When all is stripped away

By Nicole Barnard

I wonder if you’ve ever been brave enough to swing from a trapeze or do a skydive? Personally, I couldn’t think of anything worse; I’m a risk-adverse control-freak, and yet metaphorically speaking I’ve done both in the last ten years.

First, I left a secure yet stressful and ultimately demoralising job in academia with a steady income. I knew it was the right decision as I felt I had sold my soul to the institution for which I was working. It sapped joy from my life and left little time for me and for my wellbeing, resulting in burnout. But I had a safety net: once I had rested and regained strength I could return part-time on a freelance basis, gradually building up my hours. Throughout this period I had to trust that God would continue to provide enough to meet my essential needs , but after a few years it became clear that although I was treading water I was becoming tired, as work started to dry up and I was experiencing increasing ‘unease’ with both the nature of the job and the way in which freelancers were treated.

I jumped out of the plane

One day, I had that same clarity of vision I had experienced several years before when I had left my job, and, despite being well aware of the fragile nature of the job market, made the decision not to return that New Year. I jumped out of the plane. What followed were nine months of freefall, then of surveying the ground beneath me and trying to determine where it was that God wanted me to land. I took an expectant, obedient leap into the unknown, way out of my comfort zone, and had to dig deep into my reserves of hope and trust.

They were also nine months of stripping back and utter surrender. My initial optimism faded as applications for the few posts I was interested in and considered myself suitably experienced for weren’t even acknowledged, and I struggled to maintain my self-esteem. I couldn’t even secure temporary work, despite signing with several educational agencies. Like layers of an onion, God peeled back all of my assumptions, distractions, possessions and ‘crutches’ until I was exposed and vulnerable. Like a premature baby on a neonatal unit, my life support was God; it was that kind of ‘can’t live without you’ kind of dependence.

One night, weary and frustrated by the brick wall after brick wall I was encountering, I cried myself to sleep, offering myself to Him in wholehearted surrender to His plans and purposes for me.

Wholehearted surrender

You see, God had brought me to a place where all I had was Him; my hope and trust were in Him alone. I thought I was in control and knew it all; it was time to go back to school for a refresher course. I learnt to sing a new song:

          It’s all about You, Jesus, all this is for You…it’s not about me….you alone are  God and I surrender to your ways  (Jesus, lover of my soul- Paul Oakley)

It is from this place of wholehearted surrender that hope can flourish and growth and blessing will occur. Like the branches of a vine, we need to be pruned and remain grafted to God in order to be fruitful:

          If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit: apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15 v.5)

He will provide

Hope can flourish because we are trusting in He who made us and who knows us. God knows how we tick and what we need in order to flourish so much better than we do ourselves. He will not ask us to do something for which He will not equip us. We must not let fear dictate what we do or don’t do, but put our trust in He who is jumping out of the plane with us and will open the parachute, guiding where we land.

It might be, however, that we land in the middle of the forest and can’t see the proverbial wood for the trees. In my case, after months of praying and seeking God’s will, I was confident of the area to which I was being called, but still couldn’t find my way through. I reminded myself again and again that the situation I was in was temporary, and had a purpose:

You’re working in the waiting, you’re sanctifying us; from beyond our understanding, you’re teaching us to trust. Your plans are still to prosper, you have not forgotten us, you’re with us in the fire and the flood. Faithful forever, perfect in love, you are sovereign over us (Sovereign over us, Michael W. Smith)

Daily surrender

Only by stepping out in obedient trust did I walk into pastures new. We cannot grow if we will not leave the safety of our sheep pen but, if we walk with Him in trust and hope, He will lead us to a place of abundant blessing. The job which God had prepared for me was not one I felt I was the ideal candidate for on paper, but I walked with Him into the Agapé UK headquarters 14 months ago and have experienced such unforeseen love and joy ever since, even while finding my feet, even in the midst of a global pandemic, which I would not have found had I not surrendered to God, His plans and His purposes.

This lockdown life has indeed stripped us of many freedoms and pleasure we had hitherto taken for granted. It has been, for many, a time to take stock, a time to surrender ourselves afresh and draw on His strength. Understanding that the small things really are the big things can help us to focus on what is truly important and to grow. Like any good gardener knows, regular pruning is essential if plants are to flourish. Likewise, we are called to a life of daily surrender and utter dependence which leads to freedom, joy and peace, even in troubled times.

Choosing obedience, hope and trust

God calls us to be ‘faithful, teachable and available’, and this 24/7, not just when we feel like it, not on our terms, for this places limits on what God can achieve through us. ‘Here I am, wholly available.’ Do we place conditions on what we will do? Do we set boundaries in order to feel safe, yet which are in effect constraining our freedom and limiting our growth and the resultant blessings? Do we let fear overcome us, or will we choose obedience, hope and trust? God has taught me patience, to learn to walk to His rhythm, to ‘seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness’ and He will supply all I need (and abundantly more besides), and that He truly does know best. I jumped out of the plane; will you?