The Ghost of No.

((from Holly, an adventure-loving, Jesus-following creative living beautifully in gorgeous Alaska. you can see more of her life here! Subbing in for Bridget as she is home from Uganda for a couple of weeks traveling, sharing, and preaching this morning!))

A ghost used to haunt my mom’s closet.

Eerie, white, suspended above the floor. Reminiscent of a future that never became a reality. Haunting me from the day a simple “No” stifled hope, leaving a longing unfulfilled. For a while, we didn’t speak of the the ghost silently taking up residence in my mom’s closet.

Two and a half years ago the deafening simplicity of the word “No” dashed my dream of being married. Nearing thirty, I had stopped allowing my heart to dare hope one day I might wed. Nine months into a relationship, I began allowing myself to dream and believe it could happen for me too. Shortly after, I bought a beautiful wedding dress that now hangs in my mom’s closet.  Seven months later, the dress that embodied a future of that hope fulfilled, became a symbol of despair and sadness. The dream became a tragedy and my heart overflowed with regret.

The months following streamed together like the tears and snot, flowing with torrential force from my face and neck. I felt like such a fool. Why had I allowed myself to hope only to meet rejection so abruptly?

I began retracing my steps, trying to identify where I was mistaken, trying to make sense of what had happened, grappling with all the feels and weight of “No” to something SO significant to me. Questions washed over me like a tsunami, each time reawakening new grief, new disappointment, new regrets, new shame.

Often, I only had the capacity to move from work, to home; laying on the couch with my brother’s German Shepherd snuggled on top of me as I cried to Amanda Cook’s album, Brave New World. All the questions my heart yearned to have answered came back to this:

“Why God? Why even let me dream? Why allow this to happen to me? Why would you allow me to experience such a cruel joke?”

With each void of answers I sank deeper into hopelessness. I hated the feelings that grief had awoken.

Being denied such a deep longing had born feelings of worthlessness, toxic shame, and failure. Something must be wrong with me if God would still withhold this ONE dream of mine.

Unfortunately, while cognitively I was able to acknowledge that God doesn’t work in the currency of good behavior, success, or worth-defined rewards, I live a lot of my life like my heavenly Father would satisfy this one longing if something about me was better. When I lived the lie upon hearing “no” to marriage,  I was drawn to believe that something was either wrong with me or Him.

One afternoon as I laid on the couch after a long cry, I whispered, “Why? Would you please just deliver me from this?” And I heard Him say, “Sweet girl, I HAVE delivered you.”

In the murkiness of disappointment, I couldn’t begin to fathom that “no” meant deliverance, especially when I was begging for deliverance from the weight of my disappointment.

The truth is, there is something fundamentally wrong, it’s the problem of this world not being what it was meant to be. And while wrestling with all the why’s, the truth of the matter is that any longing or desire on this side of eternity that has anything to do with another person or broken creation, any longing or desire for anything outside of the person of Jesus will ALWAYS experience disappointment, whether it’s a “no” or a “yes.”

“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see we wait for it with patience. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:23-28

I usually scoffed when this was thrown so callously at my pain, “You know God works all things together for good…“.
Really? Does God work such a devastating “no” for my good?

BUT (and here’s the BIG BUT) sorting through the tension of our temporary wants clashing against our eternal thirsts, our pain gets tangled up in the GOODNESS of our kind Father. And THAT is hope, that He is better that my present pain, my future desires, my current wounds, my potential happiness.

The hard truth is, we want eternal fulfillment NOW.

But if Jesus is better, I can wait, thankful for an advocate who not only helps me, but sees and knows the pain of waiting, the pain of being deferred, or of feeling forgotten and punished (remember Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?”).
By surrendering that “no” in order to shout a BIG fat exclamation of “YES!” to Jesus we are able to find a “Yes” to Jesus in the pain! “Yes” to Jesus in the heartache! “Yes” to Jesus in the unanswered or unsolvable questions! Yes, you, Jesus, are more than enough.

I no longer wait for my present dreams to be met the same way.  I lean into wrestling with the tension of my forever satisfaction to be fulfilled by the steadfast love of Jesus in eternity.

“The secret of being in love, of falling in love with life as it was meant to be, is to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live in our longing spaciousness of our emptiness rather than trying to fill it up.” – Gerald May

Over and over again, my Abba is in the business of restoring, redeeming, making all things new, bringing beauty for ashes, being with me in my mess, making my present suffering incomparable to what is to come.

Hope is hard. Not because some of our wants won’t be realized. Hope is hard because believing Jesus is more, that He is enough, that He is everything we’ve ever longed for is the struggle.

That ghost left my mom’s closet. Instead, a white flag of surrender now hangs in my mom’s closet.

Now, we can speak of it. It reminds me that “No”  is actually a banner of deliverance from a kind Father… a kind, gentle Savior who promises more than I think or imagine. A reminder that while there will still be moments where I end up on the couch soaking in my tears and asking God why – I am firmly established in the tension of my unfulfilled longings and His promise to work all of my pain for His good and His glory.

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