God’s Watch Is Slow

What do I mean by that title? It conjures up a mental picture of some big man (or woman for some of you) glancing anxiously at a watch on his wrist, doesn’t it? But of course the meaning here is metaphorical, God no more has a watch than a wrist to wear it on. So what do I mean?

Sometimes when we pray for a blessing from God in some particular area we are struggling in, and it doesn’t come as soon as we think it should, we grow impatient with God, perhaps even angry. We are expecting God to give us what we think we need on our schedule and our watch is fast. It tells us we need this thing we ask for right now, or maybe in a week if we can’t have it right away. But surely a month is the longest it should take. I’ve been guilty of this many times. How about you?

Sometimes, God does just that for us. Sure, His blessings can rain down as soon as we offer the prayer or get prayed for, like my sister-in-law who was instantly healed of her joint problems when a friend of mine prayed for her at our church. It can and does happen. But more often God’s watch tends to run slower than ours. We pray and pray but nothing seems to change. A week goes by, then a month, then a year, then five years and still our blessing hasn’t come in a way we recognize. We begin to doubt, to lose hope. Has God abandoned us? Not in the slightest.

Some blessings take longer than others, not because they somehow require a more strenuous effort from our all powerful God, but because God has already decided on the best time to give us this blessing we need. In these situations it is God’s love that makes him tarry with our blessing. God knows us all intimately, down to the very last detail, He knows our needs and wants, and He knows when and how His blessings will be most beneficial.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve wanted to be married since I was 20-years-old, I’ve wanted it so bad it hurt sometimes. I am now about as old as H.G. Wells was when he first published The Time Machine (if you wish to know his age at that time, I’d suggest a Google search) and still have not managed to tie the knot. I do have a date set now, however, as well as the person I will be getting married to. That blessing has been a long time coming and it’s still not here yet, though it’s certainly within view.

Why didn’t God help me find my future spouse at age 20? Well, He actually did, we just weren’t ready for the level of commitment marriage requires. Looking back at the personal growth we’ve both made in the intervening years, I can say this honestly. We’ve grown as people and we’ve grown as a couple. We’ve gone through many of the hardships a married couple faces and once or twice we almost didn’t make it. We’ve had to learn and relearn what it means to really be a couple a number of times. Now about the only obstacle between us and marriage is finances, but I believe God is already beginning to work for us on that score as well.

My fiancee and I have both been through a lot and have had to put off getting married longer than I would have liked, but these trials and delays were necessary for us to grow as people. If we hadn’t grown together, apart, and then back together again as much as we have, it’s likely we could not have survived being married to each other. Many couples don’t have to deal with these kinds of challenges until they’re already married; for example, my sister married the man who is now her husband after being engaged to him for less than a year. They are still together and have a 6-month old daughter. Their case was different from mine and my fiancee’s, we both have had identity issues to iron out over the years, as well as anger issues, trust issues, and a couple more kinds of issues I’ve forgotten. God treats each case differently, He knows perfectly well what we need and when we need it most.

So as tempting as it is to rail at God when good things don’t come to us exactly when we think they should, it would be better if we could take a deep breath and consider whether God has a good reason for delaying. Is there something else God is trying to grow in us so we might be better prepared to receive the blessing we’re asking of him? Just because some blessings come quickly, doesn’t mean a delay is indicative of refusal. Our God is a good God, perhaps we should learn to trust His timing.

When I Doubt

It is said that one who has never doubted has never had their faith tested, this is never a comfort when you’re experiencing doubt, but it’s still important to remember. We need our faith to be challenged now and then, if only to determine what we really believe or how strongly we believe it. Sometimes we find that we have believed wrongly about something in these moments of doubt, other times we hold on to what we believe already and trust God to fortify our belief.

I recently had such an experience with a friend of mine who is also a Christian. This friend has not had the best experiences with the lgbt community and judges all who are part of the community by those few bad apples he’s met and observed. He also uses his knowledge of scripture to condemn lgbt people, unless they allow God to change who they are, that is. Needless to say, this friend and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things. He is especially offended by transsexuals; he begins from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender as well as a complete misconception of what gender reassignment surgery is. It doesn’t get better from there, I have tried to help him understand these things as they really are but he will not hear it.

So, recently he introduced me to an old doubt that has come up again and again in my life. “Is it wrong to be transgender?” I sometimes ask myself. “Does God really prefer that we stay within the binary genders the doctors assign us at birth?” I ask myself these questions in moments of doubt and I’m just not certain of the answers. It tests my faith and taxes my belief, so far I have always maintained what I believe and ridden out the storm until it passed. It can be emotionally exhausting and the amount of negative reinforcement I get from other Christians and the culture at large threatens to swallow me up at times.

But just as it’s true that doubt is needed to test our faith, sometimes bringing necessary correction, it is also true that God rewards the faithful. I read a news story earlier this year about a transwoman who heard the call of God to devote her life to Him by becoming a nun. When she chose to accept this call a way was provided for her in the form of a Carmelite order that welcomed her as one of their own. God asked this woman to become a nun, He didn’t ask her to reverse her surgery so she could be a monk, he didn’t chastise her for “mutilating her body”, as my friend would have put it, He told her to be a nun, to devote herself to Him just as she was. Not only that, but He made it possible for her to do so, He opened that door for her Himself.

I think about this story and I just can’t buy that God’s love for the trans community is conditional. My friend would have me believe that God requires us all to identify with the genders we were assigned at birth and that if we “mutilate our bodies” with surgery in order to change them we are violating God’s law. What’s more, he believes that God actually wants him to treat transfolk like the freakshows he sees us as. There is no sense that he should be unconditional with the love he shows or the respect he gives.

I am not a transsexual myself and have therefore no desire to receive sex reassignment surgery, but I fully support any of my trans brothers and sisters who feel they must have it. Their walk with God is as different from mine as their walk with life, I have to believe that those brothers and sisters of mine who have faith are just as beloved to God before and after their transitions. The body is just a shell, it is our hearts and souls that matter most to God.

I still hold out hope that God will change the heart of my friend toward the lgbt community and transfolk in particular. I think in time He will, though doubt currently discourages me on this point. Until such time I simply need to whether the storm and remember what I believe. God will take care of the rest.

Are You Hearing Voices?

Who do we turn to when things go wrong? Who can be counted on to never leave our side? To always be there when we need them? Scripture tells us that God can be trusted for this, that in fact Jesus died and was raised again so that we could have a deeper connection with God the Father, that through Jesus the Spirit of God lives in us. No matter what happens in our lives, no matter what we go through, God is always looking out for us.

Who can we count on to tell us who we are? To remind us when we forget, or when we just aren’t sure anymore. Our culture has many answers to this question. Corporations try to tell us who we are and what we need every day. Sociologists have told us that we are nothing more than the sum total of the influences of our social environment; including our family, our friends, the TV, movies, and anyone and everyone we happen to meet along the way. At least that’s what the sociologists I’ve talked to have to say about it.
But let us not forget society itself, which is proud to tell us that we are either a man or a woman, pink or blue, normal or not normal. Society never fails to tell us when we transgress the written and unwritten rules of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do.

Yet here again, the real answer is that God can be counted on to tell us our real identity and to remind us when we forget. God transcends the limits of culture, family, the media, and society. Many well meaning people can twist God’s words to us and tell us lies about who we are. I’ve certainly experienced that, have you? But though God loves all of his children, He doesn’t necessarily speak through all of them. He will always be honest with you, may even tell you things you don’t want to hear. Yet he never speaks guilt or shame into you when He speaks.

Anytime you hear a voice speaking guilt or shame into you, be it external or internal, know that this is not God. God is always proud of you, even when you mess up. He may correct you, but God’s correction will always build you up, not tear you down.
In the course of our lives we may hear many voices that try to tell us who we are. We may hear it from the movies or TV shows we watch, we may hear it from people trying to sell us something. We may hear it from family or friends, from politicians, or our own church leaders. We may hear it from strangers on the street who are bursting with opinions, willing to share them anyone owning a functional pair of ears.

Every day we are bombarded with messages about who we are or what we need, most of which are either false or irrelevant. Some sound good and yet simply aren’t true. Others are hurtful and are definitely untrue. Some of the most negative messages come from within ourselves; they can sound like still small voices and doesn’t God speak in a still small voice? And yet these inner voices can speak condemnation to us, telling us we are worthless, not normal, not right with God, etc. But again, we must remember that God does not speak condemnation to us. Often our inner voices are fed by culture, by media, by our social environment. Some days our past can speak lies to us: “You won’t amount to anything. You never have, don’t you remember?” or “You poison everything, look at the number of friends you’ve lost over the years.”

