When friends set me up with a godly man, I carefully walked the tightrope between presumption and hope, feeling well-prepared for possible disappointment. My prayers were pretty simple: Lord, please grow this relationship – or show us clearly that Your answer is “No.”
Instead, we reached an impasse. It wasn’t lack of openness; it wasn’t lack of counsel. But after a few months of contact, we still had no Yes or No from our feelingsNumbers 36:6, 1 Corinthians 7:39 or from the Lord.Genesis 24:14 There were at least two things we knew for sure: We were friends, and we were stumped.
“Sometimes silence means ‘No,'” my friend told me, “and sometimes it means ‘Wait.'” So we closed the case for lack of evidence, leaving the future in God’s hands.
“Hope is inconvenient. It is paradoxical. It can be painful. It can search my heart and motives to the very bottom.” When I wrote these words a few years ago, I had no idea how true they would prove to be. I was ready for God to say “No,” but I wasn’t prepared for uncertainty. I looked for an undeniable denial; His answer would only become clear over time.Proverbs 4:18
In a season of uncertainty in many areas of my life, this new silence was a disappointment I could not reason away. Blindsided by my own frustration with God, I bought a book called The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge (Greenwood: Oasis House, 1996) and began devouring the Scriptures it contained. And there I learned that the apostle Peter was a little bit like me. I “knew” I could handle disappointment; he “knew” he could handle temptation.
Maybe Jesus smiled. “Don’t worry, Peter. I’ve prayed for you, and your faith is not going to fail. But it’s sifting time for you.”Luke 22:31-33, paraphrased
Wheat-growers know that a heap of golden grain harbors chaff, stalks, sticks and rocks – flaws that only appear when the wheat is shaken up and sifted through a whole series of sieves. God is in the business of sifting hearts: Discerning attitudes, intentions and assumptions, and showing up the gap between our aspirations and our choices under pressure.
Peter had to be sifted by danger and fear before he knew his lack of lasting loyalty to Jesus. God’s sieve for my heart was His silence, and it caught a whole lot in its mesh: I wanted to accept advice, but I wasn’t actually accepting it. I wanted to respect the men in my life, but it wasn’t consistently coming out of my mouth. I thought I could communicate, but real life and writing just weren’t quite the same. I thought I trusted God – until my circumstances didn’t make any sense.
As much as I longed to understand this experience, I’ve had to accept that God does not owe me an explanation. But I can – and should – look for life lessons in disappointment. I’ve had to ask, seek, knock and even fast to find out how He designed it to change my heart.
I’ve seen that disappointment can reveal wrong expectations. It can help me recognize the difference between a good idea and a God idea, and realize whom I am actually waiting for.Psalm 39:7, Isaiah 25:9 Disappointment can make me more dependent on Him and much hungrier for His Word.
I’ve learned that He can and He does speak through silence. Sometimes it means “No” and sometimes just “Wait.” Sometimes it’s “Yes, dear child. You’re doing My will for this season, and I have nothing new to add,” and sometimes it’s “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”John 16:12
Because sometimes we’re not quite ready for a Yes.
The benefits of disappointment are many, but they’re optional: I don’t have to accept the sifting; I don’t have to cooperate with God. But I’ve grown to know, in a deeper, more tested way, that I can always (always!) trust His plan.
I’m still in the middle of my story, and it’s still hard to see its trajectory. But meanwhile I’m encouraged by His plan for my friends.
Two for Disappointment
Take Jane. A self-described doormat as a girl, she spent a year teaching English in Taiwan and came home a stronger woman. Next, focused time in Bible training left her deeply and glowingly in relationship with Jesus. Her dream was to return to Taiwan, perhaps earn a scholarship and a degree in teaching English. Her former employers wanted her back – after she attended a 10-day spiritual retreat, designed to prepare her for the task ahead.
Meanwhile Clyde, knowing Jane wanted to concentrate on her Bible training, had been waiting to ask her into a courtship. In the year before she graduated, he had been praying, he had been listening for God’s direction, and he had seen signs that this was the woman for him. But at the end of that year, Jane said “No.”
