I tend to be encouraged at night when I am comfortably in my room, with my beautiful-spirited Christian roommate, reading my book with my Bible at my side and my journal opened to a fresh page. But during the day, actually as soon as I decide to turn the alarm off and get out of bed, I seem to forget the empowerment of everything I wrote down and genuinely experienced with God the night before. I’d hesitate to say that that’s because it was a purely emotional experience. On the contrary, I think I isolate God’s power to the moments when I am already feeling more optimistic about whatever situation I am in. When I am optimistic on my own, it’s so much easier to fit God into that little picture of a sunny day that I have painted with my limited amount of resources. My paint will eventually run out, and there will be nothing left but… open hands. And I will find myself in a complete frenzy because I have no resources to fill my hands with! I have an agenda, a plan, a goal, even a hope. But I physically cannot act in order to fulfill those plans, and in this metaphor, paint that design I have so expertly crafted in my mind.
And that’s kind of where I have found myself recently. I have a goal: in the words of Pastor Koh: “not thorn,” referring to 2 Corinthians 12: 7-9 where Paul tells us of his “thorn in the flesh” that God would not remove. I am in a place, justifiably, where I look up at God and pray for “not thorn”, not illness, not broken heart. But what I rediscovered tonight while reading “God is Able” by Priscilla Shirer, is that when we try to force our desires on God, whether they are selfish or not, we are really just limiting ourselves. Why? Well, because no matter what we pray, God is not limited, because He is inherently omnipotent and benevolent, always willing and able to give to His children. However, we do limit ourselves because we place these blinders over our eyes that restrict us from receiving the abundance that God desires to give to us.
When I am feeling a little more confident that God has my best interest in mind, my prayers shift away from “not thorn” to “God, give me clarity and discernment about what I should be waiting for and when I should expect it.” That doesn’t seem to be a selfish prayer; I’m asking for wisdom, right? Well… the past few days God has been telling me something every time I pray like that. It sounds a little bit like this: “Maybe you do not understand and cannot comprehend what I (God) am doing or when I will reveal it to you because what I am doing is so unfathomably good for you that your fragile mind cannot possibly comprehend it.” Wow. And here is my response to God: “I really want to believe that, but what could possibly be better than being instantly healed of my illness and having my boyfriend back?” Instead of taking that as the slap in the face to the God of the universe who created my little finite mind like it is, He gently seems to respond with two words “Vanderbilt experience.” Now to you, that means absolutely nothing, but to me, it gives me chills up my spine because it makes this fearful hope well up inside of me. Let me explain.
Ever since the end of my junior year of high school, I was completely sold on going to Vanderbilt University for college. It was the perfect distance from home, still in the comforts of the south but in a city environment. It is one of the best research schools in the south, and even the admissions counselor told me I was a shoe-in. I was absolutely sure that God was leading me to be a Commodore. Even the CEO of my dad’s company graduated from there and wrote me a nice letter of recommendation and took us out for lunch telling me all the wonderful things about my future alma mater. Well. December rolls around, decision time for Early Decision applicants. Wearing my Vanderbilt sweat pants and t-shirt, my parents recording me, I prepared myself to receive the best Christmas gift in the entire world, one I had worked so hard for for years.
“We regret to inform you…” I need not say anything else about the rejection I received that night. For months I mourned over this seemingly unfaithfulness to me by God after all the prayers and devotion on the part of me and my family and closest friends. How could God do this to me? Not to mention, I had the flu and in a matter of two weeks come up with a plan of where I would go to school which required me to fill out 10 more applications in 14 days. Impossible, while being physically sick and in mourning. There was no way I was going to get to go anywhere with the prestige and rigor I wanted so badly. Fast forward to April when decisions came out for Regular Decision applicants… Acceptances and scholarships to UPenn and Johns Hopkins. What?! I was blown away by the fact that I could have pulled that off in such a short amount of time. That’s the thing though… I didn’t. God did. I am now a sophomore at Hopkins, living the dream as a future neurosurgeon who frequents the second best hospital in all of America for my desired specialty and following in the steps of people like Ben Carson. Looking back I cringe at the thought that I could have ended up at Vanderbilt without the experiences and even more so, the genuine Christian brothers and sisters I have met here at Hopkins. So yeah, when God speaks those words to me, you can see why I simultaneously tremble and smile. I had to suffer through pain, loss, and the agony of not having a mind that can comprehend what God is creating and when He will be done with it. But, at the same time, I have a promise. A promise that reminds me that He is in control, that He is never resting, that He isn’t torturing me but is actually doing something so big, so good, so much like Him that it makes a lot of sense that I wouldn’t be able to see it or make sense of it. I have to sit and think about it a little… What type of God would He be if the best He could do was what my troubled mind and broken heart could cling to? No no, friends. I may not get the healing or the relationship that I think I want in the way I want when I want. But if we got everything we asked God for, when and how we wanted it, we would be limiting ourselves to the products of minds that at best can only speculate at “how the spirit enters the body being formed in a mother’s womb” (Ecclesiastes 11:5). I think I would rather experience the abundance that God is creating for me, having full assurance that it is good, it is timely, it is rooted in His love for me, and it is going to leave me in wonder, which is the best place to be in relation to God.