Most of you who have hung out with me for more than two consecutive minutes know that I am a very expressive person–in my voice, words, face, and hand motions. But this part of my personality is never more apparent than when I am engrossed in a suspenseful book, movie, or TV show.
You know those silent, cliffhanger moments in a scary movie that occur right before something awful happens? Like, the music drops out, and the character has some sort of lame excuse for a weapon in their hand, and they’re just tiptoeing around in the dark with this wide-eyed look of horror on their face, and you’re just waiting for the axe-murderer with the creepy doll mask to jump out at them? In those scenes, I will literally place my hands strategically over my face so that both my eyes and ears can be shut out at a moment’s notice, and go into something resembling fetal position. And then I will say things like, “Oh my gosh he is right behind you he is literally standing right there in the corner don’t go over there don’t go don’t don’t don’t don’t OH MY GOSH NOW YOU’RE DEAD. YOU’RE VERY DEAD.” As if they could hear me! They’re dead! Oh. And fictional.
Clearly, I don’t handle that kind of suspense very well. I think it’s because I imagine the worst. I hide away and shut the world out because I know that, in those kinds of movies, the characters don’t get happy endings. Most of them die violently. Really, the only way I can get through scary movies is if someone is sitting right next to me, holding my hand, and, most importantly, giving me fair warning before anything terrible happens so I can close my eyes ahead of time and not pass out. It sounds cowardly, I know–demanding spoilers during the cliffhanger moments so that I can hide from the horrors that inevitably await.
But even worse is the fact that lately, I’ve been treating my life this way.
The end of my college career is imminent, and I have about zero things figured out for my future. I know, I know–“You don’t have to have everything figured out yet. You’re only 22,” the kindest of you would say. Which is true, to a degree. I don’t have to figure out everything right now. In fact, I only have to figure out a few things. But they’re kind of big things. Where in Evanston am I going to live over the summer? Where am I going to work? How am I going to pay for my tuition and my rent and my student loans? Where will I live after that? Where will I work? Who will I live with? If I move, where will I go to church and find community? And then there’s all the larger questions that I might not have to figure out right now, but they still feel really important. Questions about my gifts, my values, ministry, marriage, vocation, and how my story fits into God’s narrative.
They’re all cliffhangers, and, to be honest, I haven’t been handling them very well. Maybe it’s because these past couple of months have been really rough. Maybe it’s because it’s winter and I get really sad in the winter, anyway. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because there’s just been a ton of change. I’ve just been imagining these questions answered in the worst way possible. I’ll have to take out another loan to pay for this summer class and rent. After that I’ll have to move away from everything I’ve ever known to a whole new city that just doesn’t feel right and work at an unfulfilling job that I hate. I’ll be drowning in debt for the next fifty years. I’ll never find a community like EBF. I’ll probably just become a hermit and backslide spiritually for the rest of my life while living alone with regret and like 26 cats.
So I treat the cliffhangers in my life like I treat the cliffhanger moments in horror movies: I shut my eyes. I avoid thinking about the future. I withdraw from people. I act like nothing is changing. I prevent myself from growing and moving forward because I feel certain that the ending will hurt. And then, I demand spoilers to help me feel like I’m in control of that pain. Lord, show me what You have planned for me. Show me what’s going to happen. Tell me what you want me to do so I don’t have to decide. Make it easy. Give me a sign. Just tell me how bad it’s going to hurt.
…I think I must make God laugh sometimes, in a bemused sort of way.
Oh, Erin, my sweet daughter. Think about what you are asking. What does it say in My Word?
As I read the Bible, more and more I am realizing that God is not a fan of spoiling the cliffhangers, at least when it comes to the specific events in our lives (when it comes to His overall narrative, He loves spoilers, but we’ll talk about that later). He doesn’t tell us exactly what is going to happen to us today or tomorrow or the day after that. What He does tell us is this:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
So…if that’s true, why have I been so focused on the uncertainty of the second sentence and not the promise of the first?
