I was alone today, with no agenda, for the first time in many months. I took a long journey to the island of Iona, an island in the Hebrides off Scotland. It involved trains, buses, walking, and ferries – almost seven hours from Glasgow.
The scenery is spectacular and I had some excellent companions in my books and fellow travelers, but as I sat, in the stillness, emails silenced and world whirling past my windows, I was unexpectedly filled with questions.
Why did this past year turn out this way?
What will my future hold?
Why didn’t he love me back?
I don’t consider myself typically anxious, questioning or doubting, but in that stillness, with the space to let my mind wander, this is where I found myself.
There are questions we don’t even realise need to be unpacked, restless in our minds and hearts, revealed in the unexpected moments where we allow them space to rise.
I find it increasingly important to unpack these questions. When I travel, which is often, I only unpack in the places where I intend to stay. I have lived out of my suitcase for six months at a time and have visited 66 countries. My sturdy green suitcase has traveled with me to most of them.
Where I unpack, I have found a home. It might not be my forever home, but I feel a semi-permanence that transcends my faithful luggage.
Similarly, unpacking our questions must be done in the places where our hearts feel safe to explore them. It must be with Christ. It may be with family or friends. It ought to be with the family of God, His Church, that our wandering souls find open arms and a home to unpack the questions.
Like any suitcase after long travels, some of our laundry needs to be properly washed and aired. The cleansing power of the Holy Spirit is gentle in its power. I am reminded of the gentle question of Jesus found in John 14:9: “Jesus said: ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?'”
So many of our answers are simply found in the character of God. I’m reading Judges; the story of the men and women who were warriors and judges, who triumphed spectacularly and failed pitifully. I just read the story of Samson, who basically sold his God-given strength for sex. Turns out sex pops up a lot in this book… but that’s for another article.
In almost every story, Gideon or Samson, Manoah or his unnamed wife, ask questions. Frustratingly at first read, those questions never seem to be answered. Sometimes they query how they will overcome. Other times, it’s why the world looks so hopeless. How will the impossible come to pass? When will good triumph and evil end?
Their questions echo ours. It turns out that 3,000 years later, we are still asking so many of the same questions. We own so much more ‘stuff’, have so many more apps, experience a much broader spectrum of life and culture and society, but at the end of the day our questions are reminiscent of these long-ago judges of Israel.
We unpack them, expecting a list of answers for the genuine cries of our hearts. Like in the book of Judges, we sometimes find that Jesus is mysteriously silent to our questions. We look for the quick fix; after all, we are the microwave generation. If only our world could be set to right in the time it takes to prepare our dinner. Questions unpacked. Ears open. Dirty laundry aired. Hearts bare. Answer expectant, we wait.
And instead of a list of responses, God gives His spirit. We see it rushing (Judges 14:6), stirring (13:25), clothing (6:34) the people of God. Where we want to unpack our questions and hear specific, arguable answers, a case to prove our faith and satisfy our doubts, the God of the universe simply says: “I am with you.”
Is it enough for you?