Finding Courage to Face the Unknown
On a cold, rainy evening last November, I straightened up, rubbed my aching back, and closed the hood on my car. Job done. The engine had been in pieces and now, with gaskets replaced and all the nuts and bolts accounted for, I was hopeful that the oil would supposedly stay in the engine. I was pretty proud of myself.
I had one last thing to do. Start it up and take it for a test drive. I turned the key in the ignition and the engine fired right up. No alarms went off and the “check engine” light was no longer lit. I put the car in reverse and started to back out of the dark driveway with my ego heavily inflated. I had actually fixed my own car! Go Me! I did it! As I started to make the turn onto the street, I realized I hadn’t turned on the headlights. So, I flipped the headlight switch on the dash—and the trunk opened.
Well, that was unexpected.
I tried again. Same result, no headlights just the trunk latch releasing again. How in the world had I managed to turn the headlight switch into a trunk release switch? With my pride only slightly deflated (after all the engine was running and holding oil), I pulled back into the garage and set about figuring out what I had done wrong.
Like many people across the globe this past year, I tried something new. I was not carting our boys around to their various activities on the weekends, so I set about learning how to work on my car. I have always been mechanically inclined, but I wanted to learn how to do more than the occasional oil change or brake job. Working on my car didn’t scare me, but it’s never a quick process; it would require learning new skills. I spent my evenings watching DIY car repair videos on YouTube and got lost in far too many Volkswagen enthusiast internet forums. There were challenges and setbacks along the way, but my confidence grew with each part I fixed or replaced.
Even though my confidence was growing, I remembered to seek help when I felt I was in over my head. If your gut warns you to stop turning the wrench because you’re probably going to strip the head off the bolt you’re trying to loosen, listen to your gut and stop turning the wrench. If you’re not sure which rubber hose to pull off, it’s probably good to watch the video again instead of saying, “I think this is the hose he was talking about.” If there are extra parts after everything is put back together, it’s not a bad idea to check with someone to make sure those spare parts are not integral to the engine. I have come to realize that confidence emerges when we have the courage to embrace challenges, but wisdom emerges when we have the courage to ask for help.
I will never forget the feeling I had when I actually finished the car and, yes, the headlight switch no longer opened the trunk. I ventured up to the house with a sense of accomplishment. I walked in the back door, hung up my raincoat, grabbed a warm cup of coffee, and checked that project off the to-do list. As I sat there enjoying the liquid warmth, a smile crept across my face. It had been a good day. I had embraced a new challenge. I had encountered inevitable setbacks, but I pushed on. I actually slowed down and made sure I did it right (no small accomplishment for me), set my DIY ego aside, and sought help through videos and mechanic forums when I felt unsure. At first, I felt a little sheepish as I sat there patting myself on the back, but then I remembered that pushing through even the smallest challenge is a victory worth celebrating.
When we give in to fear and discouragement, we also forgo experiencing the beautiful ways God will work in and through us.
My family is entering our own season of challenging change. For several months I had done my best to ignore the Holy Spirit’s nudging. I sensed that he was calling us to move on from my position as worship pastor at Bethany Covenant Church in Bedford, New Hampshire, where I have been serving for nine years. But I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t even have a new church position to go to. “I can’t do it. I don’t have the energy after Covid,” I argued with God on a regular basis. I had no desire to have an Abrahamic experience and “head to a new land that I will show you.”
And yet, when I took the time to listen to that still, small voice, I knew our time there was done. The more I argued with God, the more I realized I might miss out on what God wanted to do in me—and in our church. Perhaps we had done what God called us here to do, and it was time embrace the unknown. In May, I gave my notice to our leadership team.
I have been trying to follow Jesus for 30-plus years, and far too often I still start my conversations with God by telling him what I think is best. Too often I plead with God to jump on board with what I am doing instead of being open to the possibility that God wants to do something new in me. I often don’t want to press into what lies ahead because I am convinced that I haven’t recovered from what I just came through.
We are all emerging from a deeply trying and challenging season that has stretched us in every way possible. The season ahead is just as unknown, with its own daunting challenges. We all have questions about what our churches will look like. Will people come back? Will I have a job in six months? Will I remember how to connect with actual people and not just talk to a camera lens? In what capacity should we hang on to what we’ve learned about doing church digitally? So many unanswered questions lie in front of us. If we give the unknowns control, they can paralyze us. When we give into fear and discouragement, we also forgo experiencing the beautiful ways God will work in and through us.
I have heard it said by people much smarter than I that it could be two years before we see how this past year actually plays out in the life of our churches. Yet I do know one thing: the God who breathed the cosmos into place and causes the sun to rise each morning is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If I do the good soul work that allows me to let go of what I think God should do for me and lean into what God wants to do in and through me, my heart will be in the right place, even it if isn’t easy. Challenges never are.
Whether working on a car engine or trying to wrap our brains around what the church will look like in the years to come, we can choose to show up, implement the lessons we’ve learned along the way, and trust that God is walking with us. Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian church saying, “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” (Philippians 1:6, MSG).
Friends, cling to this truth as you embrace the challenges ahead.