I set out for Montana with high hopes. I had been waiting for almost a year to find out if I “Should’ve Been A Cowgirl.” I was also hopeful that, in addition to having fun and riding a horse, I could have some quiet time with the Lord. I imagined enjoying the mornings outside, reading scripture and praying while I had my coffee. I envisioned myself taking walks alone to have some time with the Lord. And, of course, I did not foresee any difficulties in the trip. But ease does not grow our faith.
Several years back, I did a study that discussed how strong relationships are forged by trials shared, not by the good times. That discussion was centered around human relationships, but last week, I saw how this is even more true of our relationship with God. Certainly, that is what the book of James suggests, but it is easier to deal with it in theory than in practice. I know that smooth sailing is not going to strengthen my faith or trust in God. I also know that no preparation on my part is going to prevent any rough seas that God may have for me. Yet, I was caught flat-footed when things didn’t go according to the picture I had in my mind.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
I am a planner, and I went on vacation with my sister, who is an even more devoted planner. Had we not planned in detail, our trip would have probably been a mess. Yet, planning can never remove all of the surprises that can come up. It shouldn’t shock us when things don’t go as we expect. Yet, somehow, we never stop imagining and risking some level of disappointment. It turned out that I didn’t get much time to myself. Cold weather and various forms of precipitation limited the amount of time I spent outside, when not engaged in a specific activity. Quiet time indoors was impeded by the distractions of having people around. Still, I couldn’t help but sense that no amount of quiet walks or Bible reading was going to grow my relationship with God the way that dealing with the unexpected would.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The main trial of the trip was a leaking tire. In hindsight, it seems like such a small problem, and yet it caused anxiety and worry. God specifically led me to Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” God told me directly that I should not worry about how I was going to get my tire fixed when I was 1,200 miles from home and over 40 miles from the nearest town. God was patient, good, and faithful to me, which shouldn’t be a surprise. The nail in the tire took some time and money. But God provides, and it is ultimately His time and money.
The book of James admonishes us to be joyful in trial because God is using it to mature and perfect our faith. God is interested in our response to the things He sends our way. Our response to difficulty is a big part of our witness to those who do not believe. Anxiety is just one step below panic, and I confess, it took a lot of prayer to quiet the niggling voice of anxiety in me. I am not sure that I handled myself as well as I should have, but I did better than I might have in years past. I see clearly that God gave us the vacation He wanted us to have. Truly, His faithfulness was written on every moment.
I would like to note that, as predicted, I did not encounter any eligible bachelors on this vacation. But, I made new friends and learned new things. The unexpected wintry weather made for a unique adventure that we couldn’t have anticipated. There was peace and quiet that you can only get by going seventeen miles up a dirt road to where there is no cell reception. All around, each day, was creation declaring the glory of God. Even when I was cold and wet, with numb toes, I was awestruck by the beauty all around. I have pictures that seem somehow fake, though I know they’re not.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
So, while I didn’t get what I imagined and planned for, I came home with a refreshed sense of God’s presence and faithfulness in my life. I put my cowboy boots into the stirrups many times over the course of the week, and I found myself increasingly at home in the saddle. Should I have been a cowgirl? Well, I returned to California with a new sense of possibility for the future. Yet, I am confident that God has me right where He wants me, for now.