Into the Unknown

First day of a new year. It’s always been, for me, just brimming with possibilities, potential, hope. I love New Year’s Day. I don’t give a fig about celebrations or even staying up late on the Eve to see the new year in…it’s going to come in whether I’m awake or not. What I love about it is it feels like absolutely anything is possible. There’s 12 whole months, 52 weeks, 365 days ahead of me, each day a gift that I can open and enjoy and use, each day with possibilities of its own. There’s the potential to end something destructive or useless. The potential to begin something new and exciting. The potential to hear God’s call and move into a new journey, a new life. I (mostly) love beginnings.

I’ve had several over the last few years. Some scarier than others. I realized yesterday that this is the third New Years Eve in my new life without my former husband of 23 years. It was startling to realize that, as time seems to compact itself and blind me to its passing sometimes. I also realized that God has healed so much in me over the last year and a half of walking with Him, and I can’t begin to express my gratitude. He has walked with me through pain and heartache, has bound up my wounds, dug up old roots of destructive thought patterns and behaviors, and planted new life in me. I can’t say every day has been a beautiful, painless walk through a garden…sometimes it’s been brutal to be honest. But He’s been with me every step, and though I don’t know where we’re going, I know He does, and I trust that He will get me there.

I’ve thought about that recently, that trust, that calm assurance that He knows what He’s doing. It’s hard to come by, and sometimes really hard to hold on to. Especially when I’m facing the unknown. I am right now, starting this first day of 2022. Staring right into the face of a great big ball of “I don’t know.” I don’t know what’s going to happen this year. I know He’s made changes in my life in the second half of 21 that feel like building blocks, stepping stones, to a new thing, a new place…but I don’t know what that new thing is. I don’t know what it looks like, I don’t know what trials and heartaches will come attached to it, I don’t know what blessings or beauty will bloom with it. I just don’t know. Staring into the unknown can be unnerving, at the same time as it is invigorating.

I’ve thought to myself often that it would be nice if God would just make it clear what He’s doing, where we’re going. If He would just send me a postcard, an email, a text…something…with clear instructions, a map to the destination, it would help a lot. I could prepare myself, you know. I could look at the map and see, okay there’s a dark time right here, but I can see on the other side of it and I know it’ll be okay. And, see, there’s the goal, the X on the spot…that’s where we’re going, and it looks great. I know all the stuff between here and there may not be a lot of fun, but I believe we’ll get there. It would be so much easier to trust Him if He did that.

I’ve written before that I don’t like to be scared, and gave an example of driving in the snow. I can ride with someone who is competent and capable of handling the road conditions with a fair amount of calm and little anxiety. But when there’s something scary up ahead, I’ll tend to close my eyes as we go through it, because what I don’t see won’t scare me to death. I think, too, that if I knew going into a situation like that, that it would turn out okay, no one would get hurt, no property damage or anything, I maybe could just enjoy the whirlwind.

Same with life in general. For example, this particular “unknown” situation I’m looking at right now…if I knew for sure that everything would turn out okay on the other side of it, and maybe the exact date it would, I could relax through it and just cruise, wide-eyed and wondering, and enjoy the loops and swirls. But that’s not the case. No one knows the future but the One who penned it, and He’s not telling the specific details.

Why is that? There is account after account in Scripture where God gives partial information to someone, or sometimes just says “Go,” without any other info. I think about Abram…He gave Abram the command to go…didn’t tell him where they were going, just basically said “Go until I tell you to stop.” The account in Genesis doesn’t even say if God told Abram which direction to go in. He just said “leave your family and your country and go to a country I will show you.” The logical part of my brain says that God must have told Abram at least east, west, north, or south. I mean, otherwise, Abram could have gotten up and turned left out of his tent opening when God wanted him to turn right…but then again, maybe not.

Think about King David…as a boy he was anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel. While the first King was still on the throne, and seemingly of sound mind and body. It was several years before that played out. God told David that he would be king, but He didn’t tell him about all the trouble he would face, the journey he would take between the time of the oil running down his beard and the crown being placed on his head. Would it have made a difference if He had? Probably, but the difference it would have made was not what God had planned, so it’s a moot point.

