Uncertainty: Fodder for Fear


I think there are not many things that loom as large to feed our fear than uncertainty. It seems to come at us from every direction. It can be as simple as accepting an invitation to get together with some potential new friends or it can be as risk-filled as considering a job or career change or dealing with unending medical tests with no clear diagnosis.

Without even trying I can easily think of major times of uncertainty in my own life. One was when my husband was serving in the military half a world away when I was expecting our first child. Another came when I sensed the Lord nudging me to leave my safe teaching career where I had tenure to go to graduate school in the area of counseling (specifically marriage and family therapy) followed by entering into a private Christian practice without health insurance or any clear expectation of income.

There was uncertainty about when to retire and what would be next when I am not one to golf all day or spend my time sitting on a porch leafing through magazines. There is nothing wrong with either of those, but they are not me.


When unexpected things happen, it exposes where our trust lies. Perhaps it lies with our paycheck or savings account. Perhaps it lies within a specific church or ministry. Perhaps it lies with family or one or several very close friends we rely on. Perhaps it lies with an institution like the government.

I am not suggesting not trusting anyone or anything. What I do know is that if my trust in the Lord gets stretched like a muscle that is being worked out regularly, my world will not fall apart when those people or those things I am trusting in change or disappear. My trust and faith will get healthier and stronger even though I won’t enjoy the process any more than I enjoy a workout at the gym. Both are good for me!

Faith doesn’t reduce uncertainty. Faith embraces uncertainty. We’ll never have all the answers. And some people never come to terms with this truth. They feel there is something wrong with them because they can’t wrap their minds around God. But maybe faith has less to do with gaining knowledge and more to do with causing wonder. Maybe a relationship with God doesn’t simplify our lives. Maybe it complicates our lives in ways that they should be complicated.”

Mark Batterson

It reminds me again of the children of in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe asking the beavers about whether or not Aslan is safe since he is after all a lion. The answer may not have comforted them because the beavers respond that he isn’t safe, but he is good!


Sometimes I think we want the Lord to be safe and miss that He is not safe in the sense we are hoping He will be, but His goodness is plentiful. I love how C.S. Lewis depicts the Lord as Aslan. It serves notice to us all that He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah even as He is the tender Savior urging children to come to Him.

Our challenge is to allow ourselves to grow in our Christian life and maturity until we experience the paradox of being childlike in our faith, trust, and wonder. In Him we can have spiritual certainty in the midst of circumstances and daily life filled with uncertainty.

Faith is embracing the uncertainties of life. It is chasing the lions that cross our paths. It is recognizing a divine appointment when you see one.

Embrace relational uncertainty. It’s called romance. Embrace spiritual uncertainty. It’s called mystery. Embrace occupational uncertainty. It’s called destiny. Embrace emotional uncertainty. It’s called joy. Embrace intellectual uncertainty. It’s called revelation.”

Mark Batterson

In Pat Springle’s wonderful book, Trusting: The Issue At The Heart of Every Relationship, he cuts to the chase with these words:

“Only God remains 100% trustworthy, as well as totally outside of our control.”

Pat Springle

Doesn’t it come down to this: If I am trusting Him for salvation and life with Him everlastingly, can I not trust Him for the circumstances in this life no matter what they may be?

It was Lucy, the youngest, in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, that was the lion chaser, who sensed and looked always for Aslan and trusted Him. She chased after and trusted Aslan with childlike trust and faith. I think we need to grow up to become more childlike like Lucy.


No Translation Needed

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Communication seems to be more complicated than it has ever been despite the vast array of ways available to most of us to accomplish it. Mankind started out with language and face-to-face communication that expanded to written words that developed into reading the language being spoken and we have been adding to that ever since. But there are those of us who are older who recall the days when communication was still largely face-to-face, print media, landline telephones, radios, and movies without surround sound.

