I just wanted to rest on the reality of him being with us. He was there when I got my devastating email. He was there when my friend said goodbye to a baby born with half a heart. He was there when a superstar of a father and youth worker battled deepest, darkest depression. He is there when the marriage or family is broken and someone leaves. He is there when your boss is awful and your job unfulfilling.
God’s promise to us is that he is with us in every present moment, which means he was there in every past moment and he will be there in every future moment. There is not a limited time frame to when he is with us. Wherever we are in our lives – our vast geographies, our span of experiences, our unique situations, even in my silly little rejection – God is with us. This is my prayer for us today in starting to trust that God might actually be there, and want to be with us:
God with us in our distractions.
God with us in the things we cannot control.
God with us in our celebrations.
God with us in the mundane things.
God with me in my loss.
God with me when I am searching.
God with me when I fail.
God with me in my frustrations.
God with me in a moment of utter joy.
God with me, nudging me, loving me and coming after me when I choose to not be with him.
God is with me.