I first became acquainted with God’s calling and failure at age twelve or thirteen. My parents were the type to ask God’s opinion on big decisions and, in one of these conversations, my dad heard God telling him to run for Attorney General.
The campaign commenced with fundraising, phone calls, family pictures in matching collared shirts, and red and white signs with “A Prosecutor, NOT a Politician” dotting our neighbors lawns. My sisters and I spent the summer licking envelopes and mailing letters, attending fundraisers, and proudly wearing our red “Harper” t-shirts.
But Harper didn’t win the election.
The phone calls and commercials stopped. The signs were taken down. Life was supposed to go back to normal. But questions arose in my heart.
Why did God tell my dad to run and not help him win? Was God like a mean father that bosses his family around just to see if they’ll obey? I didn’t know, but I didn’t particularly want to know this God who told people to head towards . . . failure.
As I grew older, I heard pastors explain God’s wrath and punishment. I remember hearing Pat Robertson declaring Hurricane Katrina was an example of God’s punishment for the sinful people of New Orleans. I started to see God, not as a jerk that directs his people towards failure,
—but as a cruel taskmaster ready to punish for the slightest fault.
So maybe my dad didn’t win the election — or later my friend’s mom died in the risky surgery she’d prayed so much about—because they had done something that angered God?
It’s a peculiar experience growing up in the South—where it’s as easy to find a church as it is a gas station or a soccer mom. But with all these churches, there’s a lot of God talk and it can be difficult to know who God is because of all the ‘wisdom’ contradicts itself. ‘God loves you and has a plan for your life’ doesn’t quite fit with the teaching that our three best friends and aunt might be burning to death for all eternity because they didn’t pray a prayer.
My point is it can be difficult to wrap our minds around who God really is with all the conflicting teachings, can’t it?
I had my own experience with God’s calling, leading to what felt like failure, when I moved to China. My dream of pedaling around the crowded streets, serving those damaged by the severe earthquake, and sharing Jesus with college students was quickly shattered when our team was split up because of some extremely difficult issues that came to light.
I was shattered into pieces.
Bitterness flowed through my blood and came out in the form of wild nights of screaming intermixed with sobbing. I had many conversations with God that sounded something like this: “Hello? It’s me, Ruthie. The one who moved across the world to tell people about you. Did I mishear you? Did I do something wrong?”
I asked the questions we all do: Did I misunderstand? Is God punishing me? What now?
If God calls us to something, does it mean success? Or might it mean failure?
I’m in the middle of this journey myself. I feel God has called me to write. In fact, He’s been telling me for many more years than I’ve actually been writing because it took me a while to listen (My husband might use the word stubborn). Our dating book (Real Men Don’t Text) comes out in September and there are days when I panic that it won’t sell.
Would God call me to write if it wasn’t going to work out? If it doesn’t sell does that mean I did something wrong?
How do I define success? Is failure a possibility?
I think about the stories most of us grew up hearing. John the Baptist followed his calling and it ended in beheading. Mary listened and her son was later publically executed. The disciples listened to Jesus and got into a boat and a storm arose.
I don’t know the answer. I don’t know why some books sell and others don’t. I don’t know why God favors one praying politician over another. I don’t know why God calls us out to sea only to have the waves engulf us.
Maybe it’s the lessons along the way. Maybe it’s the people you meet, the lives you touch. Maybe it’s one person instead of hundreds like you imagined. Maybe it’s to build the Kingdom in a way that none of us understand.
I don’t know. But I do know, we’re supposed pay little attention to the surging waves and keep listening to the still voice urging us onward and bringing a song to our hearts.
Have you struggled with unanswered prayer? How did you respond?
[Photo: kelsey_lovefusionphoto, Creative Commons]