I have a wise friend at church, and former colleague, Cindy Waple, who helps counsel people (like me) who are walking through some sort of loss or crisis, seeking spiritual direction primarily through active listening … which involves asking really perceptive questions, and a lot of listening prayer. She’s very good at it.
I met with Cindy for two and a half hours Wednesday morning and found her guidance so valuable. In my journey since being laid off in August, I’ve gone through a wide variety of emotions which I didn’t really expect or anticipate. When I was first given notice, I considered it a gift. I had been stressed in my job, not feeling like I was doing exactly what I was cut out to do, and many times I thought to myself, “If they ever offered me a decent severance package, I’d take it gladly!” Then they did. It felt like a gift, and I walked out of the meeting in HR feeling confident and encouraged. They had the usual box of tissues there on the desk, but even though I’m a fairly emotional person, I didn’t need them!
And I’ve never once doubted it was a gift, and the right thing. But at times I have found feelings other than gratitude and encouragement creeping around the edges of my psyche. While I was meeting with Cindy, she was listening to me ramble and asking good questions … about how I felt about what I was experiencing, about what my fears were, about what the right questions I should be asking God were.
At one point she stopped me: “Do you realize that you’ve used the word betrayal twice now?” she asked. So we talked about that. And she also shared some wise advice about how she was processing loss in her own life, and how sometimes it was difficult to “move on” when we hadn’t yet dealt with the rubble left behind by our loss experience.
“Rubble?” I asked. In response, she shared what she had been reading from the book of Nehemiah. The prophet had received permission from the king in Babylon, where the Jews were exiled, to return to the holy city of Jerusalem and rebuild it. Its walls had been torn down and the entire city demolished, basically a heap of rubble. Nehemiah 4:10 says:
Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
The people seeking to rebuild the wall were opposed by enemies, without and within. So they devoted half of their number to guarding the workers, and the other half took turns doing the work: first, clearing out all the rubble — which can take a lot more effort than we think — then, finally, beginning the rebuilding process.
Oftentimes when our city has been knocked down, we want to just jump in and start rebuilding right away. But the truth is, we have to devote time and energy to healing. We have to “post guards” on our hearts to ensure that we don’t succumb to the temptations associated with loss and depression. And we have to methodically begin clearing out the “rubble” of our lost dreams — the various negative attitudes, critical spirit, fears, etc. that have arisen as a result of the loss we experienced.
I know that my tendency is just to find something to put my hands to, as hard and fast as possible. Already I’ve applied for something like 50 jobs. I’ve started doing three part-time jobs. I’m doing a lot of writing, and working on a small business plan. But is this all just building on top of rubble? Have I taken the time to process through what the Lord is doing, and to deal with any negative attitudes? Have I posted a guard? Am I getting the rubble cleared out before I build?
Lord, help me to prioritize on the right things first: to guard my heart against the dangers of hopelessness and despair, and to clear out the rubble of negative attitudes, taking time to heal before I seek to rebuild aspects of my life that need to be rebuilt. Help me to wait patiently on you, and not to move out until I hear you saying “Go!”