Harvest and Lean Seasons
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)
It’s been more than 10 years. When I lost the job I thought was my dream, I had NO idea what my “next” would be. Christians quote Philippians 4:13 that we “can do all things through Christ…” Research tells us that it is among the most popularly quoted scriptures in modern religion. According to at least one writer, “It has been used as a motivating rallying cry for those who want to believe that God will help them do whatever they want.”
Sadly, it’s not about what we want. That’s part of what it took me a decade to learn. Stay tuned, I promise this is the story of a dream realized.
According to Rev. Bill Sullivan, pastor of Tulsa Christian Fellowship, “We often live our lives thinking “If Only,” and this attitude foils the contentment God wants us to live in daily.” Rather than wishing upon stars, the lesson in Philippians is about praising Him in advance, instead of musing about what’s next…With Christ as the secret to our serenity, we are already triumphant.
We are Already Arrived.
Hold on, because we’re going back to go forward, as in 700 years earlier to the prophet Habakkuk’s teaching of the very same lesson. Despite his current reality, Habakkuk encouraged his people then and us today to rejoice in the Lord and be joyful. When we praise Him through all of our circumstances, we’ve mastered the most difficult challenges life can put before us, not because we’re smart or resilient, but because our strength is not our own. We are triumphant because the battles are not ours. Take my advice, and Habakkuk’s and Paul’s, practice surrender, and praise will get you out of God’s Way.
So that’s how I spent 10 years. I gave up on the career I’d built that seemed DOA anyway. During endless days with time on my hands and the habit, borne of years at work, to be busy rather than idle, I began writing. I wrote as therapy. I wrote seeking answers to questions about life and faith, routinely writing myself through the scariest and most uncertain places of my own life, lighting candles in my darkness. Like Dory in “Finding Nemo,” with little else to do, I just kept swimming.
I mostly wrote to keep busy, not thinking about or being capable of seeing God’s Plan. He was refining me, stripping away all that was non-essential, in order to usher me into my dream. I wrote to write. I received positive feedback and a steady stream of encouragement from friends and family; that’s what they’re supposed to do. I started receiving invitations to write and then speak from people who didn’t necessarily owe me kind words and opportunities. Doors kept opening. I grew increasingly prolific and brave.
I was the fig tree that did not bud. I grew anyway. There were no grapes, at least none I could see, on my vines and no oil being pressed from my olives. I didn’t care. I couldn’t help myself. I only knew how to continue, putting one word beside the next, keeping busy, creating, even if no one saw, read, or cared, because by continuing to push myself forward, I was praising God in advance. I was doing the thing, through Christ. Doing…
Philippians is not meant as a key to success, but rather as a key to sustainability. Do, through Christ.
Though there was no harvest, at least that I could see, despite any yield, no sheep in the pen, no cattle, no job, no check, I persevered. I rejoiced. I was joyful.
Now I get paid to write. When my job went away, I craved validation. I made my first declaration filing taxes the first year I didn’t have a job, completing the form by indicating my profession as writer. I wanted to mean it, but honestly, I simply could not see writing that all I was was “unemployed.”
Even today, in writing this testimony, I am praising God in advance. I am awaiting a possible offer for full-time employment AS A WRITER, and am interviewing furiously because employers actively seek out the words I have to offer. I had a speaking engagement last week, and look forward to encouraging other women to share their words and offer up their stories. There’s one more thing. I just submitted a piece for consideration to the New York Times Opinion section on life and career re-invention, faith and gratitude. It is the single biggest leap of faith I have ever taken as a writer. It will be awesome, marvelous, and glorious if it gets published. It is awesome, marvelous, and all Glory and Honor-attributable to God that I did it at all. It’s harvest time.
According to one biblical commentary, Habakkuk teaches us that those “who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of the ruins of their creature-comforts, and even then praise the Lord, as the God of their salvation (from http://www.christianity.com).
I wish I could honestly say that I was always joyful in my praise, and that I was always content in my state, but that would be untrue. My praise was often grudging, petulant, false and half-hearted. Thank God for Grace. According to Pastor and author John Piper, “Grace is the pleasure of God to magnify the worth of God by giving sinners the right and power to delight in God without obscuring the glory of God.”
Over the last 10 years, I’ve benefited from more than my fair share. You know what I learned about fig trees? The roots are tenacious, even invasive. They do not give up. There’s a testimony there.
I know what it is to feel defeated. I remember the sting of P discouragement. I can still taste the bitterness of another failed attempt and another closed door. That is when we are closest to God, and closest to our own harvests.God calls us far beyond our comfort zones, whispering that we have always had within us the seeds of Great Harvest.
He is always waiting for us to be completely broken, yielded, surrendered, and available to grow in the ways He always intended. We are already triumphant, even though our victories may look nothing like the happy endings or dreams we imagined.
Surrender and trust Him, because His plans are better, and I am grateful. I’m learning to stay out of the way, praising Him in advance, knowing while this dream has been achieved, there is so much more in God’s Plan for me, for us all.