Flexibility, adaptability, resilience. Call it what you will, possessing some combination of these traits is essentially non-negotiable in cross-cultural missions. And yet, as someone who basically plans out every minute of her day inside her head, I always seem to be in short supply when it comes to these qualities. In my life, this gap between what I have and what is needed in the realm of flexibility is undoubtedly where the Holy Spirit can do His deepest work…if I pry open my fingers or suffer the interruption so that He can.
I think flexibility is so hard for me because surrender has a huge role to play in it—surrender and trust. Adapting often means relinquishing my desired plans and coveted control to be pliable to the circumstances at hand or someone else’s plan.
This struggle has been a constant in my life, but also a great source of learning.
Each year, I choose a word that I feel the Lord wants me to focus on. In 2015, that word was “surrender.” Little did I know how that word would play out in my personal life and future at the end of the year. Because of that word, I opened my hands to the Lord and released a relationship I held dear that He asked me to give up. Though it was heartbreaking, it is a decision I have never second-guessed. It led me to a much deeper relationship of trust in Him than I had ever experienced before.
He cared for me and brought so much good into my life and others’ through that choice to be flexible to His plan. It is because of that decision to trust that I was open to Him when He called me here. I knew if He wanted me here, He would provide as He had done before. And He did again.
Yet this lesson of surrender and being flexible still remains difficult for me, only in new ways. In the uncertainty of this past year (on top of the every day difficulty of living and working in a foreign culture), I have found myself often retreating from things that seem too hard, rather than trying to work through them. In this season of stepping back, I think there has been a lesson for me on rest and being rather than doing. Nonetheless, I have begun to feel the Lord nudging to remember those valuable lessons on rest and yet not stay hidden in my den of hibernation. It as if He is urging me out of my cozy cave and into daylight and adventure once more.
To do ministry in these times and truly serve the people the Lord has placed in my path requires a great deal of flexibility and creativity. Daily, I am afraid that I cannot do it. That I do not have what it takes. That I will fail my team, my students, myself, Him. I feel paralyzed by this at times. Honestly, I want to burrow back into my hole and stay there.
Surrender in this case is not the letting go of the ministry plans we have been working toward, but rather giving up my control and expectation that they will go exactly how I want—that they will not have to change, maybe even last-minute, maybe even with a little chaos. To again cancel at the first chance, back down, hide, is me holding tight to my fears, rather than trusting the Lord that in that gap between my ability and what is needed, He will move powerfully.
When I have surrendered my plan, my control, my fears to Him in the past, He has always been faithful and worthy of my trust. Being flexible is so much harder than it seems on the surface, but I am striving to do what it says in Psalm 143:5:
“I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.”
In refocusing my eyes on Him each day, with each task and each fear, I pray that I will constantly remember what I have seen Him do in my life and others’. Incredible things can happen when I am flexible and open to where the Holy Spirit is leading.
Though my cave of safety beckons, the wind of the Spirit blows strongly, bending me to do and be so much more than I could ever be on my own.
What gaps in your life does the Lord work through most powerfully? In what areas is He calling you to rely on His Spirit and be flexible to His plan?