We all have ideas of what it means to be faithful.
When I was a little girl, I would sing the hymn Trust and Obey while sitting in the pew next to my grandma. You may or may not be familiar with it, but the chorus says, “Trust and Obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”
Those words fit rather naively in my black-and-white child-like mind. I am a girl who likes to know the rules upfront; if I trust God and obey God, I will be happy? Perfect. That was my definition of faithfulness for a long time.
But life isn't always that black and white. We can do all that we think God has asked of us, and we can still have our hearts broken.
I have had a Post-it note in my office for about 4 years. It says this: How do you live in the space of deep disappointment and disillusion- knowing what the bible says about who God is and his promises? Especially when those promises do not happen?
This question was asked by a young mom going through a difficult season. She said them in a whisper with tears in her eyes. I did not have an answer for her, and her pain and guilt over her doubt have stuck with me.
How can we be faithful in the midst of this hard life? Faithfulness, what does it really mean?
Her question came at a low point for me. As you may know, I have three biological and three adopted kids, and my two oldest adopted kids have Reactive Attachment Disorder and other issues. For years, my youngest seemed to be okay, but was flying under the radar of the other two children’s behaviors. But puberty hit, and I started to see some unexpected behaviors. I always thought she was the one without issues. After 10 years of challenging parenting, surely this child would be ok.
I remember sitting in church after her first hospital admission for a mental health crisis. I was not sweetly singing “Trust and Obey.” I was so mad at God that I said, "Do you hate me? Why? Why all three of them? I followed you and adopted - and this is how you treat me?”
In that moment, I was not the picture of faithfulness; I was mad and felt betrayed by the God I was taught to trust. I was also hurting for our family as we navigated yet another challenging season. That was a low moment for me, and it was not the only one on this journey.
Have you felt this way? Listen to me: it is ok to feel mad and betrayed by God. He can handle whatever you are feeling.
Maybe you raised a child, trained up a child, and he walked away from the faith.
Children are a blessing, but you struggle with infertility.
He will heal all your disease, but you face the dailiness of a child struggling with a disease.
He provides all you need, but you cannot pay the mortgage.
I am not here to address the theological reasons for suffering. I don’t have any pat answers. The reality is that life is hard, but I want to explore our ideas about faithfulness and how that shapes us.
What does it mean to be faithful in the challenging moments and daily grind? How do you live in the space of deep disappointment and disillusion while knowing what the Bible says about who God is and his promises?
I used to think faithfulness meant:
progress and efficiency
But that is not what faithfulness means to me anymore. Let me tell you a story.
I recently attended a seven day silent retreat - yes, seven days of silence! As an introvert, I loved every minute of it (for extroverts out there, I talked to a spiritual director for an hour a day). I was looking forward to this time. I was exhausted after grad school, parenting, writing, and launching the book. It took a bit to get used to, but I enjoyed my time. I read, prayed, and slept a lot.
Every evening I would walk into the cemetery; I find cemeteries peaceful.
I was fascinated by the graves. Graves can tell you something about a person: you can learn who is a NASCAR fan, who loves the Cleveland Browns or roots for the Cubs. I saw a few Disney fans. I passed the resting place of police officers and men who served in wars. I checked the dates of deaths and marriages to figure out how long a spouse had to live without their loved one. I stopped at the graves of children. I even saw a family of young kids bring birthday balloons for a grave of a person that had been gone for over five years. The cemetery is a place of remembrance.
One word I saw most on the gravestones was beloved. Beloved wife, daughter, husband, and friend. We don't know what kind of lives these people had, what heartache and joys they experienced, but in the end, we know they were beloved.
I think that is what it means to be faithful: to remember we are God's beloved,
We are beloved, and He is faithful.
Beloved is a hard word for a mom of kids with RAD. RAD kids come with trauma, and they cannot attach to the nurturing caregiver due to that trauma. Most often, that nurturing caregiver is the mom.
Here is a description from RAD Advocates:
“The term nurturing enemy refers to the nurturing enemy as the primary caregiver of a child with complex developmental trauma, otherwise known as a reactive attachment disorder. These children experience trauma during critical early development stages and struggle with the impacts left on the brain. Although often the mother figure, any primary caregiver can become the nurturing enemy.
A child with reactive attachment disorder has an intense fear of abandonment and a negative projection of hostility, anger, and rejection onto the nurturing enemy. RAD behaviors' sheer volume and intensity often lead to the primary caregiver's post-traumatic stress disorder.” This dynamic sets the stage for a roller-coaster relationship in which both the child and primary caregiver gradually become confused, exhausted, angry, and unwilling to trust each other without proper intervention (Verrier, 2009, RAD Advocates).
I am not beloved by my kids with attachment issues through no fault of their own, so rejection has been a big part of my mothering journey. The pain of that goes deep.
They do not show me love, because of their trauma and attachment issues. For the last 19 years, I have lived with kids who could not love me. So beloved? It makes me tear up just saying it, and I know I am not the only one. I mentor moms who feel the same way. Their rejection and pain cause them to wonder if they heard God wrong about adoption or ask how they can trust in a God that lets this happen. What is faithfulness when God doesn’t answer?
“Faithfulness is remembering that God always holds us into his cupped ever present hands, waiting for us to notice we are held by love in every moment.” - The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell by Kelly Flanagan
What it be like if we went through life secure in the fact that we are the beloved?
We know what it means to be a faithful parent. We keep up with medical supplies and prep for an IEP meeting. We keep up with behavior charts, insurance forms, and medical appointments. We need to be task masters to get it all done. We need to be Martha, not Mary, because we all know no one eats dinner without Martha.
We are so efficient in this life of a caregiver, but in all this doing, we can become taskmasters of our souls. We assume we must do better, pray more, and be more. The list goes on. That is not faithfulness - it is a form of commitment, but not the kind of faithfulness our souls needs.
Your soul doesn't need one more thing on the to-do list- you need to remember you're God's beloved. How does that even fit in this life?
I received a master's degree in spiritual formation at Friends University. It is a two-year program. We traveled to Wichita, Kansas, for a week of residency each semester. It was held at a spiritual retreat center. When you arrived at the center, the first thing to greet you at the entrance was life-size bronze sculptures depicting the wedding at Canaan. At our first residency, we were asked to walk around the sculptures and identify which character in the story we relate to. I relate to the servants, I am a girl who can get things down, and I am a faithful little pack mule who can carry a load. I would be the first to fill the water jugs.
This is Jesus' first miracle - the miracle that needs to be done in me, and you are to learn that we are the guests. We get to show up and be served the best wine. Because we are loved by God.
Faithfulness is remembering you are the beloved.
Will it heal the marriage, stop the trips to the emergency room, or cause the IEP meeting to give you all you want and dinner made? Probably not. We still have to walk through these lives - but it may cause you to walk feeling held by God amid the struggle.
Let's be faithful, steadfast, and loyal to the truth that we are the beloved, no matter what our lives look like.
We are the beloved, and God is the faithful one. Because we are his beloved, we can tell him our frustrations and fears. We can stand in church and wonder why we feel far away or doubt his presence - but his faithfulness doesn't change.
I hope these words resonate with you, make you feel less burdened and more like a guest than a servant. Let me say it one more time: you are God's beloved. You are the invited guest. The best wine is for you.