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“O Lord,… when you hid your face, I was dismayed.” ~ Psalm 30:7b

In this week’s edition of Woven Weekly I want to ask the question, has your daily walk with God ever been like the kid’s game of plucking petals off a flower and siting, He loves me, he loves me not?  Did you ever play this game as a kid?  More commonly the practice is to think of a love interest and while plucking off petals you alternate saying the two phrases with each petal you pull off until you reach the las one.  If you pull off the last petal saying He loves me, well then you have your answer.  Simple, right?

Well, it seems to me like I’ve been playing this game with God, but only in a slightly different manner.  I’ll take certain circumstances into consideration and use them to discern whether God is with me, or with me not.

If you’ve been following along with this blog for the last few weeks I’ve kept you in a little bit of suspense.  Some of you will remember that I mentioned a job interview I had toward the end of my post 2 weeks ago.  This was peculiar as I was reached out to about the interview on the very same afternoon of a significant date for me of the last few years, February 16th.   Well, I am saddened to once again be giving you the update that I was turned down yet again for this position as well.  Sigh…  I think one can easily wonder what is up with this repeated outcome.

That’s something I don’t have an answer for.  In Fact, I have a hard time drawing any conclusion.  I easily feel discouraged.  Irritated too.  I wonder, why is it going like this?  Am I doing something wrong?  Am I not seeing, hearing, or listening to God as I should?  Do I need to try something different?  Or, is this all I should expect?  Are you with me God, or with me not?  Am I with you, or with you not?

I’ve really had a run in when it comes to seeking employment over the past year.  As 2016 began I had the two part-time positions I currently have—daytime hospice chaplain Monday-Thursday and third shift hospital chaplain every Friday and every-other Saturday nights.  That’s not particularly ideal, especially with a young family.  While I like what I am doing, it’s still been unsettling as I still feel like I haven’t found my exact place and/or niche entirely.  As I’ve journeyed with God the past 3 years he’s provided in certain ways, but it’s also been the hardest time I’ve ever had in sensing his direction, presence, and voice.  There’s been quite a bit of uncertainty and unknown.

This past year then has been something else vocationally.  At the beginning of 2016 I received 1 rejection early on of a full-time hospice position I though seemed rather promising.  Given certain things that happened at the time as well I interpreted receiving some messages from God that I was going to receive the position as well.

A couple months later and I got asked for another interview with a nursing home looking for a chaplain.  They performed an extensive process.  Over the next few months into June I interviewed 4 different times with them and then actually was offered their position.  Circumstances were such though by this time that I was also just about to interview for another position I had much more interest in and I was in the midst of completing the final leg of further necessary chaplaincy training that I needed.  After agonizing over the offer for a few days I actually turned it down saying I didn’t feel I could fully commit right then.  This decision does haunt me to some degree now, but I still mostly feel I made the right decision at the time.

Right after this then I interviewed for the next position I mentioned just above and after another week they contacted me to say I was their top choice.  This was surprising to me because I wasn’t sure I interviewed exceptionally well.  I thought it was ok.  They then wanted me to interview with some staff from a unit I might be working on.  That interview then came and went about a week later and I figured I just had to wait for next steps.  Well, things then remained silent for a week and half thereafter.  That got me a little nervous so I chose to send an email to HR requesting an update.  A day passed and I receive a reply message saying, “We’re moving on with other candidates.”  Now, did you follow all of that?  I think you can understand my dismay!  What in the world is that all about?  Looking back, I am not sure how I pulled it together for the weeks thereafter.

From there then I finished my chaplaincy training at the end of August.  Just as I finished a full-time position at the hospital I currently work at came available.  Seems perfect, right?  Well, I cautiously withheld total judgment while applying and sitting for an interview.   I knew it would be competitive and I felt this interview went very well.  One of my best.  I was told the process to decide would take quite a few weeks and that I wouldn’t need to interview again since they knew me.  About a month passed and I sat down with my supervisor to learn an outside, very well experienced candidate received the position.  Once again another year was coming to a close and you feel like you’re back at square 1.  Some progress is there as you read the above, but easily overlooked.

That then brings us back to today.  Another seemingly promising opportunity has come and gone.  I thought I interviewed well.  Another petal has fallen to the ground.  The question still remains—He’s with me, He’s with me not…  What do I conclude?

With this the other day a scene from a favorite movie of mine came to mind, Grumpier Old Men.  These movies cracked me up when they first came out, and I’ve felt a certain kinship with them as I attained my undergraduate degree from a university mentioned in the film, Winona State University of Winona, MN.  The film takes place in a town just north of there, Wabasha, MN.  Anyway, there’s a scene in this sequel where Walter Mathau’s Character, Max has a love interest.  The interest becomes mutual, however one problem arises towards the end.  It comes to be known that she’s been married already 5 different times already and reaches the conclusion that she must be cursed in love… (you can watch a clip of this scene here).  In the last year then, I’ve now received the same number of rejections employment-wise.  Should I conclude the same?

Thankfully, though, God is still more like Mathau’s character when it’s all said and done.  Max stays on the pursuit and won’t let her dismay have the final say!  As my own love interest (A.K.A. wife) said to me recently, couldn’t all of these circumstances together communicate the single, loud and clear conclusion from God as well—“I am with you!  I have never left or forsaken you.  Do not be dismayed or discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8)!”  Of course, her words to me weren’t in response to hearing of this last interview result.  They came as I was hesitant to be hopeful in light of being asked to interview on February 16th in the first place, and also in connection with so many ways God has proven himself faithful and involved these past 3 years.  Maybe I need to wake up and smell the roses, instead of being so concerned with the petals.

Quickly, then two additional conclusions have surfaced in this regard over the past week as well.  The first is that it came to my attention a couple days ago that this very week happens to be the Hebrew festival of Purim.  Why is that significant?  Well, this festival is held each year to commemorate the sparing of God’s people in the story of the Old Testament book of Esther.  How does that fit with the above?  Throughout the whole book of Esther the word God or his name is not mentioned even once.  This doesn’t mean that God is absent or vacated his people in their time of disarray.  In fact, the story is remembered and commemorated for just the opposite.  God may seem absent, but he is very much present.  Some day I/we may very well look back and notice everything was purposed for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).

Finally, secondly then, maybe the tables are turned just a little bit.  Instead of my relationship with God being like a flower and its petals as described above.  Maybe I’m a tree planted in a certain vineyard needing ongoing and fresh tilling and fertilization.  A friend of mine just yesterday reminded me of the parable Jesus told of a barren fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.  As I looked it up, the parallels to my story seem quite profound.  A man plants a fig tree, but for 3 years it bears no fruit.  Like what some of the last 3 years have felt like for me vocationally.  The man proclaims, “What a waste!  Cut it down!  Throw it away!”  Much like what I pointed out that Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes two weeks ago as he cried, “Vanity!” or “Meaningless, meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!”  How does the Gardener (in this case, God) respond?  “Let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.  If it bears fruit next year, well and good.”

I have to admit, when I read that parable to myself later a flood of hope and assurance re-entered my spirit.  The prospect of yet at least one more year had entered my mind in the last week, but I’ve avoided dwelling on it much.  This experience though helped me have confidence again to say, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” ~ Psalm 116:7

“Why so downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” ~ Psalm 42:11