Why are God’s no’s so painful?
As a graduate student, I asked God if I could attend seminary or theology school. I thought nothing could be more pleasing to Him. I considered ‘Pastor’ or ‘Bible Scholar’ to be the highest calling. Also, the academic side of me wanted to be grounded in Greek, Hebrew, exegesis, and hermeneutics.
But God said no, and nudged me towards focusing on race. I asked again. Again, He said no, and led me on a path to study race and racism. This was over twenty-five years ago, when it was common to hear in church circles that “the person talking about race is the racist.” As a Christian learning to align her life with God’s heart, hearing this from the church was not only uncomfortable, it was excruciating!
So for years, as racism continued to fester under the radar for so many churches, God invited me to be immersed in studying patterns, behaviors, and beliefs that are the antithesis of God’s expression of love through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I had the privilege of reading the insights of scholars whose work prompted a transformation in me.
During this time, Romans 12:2 came to life for me in a new way. Paul writes: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” I used to read this passage with an emphasis on a world/church binary – as in ‘church, please do not follow worldly patterns.’ In this duality, the WORLD is perceived as a fallen state due to the effects of sin, which entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. As a result, the world is often characterized by greed, selfishness, and moral decay, and is ruled by Satan, the prince of this world. In contrast, the CHURCH is seen as a holy and redeemed community, set apart from the world. Its members are called to live according to God’s will and to pursue righteousness, love, and justice, and to be a witness to the world, sharing the good news of salvation through Christ while demonstrating the love and compassion of God.
But as I lived a transformation, I began to understand Romans 12:2 more vividly! The emphasis shifted to the word ‘this’ – as in this current world that we have inherited. I liken the world to a caterpillar before expanding into its complete fullness as a butterfly.
God’s ‘no’ was an invitation away from this caterpillar world into a chrysalis of mind-renewing, worldview-shifting, faith-building, sacred imagination-invoking, creativity-inducing transformation. The chrysalis held space for me to learn, read, study, examine, research, review my past, and grow. I had to question every custom, pattern, belief, mindset, practice, and lie that racism tells us. I had to disclose every learned narrative that racializes our futures.
The chrysalis demanded an investment – prayer, action, and courage to become a new creature. I committed to new thinking, new imagining, new living, walking, and talking. The transformation was excruciating! It was scary. But it was also empowering and at times, hilarious.
Now, I look at my family, a reflection of God’s image, love, justice, and belonging, and I understand God’s no all those years ago. My family does not need a wife and mom who can contribute more church and theological vernacular. Our community does not need me to build a social media platform on a so-called ‘hot topic,’ invoke fear, judge or cancel people, or align with a political party. They don’t need me to profess quick fixes and organizational Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs, or use spiritual by-passing to avoid the realities of racism.
My family and community need a wife, mom, and friend who, like a butterfly, has experienced transformation – for whom bridges are obsolete because she can fly. And as she flies, she sees, creates, and navigates a way forward – not just for her family, but for everyone who dares to see her.
We all want to discern what God’s will is, what He finds good, pleasing, and complete. Discernment is on the other side of delving deep into understanding, developing new beliefs and practices over years of rewiring our brains, disrupting old pathways, and creating new pathways – literally changing the way we think and perceive!
It all begins with one step. One day. One honest truth at a time. Whether you are called to delve deep into the topic of racism like I am, or God has illuminated another area of brokenness that needs His renewing truth and hope, we can trust that God will lead us to become the women this world needs.
Caterpillars are born with all the parts to become a butterfly. But it is only through the liquifying process within the chrysalis that the butterfly can emerge, transformed, new, and complete with the power to fly.
Though God’s no’s can be painful, they can also be an invitation to go from crawling to flying.