"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going,” wrote Thomas Merton. “I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”
Merton’s words sum up my state of mind that afternoon at Lomalinda, our out-of-the-way mission center. I’d been fighting to survive the next few minutes, and then the next few minutes.
“Nor do I really know myself,” continued Merton, “and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
"I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
“Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost. . . . I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone." (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)
Merton penned such encouraging, hope-filled words for desperate times. I didn’t know him or his words back then but reading them now offers me comfort.
Back on that unforgettable afternoon in Lomalinda, in my distress—flustered, discouraged, troubled, lost—somehow God impressed upon me what Elisabeth Elliot discovered and then shared with the rest of us: “Sometimes life is so hard you can only do the next thing. Whatever that is just do the next thing. God will meet you there.”
So I kept doing the next thing, one baby step at a time—unpacking, arranging, cleaning, caring for the kids, and planning what I’d cook for dinner that evening.
And just as Elisabeth said, God did meet me there. Sometimes He remains very quiet, settled calmly in the background. He was on that day—but He was there. Oh, yes, He was there with me that afternoon.
He was not angry with me. He would not reject me. I was His child in need of comfort and grace. A weary child of His in need of a new perspective that would lead to hope.
To arrive at that new perspective and grab hold of that hope, perhaps I needed to grieve—grieve my loss of home and family and country, grieve my inability to properly, healthily carry out my responsibilities in my new house and to nurture my husband and young ones. And to grieve my meltdown and angry outburst at my husband.
Even grieve the loss of who I had thought myself to be. “Nor do I really know myself,” Merton wrote.
Dr.Henry Cloud says when we voluntarily enter into grief, it can lead to resolution.
He says grief “is the most important pain there is. . . . It heals. It restores. It changes things that have gone bad. Moreover, it is the only place where we get comforted when things have gone wrong.
“. . . Grief is the way of our getting finished with the bad stuff in life. It is the process by which we ‘get over it,’ by which we ‘let it go.’ . . .
“. . . It is the process by which we can be available for new things. The soul is freed from painful experience and released for new, good experience.” (Dr. Henry Cloud, “Why Grief is Different from Other Kinds of Suffering”)
Yes, looking back now, I believe I needed to grieve. Though I couldn’t have put it into words, I longed to move on, ready for new, good experiences in Lomalinda. I longed to be a happy wife, mother, and missionary.
I think again of Thomas Merton’s heart-wrenching cry and how it captured my state of mind that afternoon: "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”
But that’s not the end of the story.
When we are disoriented, unable to look to the future, when we flounder, fail, and fall apart, we have many promises of God’s unfailing love and patience with us. One of them is this: “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
With the Lord going before me, I just kept taking one little step after one little step, doing the next thing.