I’ve never been a fan of the “prosperity Gospel.” And by that, I mean I don’t like the idea of holding a demand over God’s head – the whole “I do this, you do that” mentality. “I marry the woman you want me to, and you, God, make her extraordinarily beautiful, emotionally healthy, and the perfect housewife.” “I give money to your church, and you make me crazy wealthy.” “I play by the rules, and you give me everything I want.” God doesn’t work that way.
But in my zeal to let God off the hook, I often go to the other extreme as well. When our family was going through a years-long trial, my older brother at one point asked me how I was handling everything. I told him that I felt I had to accept that life might always be as difficult as it was at the time. I couldn’t look for some light at the end of the tunnel because there might not actually be one. “It’s like a desert,” I said. “Little oasis’ here and there, but mostly a desert.”
As I think back on it, that was my line of self-defense. The sooner I could accept my desert reality, the sooner I could stop my own emotional turmoil. It was too hard to dream. Sometimes our trials last so long that we stop hoping for any change. We stop looking for the Promised Land, or at least stop living with the naive notion that it’s just beyond the next horizon when every other horizon has let us down. The crash I felt from my hopes being dashed over and over again was worse than not hoping at all.
“That’s pretty bleak,” he said. Sure was.
But lately, I’ve been reminded of how wrong I was. Our difficult times came partly because we were living in an area that was way too expensive for us, partly because we had three kids back to back, and partly because my wife was going through mental health issues. Almost magically, though, God whisked us out of our situation. We got tremendous support from friends and family and are in such a better place now I couldn’t have imagined it possible just three years ago.
But even so, even so, I feel like life has trained me not to expect too much. And circumstances lately have illuminated this. I’m a private music teacher and have a very full schedule. I get up early two days a week to drive three hours to students I have back where we used to live, give lessons all day, and then drive two hours home, getting back around 10 or 11 at night. The other three days, I’m packed with lessons in the area I live now and play at two Masses on the weekend to make ends meet. And let me be clear: I am incredibly grateful for all of this. My kids go to a private Catholic school (which I never thought possible). My wife is doing so much better. I have nothing to complain about.
But still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t wear on me. Just the same, though, wishing for something different that would be more healthy for my family and me…. in my mind, that’s not an option. So I never prayed for it. I never asked for it. I just tried to be happy where I was. It seemed almost gratuitous to ask for more than He’d already pulled off for us.
But a couple weeks ago, I got a text from a friend about an opening for a music teacher position at a Catholic school literally a bike-ride away from home. I’ve always wondered whether jobs like that were even worth pursuing. I’ve never taught in an actual school, haven’t led a band, and barely a choir. But I know music and have 13 years of private teaching under my belt. So I thought, why not? I called up the school and within a week, I was offered the job – full-time, with benefits. It’s not so much that I can give up all my students. And honestly, I’m not entirely certain how it’s all going to come together, but it’s made it possible for me to have an actual solid and steady line of work with amazing things like “paid holidays” and summers off. With the right cocktail of side jobs, I think it can actually work to stay close to home, not have to make that brutal commute and have a more healthy, normal life for me and my family.
Biking home from a meeting at the school, I crossed a bridge overlooking the river that runs through our city, took in the smell of the trees along the trail that would become my daily commute, and wondered at the dramatic difference between where I’ve been and where I’m going. “This is actually happening,” I marveled.
What I’ve learned over the years is that if I want to do something God knows shouldn’t happen or get something God knows I shouldn’t have, it won’t matter how hard I fight, run, or plead with Him. He won’t budge. And this is a grace. It’s a mercy He shows us when He gives a firm and unmistakable “no.” But that doesn’t change the fact that He still wants to lead us beside quiet waters, lay us down in green pastures, and restore our souls. Sometimes He beckons us to make a change we know will be best for us (and maybe for everyone around us), but we don’t take hold of it because we are too afraid to leap. All He’s waiting for us to do is get over our own anxiety.
For a long time, I’ve made these sorts of decisions with an incredible amount of fear and worry, but I dont want to do that any more. I don’t know exactly what’s coming next, but I think I’m ready to walk in faith just the same: to close my eyes, open my arms, and jump.
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