The past 50 years have brought an explosion of high-tech devices that allow for instant communication so it might seem that we should be clearer and better informed, but misunderstanding abounds despite all these options. Emojis each have a meaning and there are shorthand text memes that convey things that leave many uncertain of what has been communicated. Add to that the new words and the changes in meanings of so many words we thought we knew the definition of as well as the greater variety of languages we might hear spoken more routinely and you have the possibility of needing translation far more often than you would have expected at one point in time.

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I recall so well when I was pregnant with our first child and my husband was on military duty thousands of miles away. Our communication was limited to “snail mail” and then one day he sent me a little reel-to-reel tape recorder that we could use to send tapes to and from one another. (Hard for many of you to imagine since even cassette tape recorders are now ancient history.) Then when our son was born my husband used a network of ham radio operators (amateur radio operators) that leaped from one country and continent to another and across the ocean till a ham radio operator in the United States received the message and picked up a landline telephone and called me on a landline in the hospital. Sounds amazing, right? It was quite a surprise! But even then, I needed to learn the correct protocol using words like “over” and “out” to be sure all of this was passed along the network.

The baby boy my husband had called to hear about now picks up his cell phone to FaceTime or Zoom call me without a need for a network of radio operators or a specific protocol for the conversation. How times have changed!

But it is likely that many of us have discovered that a lot can get lost or missed in these new ways of communicating whether it is texting, video chat, email, or something else. We can miss the other aspects of communication such as body language or tone of voice that help us know more about what the person is saying beyond only their words.

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We seem to be perpetually looking down at screens and can lose the depth of communication we can still experience face-to-face with cellphones and other devices set aside. Maybe that is what draws more people to meet at their favorite coffee shops today to have that “in-person” connection we have lost in the maze of all the devices we have at our disposal and regularly use. It’s only then we are more often able to ask a follow-up question to clarify what the other person has said and be sure we understood what they said and meant. We can even ask for clarity on how they define a word that might be less clear in current lingo.

More and more persons are also becoming fluent in multiple languages and the days of the high school classes in Latin have faded from most scenes. Maybe it really is now a “dead” language despite so many of its root words still influencing scientific terms and words.

But there are actually two words that require no translation and mean the same thing in every language in the world. And that was a great discovery for me recently. Eugene Peterson writes about these two words in his most recent book, This Hallelujah Banquet.

“The first word is hallelujah.

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word meaning literally, “praise God.” But it has crossed the language barriers and ethnic boundaries and kept its own sound through it all: hallelujah.

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

“If you want to swear, you have to learn a new word in every language: Hebrew, Greek, Sanskrit, Egyptian, French, Spanish, German, Icelandic, and Russian. If you want to say, “Praise God,” one word will do all over the world: hallelujah.”

Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet

Little wonder this word appears in Peterson’s book in the chapter entitled “The Supper of the Lamb: A Benediction.” It’s the word heard at that last grand banquet where persons from every tribe and nation will be assembled around Christ.

“Hallelujah was injected into the vocabulary of the peoples of the world by persons who were threatened daily with torture and death. The songs of Revelation were sung by Christians who lived under the sadism of the Roman police state. The church that sang the hallelujah songs in Revelation was almost exclusively made up of the poor and the exploited, the imprisoned and the martyred.”

“Language, if it is going to be useful, has to reflect the reality of life. God is the reality of life. Hallelujah is a good word to describe our knowledge and response to that reality.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

But I said there were two words that needed no translation…

“The second word is amen. It is an untranslated Hebrew word. And it means “yes.” Like hallelujah, it has infiltrated the vocabularies of the peoples of the world. None of you know what the word for “no” is in Hebrew, but you know what “yes” is. You have been saying it all your life, in church, and out of it. Amen-yes-is God’s favorite word.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

What causes Peterson to say that amen is God’s favorite word?

“What I am saying is that the basic overwhelming, eternally fixed word of God to you is yes. Yes, I love you. Yes, I accept you. Yes, I want you. And that our best word back to God is yes, Amen.”

Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet

Don’t Be Anemic

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One of the things doctors keep track of to monitor our health is whether we are experiencing anemia. We likely know it relates to low levels of hemoglobin in our blood, but most of all we are aware of how it affects us. We feel weak, lack power, vigor, vitality, or colorfulness. And doctors want to determine the cause and help us get back to feeling and being better. That’s one of the areas of their expertise but it isn’t mine.

So why am I saying we should not be anemic?

Because it isn’t something that can just happen in our physical bodies, but in our spiritual walk as well. It doesn’t happen in one moment in time but slowly develops as we allow ourselves to be depleted. Life comes at us every day with things we don’t always expect and can sap us of energy that dwindles even further if it is something that continues for a period of time. We become tired and weary physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Dealing with hard stuff does that to us and hard stuff comes in all shapes and sizes.

It can be a sudden loss, a debilitating diagnosis, an accident that upends the trajectory of our life, or it can be too much lethargy and disconnection with people that results in a sense of isolation and loneliness.

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We can little by little drop off our usual spiritual habits that sustain us when life is not coming at us sideways. We may not have much energy, so we don’t pick up the Bible to do the reading we have done previously. Sometimes if we do, what we read seems to be just words that have little or no impact on where we sense we are. We can fall prey to the enemy’s devices of drawing our attention to scripture where it seemed the Lord didn’t show up or help and we identify with those and wonder if He cares or even sees where we are. Our memories land on passages where people are miraculously healed or delivered, and we have not been, or we see that it was one or two people who received those gifts while countless others in the crowd likely went on suffering in one way or another. We may know that some things are beyond our understanding where God is concerned but that doesn’t comfort us or buoy our faith. And what happens to our prayer life when we reach that point?

The answer to that is impacted by a number of things. One of those is how we view prayer overall. For us, is it a structured approach to prayer we were taught or believed was how prayer should look so that it almost becomes rote for us or is it more intimate? Is it reverential and polite using the words we believe we should use in the Lord’s presence?

Is our prayer life bordering on anemia or do we lay it all out before the Lord in a “no holds barred” way? Do we risk asking the Lord the tough questions going on in our hearts and heads?

“…the writers of Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Job took their toughest questions, their heaviest weights, to God. They asked the most jarring questions, probed the darkest issues, and confessed their hurts and betrayals without ready apology.”

“If prayer was a safe place for those men and women to get brutishly honest with God, then shouldn’t it still be safe for us today?”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

Do we unconsciously believe the Lord can’t handle us verbalizing what He already sees in our hearts?

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When we look at it that way, it can sound ridiculous. The Lord asks us to invite Him into our hearts and that is where some of the darkest messiest secrets lurk within each of us. It is also a profoundly intimate place that we tend to only allow access to by a very few people we risk trusting. So, what kind of relationship does He really desire with us anyway?

“God doesn’t want a surface, shallow friendship. He doesn’t want to be mere acquaintances. He wants to sort through the muck and mire that comes with any meaningful relationship.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

Think about all those places where the writers were asking those tough questions. David never minced words in the Psalms and yet he was called a man after God’s own heart. He questioned God often and so did many of the writers of scripture. God asked questions as well in both Old and New Testaments. There is no evidence it knocked Him off his throne. He was more than willing to grapple with those who wanted authentic dialogue with Him.

Do we believe it is not okay to ask hard questions of the Lord? If we do at times, perhaps we could learn something from the ancient practice known as Jewish midrash. Margaret Feinberg defines it in The Sacred Echo:

“This method of study invites us to wrestle with God through his word. In Hebrew, midrash means to search out. Midrash asks the reader to look at difficult Scriptures, ask questions, and try to make sense of them before God. Midrash invites us to become venturesome with the Bible and to trade in a surface understanding of Scripture for a deeper grasp of a passage’s meaning and, along the way, to discover more of God and his ways. The questioning, the searching out, becomes a foundation for growth and discovery.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

I am not suggesting we tell God what to do but rather that we know it is okay to wrestle with the hard questions, the ones we don’t have answers for and that He has not answered either. And let’s be honest, there are plenty of those.