Because for some reason I have come to equate uncertainty with disaster. Uncertainty means He might take one look at me and decide I’m not worth Him or His blessings. Uncertainty means I don’t get what I want. Uncertainty, to me, means pain and confusion and heartache and suffering. Uncertainty means He will not keep His promise to make things beautiful. Uncertainty, at its core, equals insecurity.
Lies, Erin. Lies. Look to My Word, My Truth.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
“God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” Numbers 23:19
“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 8:28
See? I don’t change. I don’t lie. I don’t break promises. I promise that everything will work out for your good. Consider this, my girl–what if your story wasn’t a horror story after all?
Talk about a perspective shift. If the Gospel is true, it means that my life really isn’t a horror story. It means that, when those cliffhanger moments come, I don’t have to close my eyes and beg for God to tell me before the bad things happen so I can manage them. I don’t have to be insecure and worry about God abandoning me. I don’t have to fear that God has the worst for me in those moments of suspense, because He doesn’t. I don’t have to worry about my story ending poorly. In fact, now that I think about it, when I’m reading a book and I feel sure there’s going to be a happy ending, cliffhangers only serve to make the story more exciting. They keep me turning the page, breathless and ready for more. The suspense they create makes it all worth the wait. In God’s paradigm, uncertainty means possibility and potential.
So why on earth would I want spoilers? Knowing ahead of time that something bad is going to happen in a story doesn’t prevent it from happening. It doesn’t give me control or comfort. And what about the good things? Well, I just think about how the way I read a book changes when I know exactly what’s going to happen. I get bored, skim or skip over a lot of the important chapters. And then, when I get to the “good stuff,” I’m disappointed because it doesn’t feel as special or as earned. Spoilers ruin suspense and cheapen a happy ending.
I have no doubt that there will still be chapters where I feel pain and suffer hardships. I have no doubt that there will be scenes in my life that, no matter how many times I replay them in my mind, will absolutely refuse to make sense. But because I know that God has written a beautiful, happy ending for me, I don’t have to run and hide from these parts of my story. No–God wants me to be brave, to actively participate as it all unfolds.
He wants me to be like Queen Esther, whose choice whether or not to participate in her own story–to have faith that what God had ordained was beautiful and meaningful and good–would determine the fate of her family and her city.
“‘For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai…’I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.'” Esther 4:14-16
Esther was at one of those cliffhanger moments. Everything was on the line–her position as queen, her reputation, her relationship to the King, her own life, the lives of her people. But she didn’t demand spoilers. She didn’t close her eyes and hide away. No, she knew that God had created an incredible story for her, no matter how frightening and uncertain everything seemed in the moment. And God used her to save her people.
Seriously, guys, what a boss. Esther is my girl.
Now, I might not ever be queen or save thousands of lives (although that would be pretty sweet, I gotta say). But that’s okay. That was Esther’s part to play, not mine. The Author of Creation has billions of stories written out, one for every single believer. And I’ve got news for you–not a single one of them is a horror story. Each is unique, each is full of love and adventure, each is full of its share of tribulations and triumphs, and each is filled with the mighty and wondrous power of the Gospel of Jesus. Including mine. So yes, my own individual story is significant. But even more significant is His Story–the grandest, most beautiful story of all. And of course, the ironic thing about the Gospel is that it’s the only story where the spoilers don’t cheapen the ending at all. We know the ending of God’s epic narrative–that one day Jesus will triumph over sin and Satan once and for all–and it makes the whole story that much more incredible.
And when I put my faith in Jesus and His Story, I can look at this cliffhanger moment in my own life and see it as an opportunity to take one of the most thrilling, exhilarating, and rewarding leaps of faith God has ever placed before me. Right now, right where I am–the end of the beginning? the beginning of the middle?–I can look with wide-open eyes and turn the page.
P.S. I took the photo featured at the top of this post. It’s my dad on the top of a mountain in Colorado. Pretty much the coolest photo I’ve ever taken. He’s not afraid of cliffhangers. Literally or metaphorically.
P.P.S. “Morning Song” by Steffany Gretzinger. I just heard her album for the first time and I’m obsessed. Give it a listen.