All of this musing and thinking was sparked by one other account in the Bible, that of Mary the mother of Jesus. I had finished up writing the devotional that touched on Mary’s faith, and found that my brain just couldn’t leave that alone after I was done. Her story has played through my head several times, in greater detail than what was included in the devotional. This young, by all accounts teenaged, girl was visited by an angel (whoa!) and given some impossible news (huh?!) before he poofed and she was left with the reality of what was told to her. There was a little conversation between the “Greetings, favored one!” and Gabriel departing. Not so much conversation as maybe I would have had…but I guess that’s why God chose Mary and not someone like me.

Just putting myself in her sandals, though, I would have had a LOT of questions…more than just her question about “how is this possible.” And that’s all she asked. That’s all that is recorded in the account of her story in the Gospel of Luke. But she must have had at least a passing thought to how this news would effect her, change her life. Taking out the fact that the babe to be born was the Messiah, the Savior…if she set that aside for a moment, and just looked at the reality of her situation, she likely had a lot more emotion than calm acceptance, “may it be done to me according to your word.”

She was betrothed, which for all intents and purposes meant actually married, just without the “good” parts. Her parents would have paid money to Joseph and his parents…the dowry, the bride price. By all accounts they were not wealthy, so it likely wasn’t much but even that would have been more than they would want to just throw away. The Bible doesn’t give much of a glimpse into the relationship between Mary and Joseph, but in Matthew’s gospel Joseph is seen as a compassionate man, so let’s assume that they had a good one, were excited about the new life they would begin together, the potential and possibility of it, even the ordinariness of it. They likely had had conversation and interaction, and both were content with the match. Maybe there were already feelings involved. In those moments between Gabriel’s hello and goodbye, all of that went up in smoke. She had to have known that. She had to have known that the likelihood of Joseph accepting her with this new condition was slim to none. All that potential…gone.

Then there were her parents…this young teenaged girl was going to have to go back in to her home and tell her parents that she was going to have a baby. The Bible tells us nothing of her parents, her homelife. But looking at the culture of the day, she was a girl…she was to be given in marriage and that was her function and her value. She was to keep a home, to bear children, to serve her husband and family. That was the sum total of the aspirations for girl children in that culture. And here she would have to come back in and tell them that she was going to have a baby, and no she hadn’t cheated on Joseph, no she hadn’t lain with anyone else, no. She was just — poof — pregnant. Can you imagine the looks on her parents’ faces? The scene there would have been awful.

Then there’s the culture of the day…the religious laws, the council, and the punishment for adultery. She could have lost her life. I would say that in between the “hello” and “goodbye” she had to have thought about what could happen to her if the Jewish council found out. She could be stoned, a horrible way to die.

Now, we, reading the accounts 2000 years later, know the end of the story. We know that Joseph had a dream where the angel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, that the son conceived was of the Holy Spirit. We know how it worked out. We know it wasn’t an easy life, but it likely was a good one, filled with children and work and worship and just all the beautiful ordinary. But she didn’t know that. Not right then. She didn’t know that even a little space of time out. Putting together Matthew’s account with Luke’s, there was a time lag between Joseph finding out that she was pregnant and him having that dream. He knew, and he considered putting her aside privately (that compassion).

What impressed me as I was ruminating over all this is that she must have thought about all that could happen and still said yes. But also, God didn’t tell her that it wouldn’t happen. God didn’t tell her that she had nothing to fear, He just told her through the angel to not be afraid. He knew what He was doing…but she didn’t. That’s the faith that staggers me.

He still doesn’t tell us what He’s doing, does He? What He wants us to know is recorded in His love letter. We know how the story ends, we know what the end goal is, we know that one fine day Jesus will rule and reign as the rightful King. We know that Satan will be bound and cast into the lake of fire. We know that all will be as God created it to be some 6000 years ago, and then it will be even better. But there’s a lot of here and there, a lot of back and forth, up and down between now and then. There’s a lot of unknown. And He doesn’t tell us what will happen in the meantime. He tells us to trust Him.

He tells us who He is, over and over, in His word. He tells of His character, His faithfulness, His trustworthiness, His love, His mercy, His grace. He tells of His compassion and His righteousness. He tells of His power and majesty. That’s the point, isn’t it. To get to know Him and to trust that He has us all in His capable hands. To know that all things, whether it’s scary or not, whether it looks positive or dismal, whether it’s painful or joyous, all things will work together for our good and His glory.

He’s not going to give me a road map on this journey outside of what is written in His word. But all I need to know is there. Even if I would prefer something a little more specific. I may not know where we’re going, but the Knower, the Author is my guide. He may not tell me what’s going to happen, but He tells me over and over I can trust Him. Even into the unknown.

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