The writer of Hebrews suggests that our prayers should be anything BUT anemic:

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)

Don’t shy away from wrestling with the Lord and asking the tough questions. He wants us to bring them to Him and then trust Him with the answers He may or may not give that has the benefit of an eternal perspective.

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If You Want to Be Miserable…

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You are likely thinking that is an absurd question. Who wants to be miserable, right?

Misery comes to us all and it has many forms. It comes in illness, accidents, loss, loneliness, betrayal, any and all forms of suffering. Make no mistake about it – life is harder than we might have thought it would be. We need much encouragement and support from one another to navigate the rough seas and rocky shores. Sometimes that is hard to find, and it is then apparent there is only One who can be there all the time – day or night, holidays, and weekends.

There is no reason to look for misery. It will find us from time to time, but when it does there is a snare that can occur in us as well. We naturally can get lost in the misery. It becomes our major focus, and the struggle is real and can be prolonged to what seems unendurable lengths of time. Over time the enemy can use it to add to the misery we already are experiencing if we are not watchful.

In my undergraduate college days, I took a course in Children’s Literature that required I make a collection of poems and quotes that could be a resource when I became a teacher. Even though I still have that collection all these years later, I recall few of the treasures I discovered in completing the project save one. That one has echoed in my mind and heart often since then and it points to a truth that confronts us in times when we become focused on the struggle.

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“If you wish to be miserable, think about yourself, about what you want, what you like, what respect people ought to pay you, what people think of you; and then to you nothing will be pure. You will spoil everything you touch; you will make sin and misery for yourself out of everything God sends you; you will be as wretched as you choose.”

Charles Kingsley

Those words are hard to hear. Maybe that is because they speak such piercing truth. In a life touched or permeated with suffering from any and all forms, it seems to be paradoxical to ask us to look beyond the keen pain and need we feel for ourselves to see how this can ensnare us and add to the pain and misery we already feel. It can cause us to doubt anyone cares about us or considers our difficulty, even the Lord. We may not recognize how this impacts the anguish we may feel already.

What do we do when we recognize our own relational poverty?

Our response to that question is important and significant. We are tempted to think that surely no one, not even the Lord, would expect me to be able to look beyond my own suffering. We have nothing to give. Isn’t it time to be able to receive?

What do we see Christ pointing to in such times? He tells the story of the widow who gives her last penny. He asks the man by the well who has waited for someone else to help him into the healing waters if he really wants to get well. In the midst of the anguish of untold suffering on the cross, He responds to the thief on the cross beside Him.

It costs us little to pray for others whether we know all they are dealing with or not. It costs us little to thank someone who tends to us in our suffering whether it is a nurse, another caregiver, a friend, neighbor, family member, or the Lord. It costs us little other than looking outside ourselves to notice someone else. And when we do, it is amazing what can happen.

Too often we think that serving or blessing someone else means some formalized ministry or program or giving money. Those are good, but sometimes we miss the opportunities right in front of us – the person waiting on us who looks tired that we can encourage even in a small way by a smile, a word of appreciation, or even asking if there is something we can pray for them about. When we notice such things, we are much like Jesus because that is what He did.

“Sometimes I think the best gift that can be given to someone in need is a long afternoon together on a shady porch with a pitcher of iced tea.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

“And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”

Matthew 10:42 (NLT)

What can I give out of my poverty?

What can you?


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The word seems repugnant to us. We seem to come into the world hardwired to hold on and fight instead of surrender. When we see a newborn infant, we see hands clenched closed. What is he or she hanging onto? Beyond what the developmental process might be, it is still metaphorical. For the whole of our lives our hands close over the things we want to keep, the things we want to hold onto.

