Are you one of those people who can’t stand to leave cupboard doors open? I dearly love my son-in-law, but he rarely shuts cupboards. Maybe he does it to drive me crazy, but just last week I followed him through the kitchen shoving drawers shut and slamming doors. Only after everything was shut and I plopped down on the couch I muttered, “Why is it so hard to shut things?”
But that is not the best question. Why is it harder to leave things untidy and unresolved? Now, I may sound like a finicky person, but I think I am not unlike other women. We like things in order, with doors and drawers closed. We like to look at a tidy room and see only the things we want to see.
This may be laughable when we think of sons-in-law and kitchen cupboards. It is not so funny when we realize how this attitude impacts us spiritually.
God has taken me through a slow, painful experience that I am only beginning to understand. After years of legal wrangling, I realized that I, who had always been able to resolve problems, could not negotiate my way of this mess. The legal system I had relied on was indifferent to my needs; finally, we settled. I did not triumph. I felt no elation. Left with doubts and debts and poor health, I was simply grateful that it was not worse.
All over our country and across the world I watched other women struggling with the same results – whether it was a personal tragedy like mine, or a national tragedy that shattered our sense of security, or fledgling ministries cut short as global workers had hours to flee – there has been no elation. Left with doubts and fears, are we grateful that it was not worse?
Even now as I try to come to grips with what happened to me and to our whole world, I have to stop and praise God for His faithfulness and grace. My hope was bedraggled, but God never left me. My prayers were desperate, but God still listened. My strength evaporated, but God was there every day.
It is amazing that He visited me in my drivenness and my desperate struggle to survive. My life was about shutting doors and wrapping things up. Suddenly, I was faced with an uncomfortable open-ended-ness, and that was where He gave me hope. Hope. Oh, what God shares about hope. It is not the wishful thinking we share so casually: “I hope it doesn’t rain. We’ve planned this picnic for weeks.” It’s not the dream we fantasize about: “I sure hope I get that bonus. We really need the money.” It’s not determination either: “I hope that this referendum passes. We’ve worked so hard on it.”
Hope from God is about hope in God, not in outcomes. But, it’s funny how hope can both attract and repel. We desperately want things to turn out well, to truly believe that “all things work together for good to those who love God.” But, at the same time, we want hope to be like cupboard doors and drawers – all tidy and shut against the things we do not want to see.
In our attempt to just have things finished, we often try to rush through the experiences God brings in our lives. In the wake of September 11th, how many times have we heard talk about “moving on?” Sometimes we even slam the door of closure before He is actually done. How many people have you known who have not allowed themselves to grieve or who have manipulated an end of their own because they thought they could not wait any longer? When we do that we not only miss God’s working in our life, we also miss a sweet intimacy with Him as He sits with us through those experiences.
In the midst of my legal mess I faced that urge from a most unexpected place – from other Christians. I enjoyed an initial flurry of interest and concern for my situation, my health, my spiritual well being. I was patted and hugged and prayed for. When I walked into a room, I was warmed by care. I relished it, and it nurtured me. Hope soared in me every time someone asked questions, listened to my long tale or encouraged me by their prayers.
However, over time, as the weeks grew into months, and the months grew into years, my spirits drooped and my supporters dropped away. They wanted the cupboard doors shut. No one wanted to see the messy things in the cupboard, and certainly felt that everything should have been resolved long ago. I shared less and less as others averted their eyes or absently murmured platitudes.
“Well, I’m sure God will work everything out,” they said before they hurried on to talk to someone else, anyone else. I learned that they did not want to hear how God was taking His own sweet time to answer this prayer, or worse yet, might never answer it. God was expected to answer fervent prayers in a timely manner – keep things tidy. If God was not going to grant success, at least He was expected to bring closure. People certainly did not want to look at my cupboard doors hanging open and be reminded that God was not holding up His end of the deal.
Global working women who are suddenly displaced in the very places they longed for are facing the same averted eyes, quick platitudes and even criticism. Uncomfortable as it is to see someone’s personal cupboard doors open, there is something absolutely disturbing about seeing the cupboard doors of cross-cultural work yawning open.
