Years ago, when we were 26-yr-old young marrieds, we decided the Lord wanted me to go to graduate school in order to earn a Ph.D. Advanced degrees and possibly working in higher education had been a periodic topic of ours since our dating days, so the decision wasn't new to us. Now, finally, it was time.
I shared our plans with people in our church and the Christian school where we both worked as teachers. We were amazed at the reaction. Rather than something like "Hey, way to go," or "We'll pray for you" (to be fair, we did hear a few like this), several folks responded with minimal enthusiasm at best. When I informed people the only way we could do this financially was for me to lodge in Cincinnati for two semesters while my wife and two children maintained our WV home, many more criticized us, particularly me. I was told that if I did this I would be a bad father and a suspect husband (meanwhile I'm wondering about the traveling businesspeople I knew). I was warned this could undermine our marriage (of course, anything can undermine a marriage if hearts are not right). And the coup de grace, I was told I'd clearly be out of the Lord's will (and I'm wondering how they knew the Lord's will for our lives better than we did).
Yet the Lord blessed us. The two semesters of running back and forth on weekends was time-consuming and expensive, my wife driving a school bus to make ends meet was challenging, and missing the kids and Sarah while I studied during the week wasn't fun. But while we were apart, I became a focused student who accomplished my coursework and more. We were able to do this because we as a husband and wife were in full agreement and because we believed we were doing what the Lord wanted us to do. I still believe this 30 years later.
During grad school at the University of Cincinnati, we experienced something similar when we announced the coming of our third child. At university certainly, and even at church, I made the announcement to at least a dozen people before someone finally congratulated us. Everyone, including believers, made dumb comments about tax deductions, etc. One woman actually asked me, "How will you pay for their education?" I said to her, "You know, the baby isn't even born. His or her higher education is at least 18 years from now. I think maybe the Lord will point the way by then." She wasn't amused. But neither were we. I wonder what those folks would have said had they known the Lord would give us baby #4 about two and one-half years later?
Finally, after six years of teaching and administrative work at our alma mater in OH, we announced that the Lord had given me the opportunity to become an Academic Vice President at a Christian college in NY. Again, some people said "Congrats" and slapped my 34-yr-old back, but many wondered aloud how we could be in the Lord's will leaving a place as wonderful as the Christian college where we'd served the past few years. Interesting. That campus was indeed a wonderful place and we enjoyed every minute we'd lived there, 4 years as students, 6 years as a professor. I literally cut my professional teeth there. But the Lord had more for us.
I don't have a glib answer, even after 25 years, as to why people responded like they did to what for us was wonderful news of the Lord's guidance and blessing in our lives. But I don't think ill of them. Mostly, their motives were good; they were concerned for us. And though I've tried not to do so, somewhere in the journey I've probably come across to others in a similar way.
My best guess is that people make negative comments about another person's sense of God's direction because they superimpose their sense of His direction for their lives onto others. In other words, God isn't calling them to another land so He must not be calling you. God isn't directing them to go to grad school so He must not be directing you. God didn't give them another child, so why in the world would He give one to you?
I may not be right or even perceptive in this assessment. But I think I've seen it play out.
In the end, if you care about the Lord's will, you have to do what we've told our now-young-adult children. "You don't have to do it the way we did it. You don't have to answer to us anymore about what you do. What you need to do is consider the options together, take them to the Lord, and then do what you believe He wishes you to do. Live your life for Him, not others, not even Mom and Dad."
The best critics/friends are those who offer their honest insights and then get in the boat and row with you. Critics/friends who offer critiques and remain on shore aren't ones you need worry about. Ask Job.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012
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