Perhaps we fear what will be taken from us or perhaps it is simply hard-wired to seek to stay alive and value the gift of life for as long as we possibly can. Life will teach us there is much to learn about what surrender means and when we are to “let go” versus to fight to hold on. Not every white flag of surrender is a defeat, but every battle should not mean a white flag is the first thing we wave. If we choose it first it may be because we don’t value what it is that can be taken away from us.

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When we fear to surrender it often means we are fearful of what will be taken from us, but Margaret Feinberg suggests we misunderstand:

“Surrender means willingly giving something over, while stripping is having something taken away. True surrender is not something that happens to you; it is something you willingly do.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

Her words offer a bigger perspective on what surrender means and one to carefully consider since we have such an aversion to it.

Yet as we grow from infancy into adulthood, we discover life is a series of cycles of letting go or surrendering and holding tight and hanging on. It is a hard thing and over time we get a great deal of practice.

“Life, it seems, follows a relentless cycle: in our early years we accumulate, but in our later years we divest. Both of them have a place in this life. Both of them are a struggle. Both of them are liberating.”

Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years

How true are Joan Chittister’s words! Often, we discover we are accumulating more than we realized when we are packing up for a move. All those drawers and closets, basements and attics are “treasure” troves with things we never got around to making decisions about and whether they were worth keeping. Yet we keep doing it even after a move, the process begins again even if slowly at first. Mail accumulates in our inboxes and on counters and tables in our homes. Photos keep piling up whether in print or digital format. Each thing we have requires a decision and the struggle of letting go of things stalls the process more times than we intend until we are about to move or suddenly look at something and wonder why we have kept it.

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It’s often been said that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. We don’t usually start out planning on acquiring a collection, but it happens nonetheless in small and big ways. We seem to be indecisive about what is important to keep and what we need to get rid of and much of the time that process is over-focused on material possessions that we have worked to get or acquired in some way or another. The critical shift is determining what we value and why more than whether we keep things. And that changes as we gain more experience in life. Over time we start to recognize there are more important things than success or “stuff”.

“…we have learned that the things we amassed to prove to ourselves how valuable, how important, how successful we were, didn’t prove it at all. In fact, they have very little to do with it. It’s what’s inside of us, not what’s outside that counts. It’s what we learned along the way, what we meant to other people along the way, what we became inside – along the way – that is who we really are.”

Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years

For as hard as it may be to make decisions about giving up “stuff”, other areas are harder for us.

“…surrender takes many forms – everything including your schedule, your possessions, and of course, your heart. Surrender asks us to hand over not just what we have but who we are to God.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

When we give our heart to the Lord as believers, we tend to have little recognition that it will be an ongoing process of surrender and learning it means giving over everything. We give our hearts and trust Him for eternity. How is it so easy for us to struggle in trusting Him with so many other things we may face?

Over my lifetime I have had multiple opportunities to deal with that truth about myself and one always comes to mind that happened maybe 20 years ago. It was one of those doctor’s visits that we hear the word, biopsy, that sets all manner of fear invading our hearts and minds. And on that day on my drive home that was exactly what was happening. I moved directly from biopsy to malignancy and chemo and on it went. About a mile from home, the Lord asked me a question: “And?” My answer after that litany of fears was that I might die. Again, I heard the question: “And?” By now it was becoming clear to me that He had something He wanted me to see. (Sometimes we are so thickheaded!) My response then was that I would be with Him! And I would tell you that I sensed He must have smiled as I sense He responded, “Would that be so bad?” By now I was smiling, and peace flooded through me as I recognized that in this life or the next, He was always with me. Even though He gave me many choices, some would not be mine.

“True surrender is not a single action but a process in life, yielding ourselves – our whole selves – to God. Breath-taking opportunities for surrender will surface throughout our lives, but grabbing hold of them begins below the surface, in the deep places of the soul where God is already preparing us not just for those moments but for himself.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo