Not many would object to the fact that indeed we are living in chaotic times. Looking back at headlines that depict the reality of people’s lives, even over the past month, requires us to take pause and reflect at the sheer amount of things happening across our nation and the world. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have hit Texas and Florida, resulting in severe flooding, property damage, and loss of life. In New Hampshire, an attempted lynching of an eight year old boy by several teenagers has, thus far, been met with no implications to the perpetrators. This past Tuesday, Mexico City was rattled by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that took the lives of roughly 300 people, only to be followed by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake that again rattled the city (and people’s nerves) Saturday morning.
In times such as these, to believe in a good God can be a hard thing to “do.” It’s easy to fall back on nihilistic, cynical thinking when we are faced with the seemingly hopeless condition of the world. Sometimes life can be so full of hardship and disappointment that it influences the way we find ourselves believing.
I know a bit about nihilistic, negative thinking. A past which included panic attacks and hope deferred caused me to carry a plethora of beliefs rooted in disappointment. What began as survival mechanisms evolved to rebellion and, over the years, a deep mistrust of God as protector and provider. He seemed to be one who wasn’t overly concerned with the desires of my heart or the panic that plagued me in the past. I knew Jesus, I knew the Holy Spirit, but Father God? Who was this Father God? It wasn’t until recently that I began to take a deeper look at my lack of belief in Him as protector and provider.
This trend in my belief system was illuminated recently when it became clear I needed a new housing situation if I was to complete another year of hard work here in Seattle.
Amid finals week last June, I ventured across the West Seattle bridge to view a room that had been listed for rent on a classifieds list. I found the place to be so much more than I ever hoped I could find (in my price range) in Seattle. The newly built townhouse was clean and spacious. Not only would I have my own, sunlit bedroom looking out onto three majestic evergreens, but a sunlit writer’s nook as well. I would be sharing my very own, sparkling bathroom with no one but the guests I’d have over! The townhome was in a beautiful, ethnically diverse neighborhood on a quiet street. It allowed space and distance from school and work and proximity to the beach. The housemates were lovely, and the room I’d be renting a mere 30 bucks more than I was paying in my current rental.
I was thrilled as I sat down with the potential roommates and got to know them a bit better. After we said goodbye, I wandered through the neighborhood, feeling joyful. It was as if hope had renewed in my spirit at the prospect of committing to life in this not-so-simplest of cities for another year of hard work. The varying skin tones of the faces I crossed ranged the full scope of the rainbow. This was the diversity I had craved for much of my first year here. The sunlit, third floor bedroom, with its own bathroom and office, were more than I could have imagined, from the view of the basement bedroom I’d inhabited my first year.
Yet, amidst the hope, a hint of dread threatened to sink into my belly. What if I didn’t get it?
God wouldn’t be that cruel, would He? To dangle a carrot in front of me of everything that I had been desiring since my arrival in this city, and then snatch it away? He wouldn’t do that, would He? The temptation to believe that He would let me down was present. The temptation to believe that He was not good, but cruel, taunting me with what was ideal only to yank it back, was there. Was palpable.
I continued to walk throughout the neighborhood, simply glowing with possibility. My feet led me to a park with a look out point, gazing Northeast toward Downtown. There lay the entire skyline of this unique city. I could see as far as the Cascades in the East, Downtown a bit closer, the Sound closer still. Cargo ships gleaned stealthily across its depths.
Suddenly, a cacophony of joy exploded from a flock of birds overhead. They were a breed I have never noticed before. Every member of the flock was doing incredible flips and turns and twists. They were playing chicken like Blue Angel pilots, performing nosedives and cartwheels. These birds were celebrating with joy similar to that I had felt just moments earlier. Before dread had opened the door and slunk into the room.
I felt a question, gentle yet firm, hit my spirit: “Do you believe that I will give this to you?”
The reality is that three months after that initial walk through that neighborhood in West Seattle, I walk the same street to our house from the bus after work. I do so smiling. I laugh at the multi-skinned children, playing together. I invite friends to sit in the park under the trees to drink chai. I snuggle into cozy couches and learn to be present to two unique women.
The coincidence is that I chose to believe that it would happen, that God was good. That he was not dangling a metaphorical carrot that met every need I had been praying to be met. No, this time I had chosen to believe that He was good. That He cared about my needs. Seems like a little thing, but this is kind of a big deal. Anxiety and the disappointments that came with living—years of expectations not being met—had caused me to doubt the goodness of God. Had caused me not to believe.
This simple lesson of finding housing riveted my spiritual attention. Because I no longer wake to the view of people’s feet and spiders nesting in a basement window. Now, the light filters through those three Evergreens, into my bedroom. Now, the laughter of children (unaware of what time it is) beckons the neighborhood to open its eyes to the world. Now, I not only write in that writing nook, but I paint there too. Now, I feel at home.
This newfound reality has led me to a series of questions:
- Could it be true that we are playing a part in this whole thing that influences the outcome?
- Could it be true that belief actually influences how things play out in our lives and communities?
- Could “Daughter, Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34) be literal?
- That “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his purposes for her” (Luke 1:45) is true?
- What if “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4) isn’t a suggestion, but a promise?
If that’s the case…whoa. Because that changes everything. It makes me want to ask myself, our community, and our city, especially in these most troubling and chaotic times…
What are we believing?