I woke up one morning and suddenly everything started going right. It was an uneasy feeling. I waited, but still the other shoe did not drop. No conditions were revealed. As the days continued to fly by and I realized that this was not a dream, I quit looking over my shoulder as much. Within months I’d have a home of my own, one job, a new city, and a fresh page. With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, I felt that my heart would be especially filled with gratitude this year.
Instinctively, I breathed a sigh of relief … and a wave of guilt rolled over me.
I realized I had been holding my breath for fourteen years.
Fourteen years ago I was seventeen years old, and living in the same house I’m living in now. It was a strange holiday season … the first one after my parents had divorced. The responsibility fell on my shoulders to arrange how I would visit with all branches of the family within the same 24-hour period. I remember being filled with resentment, and somehow numb at the same time. Even then, I kept reminding myself, “This isn’t forever.”
But it was.
What I had convinced myself was a temporary nightmare, which I would awaken from with the blaring advent of adulthood, became a fixed reality. The family trauma led to anxiety and depression, which led to indecisiveness and lack of confidence, which led to seven years in undergrad because I couldn’t make up my mind, which led to a low-profile degree, which led to my moving home and working four jobs for five years until very suddenly … everything started going right.
Waiting with patience, hoping with optimism, and working with perseverance for things to change is – of course – an admirable trait. But I felt guilty because that wasn’t what I had been holding my breath for. I had been holding my breath because I was waiting for God to be “good” to me.
That breath of relief, loosely translated, meant: “Oh God, I’m so grateful that You finally got your act together! Thank You!” My heart sunk low when I realized the true nature of my flesh. It sunk even lower when I remembered the creeds I live by.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. There are many rules to Jewish prayer: when to stand, when to sit, when to bow. But the Shema is meant to be recited in whichever position you find yourself at the time. Why? Because it is a constant reminder to praise God and recognize His holiness no matter what circumstances we find ourselves facing in life.
Scripture supports this notion. Psalm 34:1 expresses David’s view, a man who was constantly under attack, scrutiny, and emotional siege. “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
If David could trust in God’s goodness in all that he went through, why couldn’t I? Why could I anticipate Thanksgiving this year with such a full heart, when in the previous years I had only gone through the motions? Was “goodness,” according to my standards, really so shallow of a word? Did it express a faith that was even shallower?
But then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked back only to see a kind smile.
I allow you to doubt Me, He said. Otherwise you’d never know Me. The relief you feel at knowing My goodness allows you to appreciate the depth of My compassion, My favor, My mercy, My love for you. It allows you the opportunity to tell others. Next time you’ll remember. So go … and sin no more.
After nearly fifteen years of feeling stuck, I dared to believe it was all right for me to draw breath. No longer was I only thankful for the relief I felt at recognizing God’s goodness, but I was able to see how often He had also been good to me in those fourteen years of waiting. The friendships I never would have found, the laughter I would have missed, the fact that even while I had to scrounge pennies I never went hungry. Even the wide array of jobs I’d worked suddenly was seen as a merciful way to keep me afloat. He had carried me all that time and He would continue to carry me.
Whatever you face this Thanksgiving, whether or not you feel as though there is much to give thanks for, I promise that one day you’ll look back and see the compassionate provision of our King. And even so much in that if He seems distant now, He is planning to appear very close in the future, and He can’t wait to meet you there.