When we were living in Ukraine, someone once told me, “You know how we can tell if someone’s American? They’re the ones smiling for no reason.”
Wrap your head around that one.
I heard it five years ago and it’s still a brain teaser for me. In person and over a cup of tea, I could spend hours dissecting the cultural differences it alludes to. But, of late, it’s been the Christian culture I’ve been thinking about more than any other. And how that statement might apply to us all.
“You know how we can tell if someone’s a Christian? They’re the ones smiling and smiling and smiling. Sometimes for no good reason.”
For two years after our time in Ukraine we were anything but fine. After a decade away we had moved back to South Africa with high hopes for relocating back to my motherland. Those plans were eroded; slowly, painfully, and unexpectedly. Not a single step of our homecoming unfolded as we had so blithely assumed it would.
But, by all appearances we were fine. And if anyone asked, that’s what we told them.
I smiled at church. I smiled at playgroup. I smiled at bible study. And I smiled at kids’ birthday parties. I smiled for no good reason I could think of. Other than that I was sure no one expected me to respond to their generic, “So, how’re you doing?” with a bust gut of agony and bloody tears right there in the meet and greet between the worship and the sermon.
How awkward would that be?
“Snot en trane” – the spot-on Afrikaans expression “snot and tears” – is not generally the appropriate response to a pre-service handshake.
So instead I plastered a stubborn smile, band aid-like, over my bleeding innards and got really good at making small talk and deflecting anything that might try to peel back a corner of the tape.
But 18 months later things were worse. And for the first time I was faced with a “no” answer from God that I couldn’t seem to change or understand.
No, your husband won’t get the job he needs.
No, you won’t be able to stay in South Africa.
No, you don’t get to choose where you go next.
I realized I had been expecting the easy “yes” of what I now recognize as Christianity-lite. I thought if I could grin and bear it long enough, things would finally go my way. I know you’ve heard it too. The fluffy take on some pretty serious verses that try to tell you, “All you need is faith” and you’ll get what you want. “Just believe and the Lord will provide.” “Ask and you shall receive.”
So, this profound and resounding “no” was off my grid by a mile.
Things were not fine. Things were not good. Things hurt inside and out. We had to pack up our house and our new baby boy and move away from the family and country we were just rediscovering. The loss was physically painful.
I wrestled a long time with this new God of my “no.” But slowly I discovered that His answer didn’t dismiss my loss. Not if I saw it in the context of His ability to understand and respond to that loss.
Do you know the Bible story of the infertile woman whom God blessed with a child? The prophet Elisha had prayed for her. But before the boy was grown up, he died. And his desperate mother went looking for an answer. Listen to what she says when the prophet asks her that hardest of questions, “How’re you doing?”
“’Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?'” And she answered, “It is well.” 2 Kings 4:26.
She was far from fine. But she took that agony to the only person who could understand it. And at the feet of the God she could share her agony and outrage with, she was well. She was able to be real. Her answer didn’t dismiss her loss. It simply put it in the context of God’s ability to respond.
That is where He met me. At the cross-roads of his decision and my acceptance of it; he led me out of my heartache and into a season of redemption and beauty. All without changing his answer.
Instead he changed me.
(You can keep reading my story of change and the year God told us a whole lot of “no” over here).
by Lisa-Jo, the Gypsy MamaLeave a Comment
Powerful post. It has spoken deeply to me today. Thank you,
What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing. My heart needed to read these words this morning.
So beautifully written and so very true.
Great post Lisa-Jo. You so totally get it, and I love that about you!
Thank you for this. I needed it. 🙂
Heading into the New Year I certainly needed the reminder. I am so glad that I’m not the only one.
Mel's World with Melissa Mashburn says
Thank you so much for sharing your “No” with us Lisa Jo. My “no” has been moving out of South Florida back to “the south” where I grew up, and this past summer God made it very clear to me that He has called us here…so I can totally appreciate and understand your “no”.
I could have written this post. Except….I don’t live in Africa. My ministry family has had to learn some devastating lessons. We’ve heard no…and it hurts so terribly.
Makes one wonder……is HE finished with us?
We still struggle…..or should I say…I?
What is it…..what is the plan for my family, Lord?
Great post…..filled with hope!
Mary @ Passionate Perseverance says
such a powerful message and one I needed to hear today. thank you!
