by Lois Flowers
In late 2018, I was talking to a friend after church. We were near the end of a sermon series about the Lord’s Prayer, and that day, the pastor had talked about what it means to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
I don’t really remember the sermon, but I do remember what I told my friend when I brought her up to date on my dad’s growing health problems.
“I’m not questioning God’s presence or role,” I said. “I just don’t know what to do.”
It was such a helpless feeling. My dad’s condition had gotten progressively worse throughout the fall, but he had yet to receive a diagnosis that would provide a way forward. He had agreed to see a new doctor, but he was still living alone and trying to care for himself.
All I could do was pray for direction.
The next day, my dad called me because he didn’t have the strength to go to a therapy appointment. “I just want someone to check me into a hospital and find out what’s wrong with me,” he said.
It wasn’t the answer I was expecting, but it was an answer. None of us could have predicted the sad decline that would happen in the coming weeks, but the fact remains—in that specific hour of need, God showed me what I needed to do.
I’m grateful for those occasions when a long-awaited answer finally appears in bold, black letters. But more often than not—especially lately—I find myself picking my way through ongoing problems one detail at a time.
When situations get particularly frustrating or confusing, I desperately wish God’s words to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 30:18 would come true in my life: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ”
That’s what I want, more than anything. But what I get—most of the time, anyway—is more of my own nagging questions. How is this going to work out? How am I going to accomplish that? Who’s going to help me?
I want to figure it out faster, to make things happen in ways that are easier and more comfortable for me. I especially want to know how the story is going to end, and when.
Instead, I’m left with the growing realization that events will most likely unfold in ways that I can’t even imagine right now. Reality might be better, worse or just different. That’s how life works.
I know I’m not the only one facing uncertainty, hard questions and tough circumstances that have no obvious solutions. You’ve probably been there. Maybe you’re there right now.
If I’ve learned anything from the last several months, it’s this: I don’t make the plans, and the outcome isn’t up to me.
But we still have to act, right? We still have people counting on us to make decisions, to solve problems, to pay the bills and juggle all the balls.
So what do we do when we don’t know what to do? Though I don’t have a definitive answer, these steps are helping me right now.
• Wait. Don’t plow ahead just to have something to do or because you’re not comfortable with ambiguity. Listen. Ask questions. Share your concerns. But be patient.
• Pray for specific needs, and ask others to join you. Don’t carry your burdens alone. One or two friends who will intercede for you at a moment’s notice can make all the difference in the world.
• Pray for God’s will to be done, not yours. Time and time again, I’ve found no better way to release my agenda than this.
• Seek input from wise people who once were where you are now. Ask questions like, “What did this look like for you?” “What should I focus on in this situation?” and “What would you do if you were in my shoes?”
• Do “the next right thing.” This phrase is the title of a new book by Emily Freeman, and it’s also great advice. You may not know the next 37 steps, or even the next two. There’s probably something you can do, though—a single task you can accomplish or an immediate step you need to take.
• Trust God, not Google. The answers will come, even if they’re not the answers you want. God’s timing and methods are often incomprehensible, but—in keeping with His character—they are perfect. Somehow, in the midst of the uncertainty, we’ve got to find a way to rest in that truth.