This time last year, I was packing up my life into suitcases, buying a one-way plane ticket, and getting in as many games of Trivial Pursuit with my parents as I could before moving abroad for a two-year Serge Missionary Apprenticeship in Dublin, Ireland.
It had been a long, tough year of support raising, waiting for visas, and just figuring out who I was in this new post-college phase of life.
I felt I was prepared for whatever this Apprenticeship could throw at me.
I was excited and hopeful, brimming with dreams and hopes and plans, reciting those last few lines of “Be Thou My Vision” to myself over and over:
“Heart of my own heart, Whatever befall, Still be my vision, O Ruler of All.”
Then 2020 happened.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago—finally able to travel throughout the country—during a time of holiday and retreat in the rural west of Ireland, I found myself out for a walk early one morning. It was grey and quiet and, passing a field of sheep, I stopped.
Despite the towering cliffs, sweeping coastlines, and looming mountains I had seen in Donegal and Connemara, this lush green hillside dotted with slow-eyed, chewing sheep plucked at something in my heart.
Despite my upbringing in a land of endless wheat fields and cattle grazing in pastures that turn brown in the scorching summer sun, I felt a wave of peace and homeyness wash over my weary soul.
At that moment, Psalm 23 came alive to me in a way it never had before—here, before my very eyes, were the green pastures and the still waters of the opening verses.
As I recited it to myself, I returned again and again to the opening phrase: “the LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
The themes of peace, uncertainty, hope, trust, have loomed large in the last few months, certainly for me, but also the whole world. This pandemic has revealed to us all, in one fell swoop, truly how little control we have over our futures, whether that is next year or next week.
The best-laid plans and all of that. But for me, as an Apprentice just six months into my two-year term, I was still adjusting to my new culture, finding my footing in my ministry roles, just making friends, when everything abruptly stopped and we went into lockdown.
I spent the next five weeks in my team leaders’ guest room and the following four months alone in my flat, attending lots of Zoom meetings, making lots of videos, and feeling disappointed and bewildered.
Within this season, we have all had to adjust—and I hate this term, but I will use it—to a “new normal.”
And so, though I suffered many unexpected losses and disappointments, God faithfully soothed my troubled heart and presented me with many equally unexpected opportunities to grow deeper in the gospel, to build relationships in my immediate neighborhood, to serve my church in unique ways.
It has been an invitation to live by faith as I meet new friends for coffee in the park or for walks, as I write prayers and liturgies for church services, as I pick up groceries and stay for long chats with elderly, housebound folks in my neighborhood, trusting God more intentionally and daily to plant seeds and produce fruit and provide both work and community.
These were always by and according to His mercy and will, I know, but He has begun to make my heart glad of that.
This has not been my first season of disappointment and uncertainty, nor do I expect it will be my last.
From the start of my Apprenticeship, I have been asked what I hope to do after these two years, but always with the caveat “but this is just your first year, you probably don’t know that yet.”
Entering my second year, that phrase has begun to disappear. I know little more of God’s plans for me than I did in September last year. But my heart wrestles with that uncertainty less; it instead begins to embrace the possibilities.
If 2020 has taught any of us anything, it is that all our plans have always been uncertain.
And if 2020 has taught me anything, it is that the only hope, the only sure hope, that can withstand the uncertain storms of life, is our hope in Christ alone.
And that is enough. It is the sweetest balm, the strongest rock, the safest vale.
“I shall not want.” Not only does the Lord provide all that we need, filling all the gaps and adding to us all that we lack, but his peace begins to transform our hearts to not want.
The peace of God’s provision begins to teach our heart to long for less of this world and to instead desire the Giver of all perfect gifts- -the gentlest Shepherd, the kindest Father.
There are still nights, as I lie in bed, the anxiety comes flooding in, full of longing for definite plans, full control, fearful of the unknown.
And I think it always will—till Christ returns, that is, and my sanctification is complete—but in his grace, God has used this season to create in me greater joy in the work of repenting my unbelief in his sovereignty and goodness and then letting it go and picking back up the banner of hope and faith.
For I know, someday, I truly shall not want ever again. And as the sheep dwell in green pastures, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In the face of uncertainty, girded with the peace of God, I truly can praise him, saying “heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of All.”
You can check out more of Kathleen’s writing on her blog here.