Galatians 1:18a; 2:1a “Then after three years …” “Then after fourteen years…”
For many years, growing up in Massachusetts, I did not like my name. The name, Saul, clearly identified me as being Jewish. In school, that was just one more reason to be mocked and bullied. Biblically, I saw my name a lot, but King Saul never seemed to be the best namesake.
Many years later when I became a Christian (a topic for another time), I came to appreciate my name more. It was unique; it had character; I had developed the strength to carry it proudly. It now connected me with a truly heroic Biblical presence – Saul (Paul) of Tarsus. For almost twenty years, I have studied his life, his story, his struggles, his strength, and his extraordinary conversion story.
On a recent Sunday, Pastor Roger shared on the topic of life transitions and focused on Saul’s transition and his “wilderness” experience that is referenced in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1. Pastor Roger spoke about the concept of the “wilderness experience” and how it is an essential step in life transitions. His words led me to reflect on my own time in the wilderness. Paul’s experience was 17 years; I managed to squeeze mine into only 8 years.
I became a Christian in my early 40’s. Life was good. I had survived a divorce and a 3,000 mile move to the West Coast within an hour of where I was born. I was about to get remarried and was excited to start this new life. But, the wilderness has no guideposts. You never know when it’s coming or when it’s about to end. Over the next eight years, I was unemployed or underemployed, and I held six different jobs. I struggled through a mortgage and a foreclosure, moved nine times, left Washington State (and my children) to take a job in California, was hired for what I thought was my dream job (only to be replaced in a year), and got divorced again.
After losing a job at Valley Christian after a year, I gave up. I found myself on my knees, in tears, begging God, “They say you have a plan for our lives. OK, I’m done. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” I sat motionless in that anxiety for a few weeks before getting a call back from Valley asking me if I was interested in a job teaching 8th grade history. Though I had been working in education as an administrator for almost 25 years, I had never wanted to be a teacher. Even when I was out of work, I never even applied for teaching jobs. But I needed a job and decided that I probably needed to trust that this might be God. Spoiler Alert: It was God.
Standing in that classroom on the first day of school, God showed me that not only was this His plan, but that all of the pieces that make me who I am, they can only fit together properly as a teacher.
In the ensuing eleven years, I have had many moments in which I wished that I had listened sooner and saved some of that pain for myself and others. But then I always stop and realize that If somehow I had realized it sooner, I wouldn’t be the person who I am.
The lesson: the reason God’s timing is perfect is because He sees the end of the story, while we only see the moments. He sees, which we usually can’t, that as broken, fallen, sinful beings, we will always do most of our learning in the wilderness. So, He allows us to struggle and suffer because He knows that it is the only way we can get to the Promised Land on the other side of the Wilderness.