But God can cut through all these voices if we listen for Him, remembering that His words always encourage, even when they aren’t what we want to hear. It is sometimes difficult to hear God through the many voices of culture, society, and the inner dialogue of our own thoughts. Some people may even have other obstacles between them and God’s voice, such as my friends who suffer from schizophrenia. But God’s voice is always there, patiently reminding us who we are, we just have to listen; some of us may have to listen harder than others. And even if we can’t hear Him, we must remember that He is still there.

A simple trick to remember if we can’t hear God is this one that I use all the time: anytime you have a negative thought or feeling that’s weighing you down, embrace its opposite, even when it doesn’t feel true. God’s voice is never oppressive, so if you’re feeling oppressed it’s not from God. This technique deceptively simple, so simple we may be tempted to dismiss it. “It can’t be that easy,” we think. But in a way it is.

I myself have spent a significant portion of my life battling depression. The last few years of my life have not been good ones. I’ve lost friends, been denied many job opportunities, and am currently struggling with a mountain of student debt I acquired while studying for a degree that has yet to pay off for me. Time and time again I apply for work, sometimes I even get an interview, but I’m always passed up.

My depression would have me believe that there is no future for me, that I am beyond hope. But this is not what God has to say to me, I know that because it is not in His nature to be so cruel. And in my worst moments I find that reminding myself of this opens the door to hearing from God. I start remembering other things my God has promised me, and before long it’s like God and I are having a lengthy chat about what He thinks of me.

This approach isn’t perfect, it’s just as prone to human error as any other, but with practice it can be a useful tool. God always meets us halfway anytime we attempt to find Him in the midst of our circumstances. The truth is, when we try to seek him, we often find He’s already been trying to get our attention for quite some time.

God is always speaking, and if we let it, His voice can be much louder in our ears than any of the other voices speaking in or around us. Many will try to distract us from the voice of our God, but in the end it is we who choose what voices to listen to. Practice makes perfect.

God and The Rainbow

Over the years I have heard a number of heteronormative Christians, some of them friends of mine, some of them complete strangers, complain about the LGBT appropriation of the rainbow as our symbol. “It was meant as a promise from God,” they complain, pointing to the story of Noah and the Flood in Genesis. And they’re right. That was the original symbolic meaning of the rainbow.

We are all familiar with the story of Noah’s ark, I trust, but let’s do a quick recap of it anyway. God sees how wicked His creatures have become apart from him and, despairing at the suffering and evil he sees in world, decides to destroy everything with a massive flood. But a certain man named Noah pleads with God to spare him and his family. After hearing the man’s case, God agrees and tells him to build a boat, collecting two of each animal. The flood comes, lasting 40 days and nights, and then the waters recede. When it’s all over, God puts a big rainbow in the sky as a promise that he would never destroy the world like that again.

So once again, our detractors are correct in saying that the rainbow was originally supposed to signify God’s promise to Noah. And even now that we know how rainbows are naturally formed, I still believe they hold that meaning. Yet our detractors are wrong to think the LGBT community’s use of the symbol is somehow a betrayal of that original meaning and therefore an affront to God.

In C.S. Lewis’s fantasy novel, The Silver Chair, there is a scene where a certain sequence of words the heroes see carved in giant letters are explained to have originally had a different meaning than has been understood by the children and Puddleglum. It is explained that they used to be part of a longer phrase that pointed to the greatness of the civilization that built the city, now in ruins, which stands over them. This is thought by the speaker to cancel out the meaning the children gleaned from the words they saw. But on the heels of this Puddleglum offers the counter explanation that “[Aslan] was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.” (Lewis, The Silver Chair)

Why am I quoting from a children’s fantasy novel? Because I think the point Puddleglum makes about the letters cut by the Giant King is just as applicable to God’s sending of the rainbow back in the days of Noah. If God is truly all-knowing then he would’ve already known in that day all the different meanings that would be attributed to this rainbow of His, perhaps even a few that have yet to turn up. I don’t know about you, but I would not worship a God I thought to possess only limited knowledge.

So He most certainly knew that gays, bisexuals, lesbians, and transgender folk would eventually come to call this symbol theirs. He knew that and He used it anyway. I submit that the rainbow was also intended as God’s promise for those of us who are not heteronormative. Our straight, cis-gender Christian brothers and sisters can’t claim any special place in God’s heart that is not already ours as well. Everyone is special, God loves all of us under that rainbow and He wants each and every one of us to come into His arms just as we are, He wants to admire the beauty he crafted in us. God does marvelous work, doesn’t he?