And, when God’s ways became too mysterious, others began to suspect that perhaps my troubles were my fault. Have you faced that thinly veiled criticism, too? They raised doubts that maybe I was really like my son-in-law and let everything “hang out.” Some of those same women who had been supportive in my situation before grew annoyed that it took so long. They looked for a cause for my troubles. They followed me around trying to shut the cupboard doors.
Perhaps I had sinned. “Have you done something to displease God?” they asked. I wanted to scream: “Who hasn’t done something to displease God?” That was too simple to make sense. Shut a window.
Well-meaning people offered brilliant solutions: “You could pray.” Pray! How could I describe all the nights where I tossed and turned, curled in a fetal position and begged God, “Please, please, please?” Slam a drawer.
“You should confess your sins.” Confess! What do you say after there is nothing left to confess? Shove things out of the way.
“Maybe you should just accept what God has given you.” Accept! What is the difference between perseverance and stubbornness? Slam a door.
I struggled, all right, as so many others have struggled. Added to my struggles to maintain my faith, to keep my head above murky financial waters, to endure invasive medical tests exacerbated by stress, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, I also struggled with the fear that God would never answer this prayer. Where was the warm comfort of those first years?
And, oh, how I argued with God. “Close the cupboard doors! Give me a break and a little closure so I can breathe,” I demanded of Him. One night I drove down the street crying, “Do something, God, or I will!” Even as it came out of my mouth I knew there was nothing I could or would do. No matter how hard I pushed, that cupboard door would be hanging open the next day. But at least that night at my lowest point, He suddenly filled my car with His presence. I yielded to it. The next morning I got up, put one foot in front of the other and muddled through.
But, I always came back to God with new tactics. Why didn’t I just give up on God? That is the beauty of God’s faithfulness; it is not about Him miraculously solving your problems, rather, it is about Him drawing you to Himself over and over again. I knew my only hope was in Him – even my grit-your-teeth-and-push efforts to go back to Him and try again.
“Look at others scatter when I walk in the room; I scare them,” I so eloquently pointed out to Him. “If you will not give me a break, give them a break. We all need closure.” How noble I had become, asking God to rescue me simply to encourage others. And, then the next morning I got up, put one foot in front of the other and muddled through.
And, as I expected, many others breathed a collective sigh of relief when we finally reached settlement. “Aren’t you just glad to have it over?” they asked as they looked beyond me for someone else, anyone else. I quickly adopted a philosophical attitude and spoke at length about God’s lessons. I watched others nod and smile. That was what they wanted to hear: God came in, saved the day and now there was closure. “Well, at least you can move on now,” they patted me before rushing away.
I wish I could describe some wonderful epiphany, some miraculous way God swooped down and rescued me and made everything right again. I can tell you that God has rescued me from a worse fate, but to some, my rescued fate is worse than anything they could endure. And to many others, the fate or the rescuing are not nearly as important as closure. Just make it be done!
I know that to some I am a reminder that no matter what else you do, closure – not to mention success – is not guaranteed. But, do not avert your eyes. Resist that impulse to reach out and slam the cupboard drawers. Look at my doors hanging open and let them tell you: I have survived without closure.
For all the women struggling to make sense of our new world, brace yourself for what I have learned: Praise God, there is nothing so liberating as leaving things unfinished.
Closure is over-rated as a driving value. Whether you are facing grief over a loved one or a dramatic change of events, closure is not the point. Trying harder or looking the other way will not guarantee a tidy end. Wishing things were different, or even trying to rush through them will not guarantee closure. So, embrace the open cupboard doors. Rummage around. Examine the messy things. Watch God work. Feel His presence in the midst of your suffering; don’t just wait breathlessly for it to end.
Sooner or later we all suffer and find ourselves with cupboard doors hanging open. In these times do we really look at who God is and what we have become? Do not be afraid to face that. Take advantage of those open cupboard doors to see the crustiness on your heart that screams that you deserve better than what God is giving you. Dig in the back of your heart and face your anger at a God who would ask you to give up your life in America and move overseas, only to jerk you back in the space of a couple of weeks. Take that one crushing fear you have and look for someone with open cupboard doors who is living in the midst of it. Ask her about it. Learn from her and gain hope.
If you stop slamming doors, you will fall straight into the arms of God, a loving, patient God who may choose to take His own sweet time to answer you. Ah, but then God’s hope will be sweeter than you ever imagined and you will survive.