Lisa-Jo @ The Gypsy Mama says
Oh Wanda, I know exactly what you mean! I spent many nights wondering if God was done with me – with us. If we just werent as important to Him as all the other happy folks around us who seemed to have their prayers answered with super sonic speed. I felt utterly alone and abandoned. But gently, slowly I was able to lift my head again and look around at the new world we found ourselves in and only then did I realize I had gone to ground in the shelter of His hand. Without realizing it. My prayer for you is that you find yourself there as well.
What a powerful and important lesson for each of us to learn. It’s also painful.
“Just believe and the Lord will provide.
Lovely, thank you for sharing your heart with us. I felt this way when we lost a baby through miscarriage. We knew that it wasn’t doing well, that it had a 50/50 chance of going to term. It was hard to imagine God NOT wanting the baby to make it. I prayed for His will, but why would His will not match up with mine? I may never know, but I must accept His will and be thankful. I have come to truly believe that He sees the big picture that I cannot see and that He truly knows what is best for me.
Amen! For so many years He gave me a “no” for my family, until this past last year. Yet, I’ve realized that even in His “yes”s it doesn’t mean easy. In the past, I’ve perceived if God tells me to do it, He’ll make the way. Cut the path for me. But who am I? Not even the promised land was handed to His children. No, they had to fight. How “Christian-lite” I’ve been. Thanks for sharing what so many of us do, slap a silly smile on our pain! Me, Guilty #1!
So what happened? There has to be a part 2!
Oh Lisa-Jo… what a beautiful story for this Monday. Thank you for sharing. I am so thankful we are a people that can keep smiling.
Ditto, Khrys…I want to hear ‘part 2’….the rest of the story or maybe the beginning of the rest.
Lisa-Jo @ The Gypsy Mama says
Ha, Khrys and Tammy –
Lisa-Jo @ The Gypsy Mama says
Oh, thats so hard, Jenny. Thank you for sharing your courage with us. Because it takes a brave heart to surrender such sacred areas to the Father. I pray peace and blessing on you this New Year.
Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says
“Fine! How are you?” Sometimes I HATE that oh-so-common answer to the church question, “How are you?” Ugh. I’m so thankful for people who love me so well that I know I can tell them exactly how NOT fine I am when the tough times come.
Great Post !!
It was so many years before I resized he didnt tell me NO for no reason , Giving it all over to the Lord was hard for me , but in time I came to understand I had to let him lead me like a blind child. So that he could put me where I was needed.
Thank you for sharing.
Jenn @ Beautiful Calling says
Oh, what a blessing this post was to me! Thank you for sharing. All too often we say and hear “just have faith” and you’re right, we expect it will turn out just like we’d hoped. And sometimes it does but more often it doesn’t. We need more “real” stories shared to encourage us!
God is definitely in the business of changing! Thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to it on so many levels.
He changed me too.
Thank you for this post. It’s easy to forget that our way is not always God’s way and to wonder why God makes life so hard 🙂
Sometimes I look around and see people who seem to have everything going for them, and wonder…what’s wrong with me? What did I do wrong? But it comes down to allowing God to lead and choosing to see it as an adventure instead of a trial.
Melissa @ the inspired room says
This is a beautiful and inspiring post I can so relate to! Thank you for sharing your heart and wise words.
Thank you for this beautyfull word, it was spoken to my heart.
God bless you and also all your loveones
thank you so much, i really needed to hear what you said because i am going through the same thing now, and i now know what to do thank you again, and may God Bless.
Odessa Toma says
OUr stories are very similar. We fought for over 5 years for my ROmanian husband to stay in the U.S. After doing it the “christian-lite” way, which you perfectly described, the answer was a resounding “NO”! I didn’t understand. I questioned my faith, maybe it wasn’t strong enough. I know there is a reason for us having to uproot our three kids and move to Romania, where me and the kids didn’t speak the language. We’ve been back for a year and a half, kids are adjusted amazingly well, fluent, I’m still learning the language.
I still have days where I can’t wrap my head around the ‘why’.
But then I look at my kids being culturally enriched, our family unit is stronger, and my marriage is stronger now too. It wasn’t failing before or anything, but out situation has made me and my husband completely rely on each other, support each other etc.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that this post hit home to me in a way that meant something. I had that “ah! Someone else understands!!” moment. SO thanks for that!
Thank you for your honesty! I, too, have just gone through a season of “no”.
thanks Lisa-Jo. one thing i realise is God’s NO is still good in that He is still talking to me! what we want is a living, real connection to a real, vital God who interacts deeply with us – not a vending machine. smirk.
children need to know two things in their depths:that they are loved, that they cannot have their way.
that applies to us too – when we consider the gift of salvation and the call to discipleship: we are loved, and no, we cannot have our way. but how hard, how hard…! and then, God’s grace and strength shines through..almost suddenly when our hearts even reluctantly surrender..!
