It started with a new opportunity and then a promotion. And then another one. And another one. A fast track accelerating my position and my paycheck (although, as an educator, that was definitely never the aim).
The interesting thing was, I had almost seen this coming, having almost envisioned the exact scenario where my dean told me that she was leaving and that she was recommending me to take her place in an interim role. It was a win-win for both of us. And this came after two years of intense work from another provost-appointed position I had served in. I had paid my dues, found that I loved administrative work (strangely, according to some!), and now circumstances were unfolding in a way that laid out a clear future.
In total, four years of intense work and accelerating responsibilities (following nearly a decade as a full-time college professor), and the corresponding honor that comes with some leadership positions. During this time, however, intense difficulties and pressures attacked from all sides. As with many difficult life circumstances, listing what happened cannot do justice to the emotional difficulties wrapped into each one of these:
Depression and anxiety, one experienced by me and the other by my spouse.
An eye disease that appeared out of nowhere, was difficult to diagnose, and caused me severe pain and visual difficulties.
Literally at the same time that my eye problems started, my sister-in-law has an emergency C-section following pre-eclampsia. Both she and my new, prematurely born niece spend the next few months recovering.
Extreme personnel problems that left me and other colleagues fearful of being alone in our offices or hallways.
Dysfunctional faculty politics that I was unable to avoid by virtue of my position.
A bullying and mean-spirited administrative approach that in my final year of my position, zeroed in on me and a few other women.
The sudden, traumatic death of my executive assistant. Due to her family not being local, it fell on me and some helpful colleagues to clean out her office and find her half-eaten food and Happy Bosses Day card (beautifully written to me) from a life that was cut-off midstream.
A male administrator preying upon me and another female administrator in a bizarre way that was more about power than lust. While one male administrator faced intense scrutiny for innocuous things, this other male administrator who got a kick out of trapping high-level women into vulnerable situations remained on campus for two years.
Any one of these could be personally devastating. These happened all at once.
And yet through all of this, I had a secret weapon. Despite me feeling sad, scared, and stressed at times, I was overall pretty calm. I had an extra layer of peace. And the sensation of being carried. As an extra gift from the Lord, He made me aware that He was carrying me.
Despite being the busiest I had ever been in my life, I spent increasingly longer times in prayer in the mornings. Since I was often up very early--stress makes me eat and sleep less--I would spend 2-4 hours in prayer every morning. I immersed myself in studying Puritan and Anglican writings, with common themes of faith and sanctification.
And so it was that for four years of difficulty, I knew that the answer was to "wait." I never had an impulse to run, hide, or avoid....all of which are my typical go-to responses (I'm usually on the "flight" side when in "fight or flight" situations). In fact, the circumstances that I was going through, where I was often the only person who could, should, or would respond to a serious situation, was teaching me how to stand in the face of fear, protect others, and respond in the wisest way that I could.
I learned to wait while reading from wise Christian minds who taught that the secret to the Christian life is to surrender and wait on the Lord. It's the meaning of life (rather than the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's answer...which is 42)!
Isaiah 30 is yet another passage warning Israel to not look to Egypt for deliverance. We'll get into this more in Isaiah 31, where the theme continues. It's too bad that they didn't listen---this theme keeps coming up a lot in Isaiah, so it's not like they weren't warned!
Anyway, besides the warning against Egypt, there are some beautiful passages in this section on waiting and resting in the Lord:
"In trusting and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (v. 15)
"Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice, blessed are all those who wait for him" (v. 18)
And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it.'" (v. 21)
Israel was tempted to run to Egypt because the situation was indeed dire. As some of my earlier blog posts mention, the Assyrians were super scary. And God was certainly taking His good old time in helping out. So, they were coming up with the best plan they could think of...on their own.
This is God's main beef against them: "Oh rebellious children, says the Lord, who carry out a plan, but not mine; who make an alliance, but against my will, adding sin to sin, who set out to go down to Egypt without asking for my counsel" (v. 1-2).
I don't always get this right, in terms of waiting on God's counsel before acting. But by His grace, I did during these years. I waited when I was supposed to wait. And then I left when I was supposed to leave. It was like playing the child's game, "Mother May I?," and when He finally said, "yes," I moved swiftly to action. From one week to the next, I went from enduring to researching my options and then acting on them.
I have heard others' stories about waiting during difficult circumstances. We can ask why God lets us remain in them for so long, and it's probably important to double-check that it's actually God allowing the waiting and not our own fear of change. We don't always learn the "why" behind a difficult circumstance.
In my case, I had another blessing of being able to see some of the "why" in hindsight. These experiences changed me, drastically. They prepared me, both personally and professionally. They caused me to rely on Him and to beef up my theology to have a deeper understanding of what it means to rely on Him. I was finally able to fully surrender and not consciously hold back a part of myself out of fear that He'd make my life strange or difficult. I was also able to serve Him and help others--to protect and guide students and faculty until challenging individuals left and circumstances changed. It wasn't just about me and what was difficult for me, but what others were also going through and experiencing, and how I could be used to help.
Still, even knowing this, waiting is hard. It is hard yet again for me.
Spurgeon once did an entire sermon on Isaiah 30:18 entitled, "A Waiting God and a Waiting People." In it, he says,
Dear friends, you can judge whether you are the people of God or not by this— Can you say, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him”? “Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” God’s waiting people wait upon God expectantly. They are looking for everything from him, for he is their all in all. They have had a great deal from God, and they expect more from him. They swim in a river of grace already, and they are floating on to an ocean of glory.
I need to hear this message anew. Each new season brings another time of waiting, sometimes without any sense of God's presence. Spurgeon was quite familiar with this, having struggled with depression throughout his life. He offers sage advice for when one is in a state of waiting in the midst of what seems a silence from heaven.
Lean heavily upon thy God. It is a poor faith which only believes as far as the eye can see... If thou canst not rejoice in the light of his countenance, yet rest in the shadow of his wings. Yes, we must be a waiting people, and assuredly we may not complain; for we caused the Lord to wait for us many a day. What patience he has had! Cannot we be patient? Sometimes God’s people have to wait for the fulfilment of his promises.
Like Spurgeon, my mind went straight to Psalm 62 when considering Isaiah 30. May this song be with us as we wait on the Lord:
My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from Him.