Over the last four years since I graduated college, our family has experienced a lot of change. In our plans to move to the Chicagoland area for my graduate school education our willingness to live a nomadic lifestyle has been taxed to the extreme. But learning to cope with the changes of life happened for me in the first year. Looking to save as much money as possible, we lived with two different friends in two different locations for a year. In the last couple of weeks before the move to the western suburbs of Chicago we found out our housing plans had fallen through. We were at a loss. Saving for more than a year, we had only been able to scrape up a few thousand dollars based on a particular budget for those housing plans. Housing plans that were well below market value for the Chicago area. The truth is we weren’t going to make it.
I distinctly remember the feeling I had in that moment. The moment realizing there was a dead end to my plans. There was a sickness in my gut, a nausea I have rarely experienced in my life since it is usually staved off by an over exaggerated sense of self-confidence and long-term optimism. Yet, it all fell away, and I don’t mean just my common personality traits fell away. I felt all of my work slip off the edge of a cliff. A conceptual cliff I dutifully denied the existence of even while never fully able to banish it from my mind’s peripheral vision. The years of study, the years of working multiple jobs and doing ministries, the sacrifice of so much time with my wife and the children we had in college; all of it seemed to empty out of all meaning or purpose.
It was here, at this moment, when doubt made its critical strike. Why should we be uprooting our family from our friends, families, and community? We have no jobs or means to survive so far from the security we have here in our homeland, what business do we really have there? Few people value academic work in the churches anyway so how you helping them by wasting time and money? Why is it okay for you to continue to sacrifice your family for your goals?
I am thankful that my years of training for ministry in college had given me the time to experience events of tragedy alongside godly men as professors and pastors. They each had taught me, by explanation and example, that such moments would come. Such questions must be answered—never ignored. Changes in life create moments of transformation for us, but as Christians we recognize transformation is an act of resurrection and part of the process of resurrection life is the weakness and pain of a cross. Death is always a part of the changes made in our lives in order to reach the fuller life beyond the present. Death, felt and experienced in the turmoil and pain of change, cannot be denied but must be embraced so that through it we might find resurrection.
Even more than my education, I was, and am, grateful for the communal reality of Christian life. I was never alone in this moment. Besides teachers and pastors, my mentor was a voice of clarity to sift through the options before us. Our intentional community, while I had stepped away from actively leading, supported us in our despair but continually reminded me of God’s work in our lives. They led me to contentment by reminding me of who I am among them; a leader, a teacher, a pastor, a friend, a brother.
In all of this change that was occurring, for good or for bad, whether it felt like a torrential hurricane of chaos or the shockingly silent abyss of empty space, I was still there. Surprisingly enough, even to me, I had not lost myself over that cliff. My identity was being held intact, even as I watched all that I had done and all the possibilities of the future I had worked for come to an empty end. In all of this experience with change I felt a deep sense of being with the Holy Spirit. I met him in the people he inhabits; my teachers, pastors, community, and family. Their voices were his voice. Their words were his calling to me. A call to remember God’s goodness, to seek my place caring for the people of God with the gifts he had given to me, and to recognize the work I had already been allowed to enjoy. Work which was preparing my future. The Spirit was using the pain of change to remind me of his promise to lead and care for my family, and the inadequacy of my ability to do that without him.
When I realized this change was not going to overwhelm us, and that I could trust the Spirit was with us, it was like everything changed even if the circumstances were not magically fixed for us. The vortex of chaos could be harnessed and ridden as an adventure. The silent abyss became a place of meditation and prayer. There was beauty in the change. The beauty of life with the Spirit.
The perfect communal meal for finding beauty in change is a taco buffet. Set out a variety proteins, cheeses, salsas, and random vegetables (and even add citrus fruits if you’re feeling adventurous!). Invite a number of friends and challenge them to try as many combinations as possible. Let the conversations be guided by the eclectic tastes, always asking “Why do you think you enjoy or dislike it?” People will begin to open up about childhood foods, surprising preferences, and wild tails of family recipe combinations!
Black Smoke Rising by Greta Van Fleet
Part of the experience of being finite beings is time is change for us. We have a beginning, and we will have an end. In the midst of the changes we experience prayer is not only a time of celebration or petition but is a time of active reflection. Reflection on the Spirit moving through the changes of time that shape our daily lives. I encourage you to take thirty minutes a day this week to use prayer as a time to reflect on the changes throughout your life and find the Spirit’s presence redeeming even the toughest and most painful events.
Know this! Every person is either empty or full. For if the person does not have the Holy Spirit, then they have no knowledge of the Creator. If they have not received the Life, who is Jesus Christ, then the person does not know the Father, who is in heaven. If the person does not live according the reasoning of the heavenly teaching, then they are not of a sound and purified mind, nor do they act virtuously. Such a person is empty. If, on the other hand, the person receives God—who says to us, “I will live with them, and walk in them, and I will be their God,”—such a person is not empty, but truly full. (May we reflect on how we are filled by the Spirit!) –Irenaeus