Mela Kamin says
“So instead I plastered a stubborn smile, band aid-like, over my bleeding innards … ” – wow – you said it right there – “Christianity-lite” indeed. What a powerful story – thank you for sharing it.
Diane Falzone says
All I could say is that for me, when times like that came my way (smiling when everything was not really well), is because that no matter what, I felt that “inner joy… the peace that surpassed all understanding”. So, I believe, that is what most Christians experience, even when they do not actually realize it.
May you be blessed abundantly, and walk according to GOD’S Perfect Will in your life.
kathleen drodge says
Yes I can relate to these posts I have not wanted to be where I am and like the Israelites I claimed every day for a longgggggggggggg time I want what God has for me and my family I want to be where he wants us to be It is taking me a long time to give in to His will Thank you all for these encouragemanets
God bless, Kay
kathleen drodge says
not claimed but complained
Ruth (UK) says
Don’t you just wish you can sit down and have a coffee with our loving Father and have him just explain what our prayer answers are all about! My miscarriages (2) and age are seemingly pointing to a painful ‘no’. I wiggle and struggle in God’s hand. I acknowledge I haven’t found that peace in the true ‘heart knowledge’, which is at the moment just ‘head knowledge’, that He is a GOOD GOD even in the ‘No’. Thanks for prompting me to think about this again, and helping me know I’m not alone in this.
Connie R. says
Thank you. Joy, for the encouragement of your message. I too, have experienced the answer “No” a few times in the past. My “Nos” have come in the form of physical health keeping me from the people of my heart, in India. And as my physical body continues to give itself over to chronic illness, the “Nos” keep coming. But the Lord is not finished with me yet. He has given me renewed courage through a very familiar passage: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12;1
God knew my body would fail and He had plans all along regarding how to use it to further His Kingdom. Even my broken body can be “holy and pleasing to God”. I know longer fret about my health or what I cannot do, but seek Him for what I can. And He continues to bless even in the midst of physical challenges and the “Nos” that come with them.
February 23, 2010, I watched my only sibling and my little sister enter heaven’s portals from her hospital bed. I had cried and pled with God to take away the cancer and leave her with us. But He said “No”. “Head” knowledge tells me He gave her the greatest gift – His atoning death that allowed her admission into His presence. But my heart still grieves. I have lost all of my family of origin within the last seven years. My parents had lived long lives and I would miss them, but could release them. My sister’s death, just short of her 60th birthday was (and is) much harder to find His peace. My hope is in His promise – we will be together again with Him someday.
Thank you so much for posting this. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.”
Thank you for sharing your “no” with the world. I found myself among a family who did not know Christ or anything about church for that matter. I grew up just the opposite, so being around them seemed like torture. The more I pulled away, the more they became drawn to me. I prayed day and night to be free of this strange group, but God gave me a resounding “NO”. I found my purpose in the situation, and now 3/4 of the family has may Christ their personal savior, and I have grown so much in my own walk with God.
Thanks so much, this brings tears to my eyes. I am in the middle of a long No, long for me to accept anyway 🙂
Val Trounson says
Thankyou so much Lisa-Jo for your inspiring story. We had a “NO” when everything was lost and I must admit I fought with Jesus about it. It took ages to leave it in His hands, and even now I sometimes regret what happened but can clearly see all He has done for us despite our useless situation. Today I rededicated myself to Him and look forward to the day when He returns and all sorrow will be wiped away. Praise God for His love and care. Val
Reme Nadeau says
Thank you Lisa, it draws me closer to the
God upon reading this beautiful Post.
Posted by: Reme 06/14/10 at 09:20 PM
Thank you very much for your sharing. It enlightens me on what is real joy and peace in God. “No” from God is a new stage of “faith” that He want us to go up. It is really very hard to learn.
Mrs. Lois Eleazu says
What a piece.I could replace my name with every “I” and “we”in the write- up. I made several trips to the mortuary in August 2009, asking the Lord to wake my husband up.He was finally laid to rest.Its encouraging to be reminded that someone else has been there.Thanks for sharing.
Posted by Lois.
Make your life time more simple take the home loans and all you want.
I love this story, because it reminds me of mine. Always good to know a fellow sojourner.
I love this story because it reminds me of mine. Always good to know a fellow sojourner.
Interesting Links: December Edition says
[…] Is there Life After “No”? at (In)Courage pointed out that it can be well with us even when it isn’t. More Important that […]
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