Simply not at peace with any other answer to Clyde, Jane left for the required retreat. While there, she hit a wall, an inner wall built by fear in her heart. She couldn’t explain it; she couldn’t budge it, but it was seriously affecting her health and her relationships. To the godly folks around Jane, it looked just like bitterness, and after a concerted effort to help her failed, they decided she wasn’t a good fit for the job.
Meanwhile, Jane stopped trying to understand and simply showed up at the Master Surgeon’s operating table. Somehow – only He knows how – the wall in her heart came down. But the door to Taiwan was closed. Now was her opportunity to become bitter, but Jane knew that only God could come up with such a quirky way to keep her home. Confident He had led her to consider the opportunity and confident He had shut the door, she had complete and utter peace.
At the same time, she was reeling: He has something even better in mind?
He did. Not long afterward, Jane had an unexpected opportunity to spend two months in Brazil, where she found her desires to travel, to teach English and to build friendships all amply met.
Meanwhile Clyde was surprised by his reaction to Jane’s refusal: I’ve waited for this girl for a year, he thought. Why don’t I feel more upset? He sensed God was saying, “Wait. You might not be waiting specifically for Jane, but hang tight and wait.”
Late that fall, he visited Israel. Touring alone for the first time, he learned new lessons in boldness and independence – most notably on Mount Hermon. As he drove toward its summit, he saw a gate ahead and turned to leave. But what will happen if I keep going? he thought, and as he did, he saw the gate was open. At a second obstacle, he again resisted indecision – and he made it to his goal.
Back in the U.S., as Clyde prayerfully considered his plans for the new year, he looked at how God had been leading him to pursue Jane in the past and wondered, Did the fact that she refused me mean I had gotten it wrong? Or was the lesson from Mt. Hermon for such a time as this? God seemed to be saying, “You may have to slow down, but don’t stop. Keep going.”
At the very least, Clyde needed to clarify with Jane before he could fully move on. They had remained friends, and one day as they chatted online, he found himself asking why she had turned him down. Each shared more of their side of the story.
Shaken to learn he had felt God-led to pursue her, Jane wanted to know more. During his year of prayer about their relationship, Clyde had noticed a quote from C. S. Lewis and a verse from James: “Do not dare not to dare”The Horse and His Boy (New York: Macmillan, 1954), pp. 169-170 and “Blessed is he who endures.”James 1:12
Again he asked an unpremeditated question: “Are you willing to reconsider?” He felt disrespectful even to ask, but to his amazement, she was willing.
With the counsel of her family, they decided to cut communication for a week to pray about their relationship. It wasn’t an easy week for Jane: God didn’t seem to be saying anything! But as she focused on Him, and not the answer, it came: Don’t be afraid to step out of the boat and begin to walk on water. Oh, how joyfully she told Clyde “Yes!”
Clyde and Jane agree that God always gives the best. From the No that kept Jane home from Taiwan and knocked down the wall of fear, ultimately opening her heart up to Clyde, to the No that gave him time to grow in character and boldness, it’s now clear that God knew exactly what He was doing. There is no need to fear, however their story may end.
As for me, well, the time came when He answered my prayer and gave me my No in words: “Faithful,” He said, “are the wounds of a friend.”Proverbs 27:6 He wounds. And He heals! He is the Master Surgeon.Deuteronomy 32:39
I know God is not vacillating or fickle. He is not purposeless or indecisive or cruel. There is absolutely no question that He loves to say “Yes” to us. He knows disappointment brings heartsickness, but He times His delay for our greatest, most lasting gain. We ask for a twig; He plants a seed – and when at last the desire comes, it’s become a whole tree of life.Proverbs 13:12
Disappointment, embraced, brings life – because He is the God of Yes!
“The Son of God…[is] not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him.”2 Corinthians 1:16-20
Copyright 2011 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.