After the Iron Curtain fell in the former Soviet Union, I was among the missionaries who flooded the USSR to share Christ. Living in Ukraine was one of the loneliest years I have known. I didn’t know much Russian, and the people were harsh, a remnant of communist rule. I felt the isolating sting of singleness; and although the family I went with was dear to me, I felt desperately alone.
The pinnacle of these emotions came one bone chilling night in February. Although I normally took the trolley, I decided to walk home instead. At 4 p.m. it was already a black night. As I rounded a main intersection to weave through back streets of the apartment buildings to get home, a very drunk Ukrainian man called to me in Russian, “Hey, pretty girl.”
My heart fell. I walked faster, trying to get away from him, but the crowds were dispersing, and slowly I unknowingly led us into isolation.
The man, now in full pursuit, continued to call out to me. I didn’t understand everything he said, but I knew enough to be sure his intentions were not pure. Feelings of abandonment washed over me as my heart sank deeper. I didn’t know enough of the language to approach another woman and ask for help. There was no policeman to be found. I couldn’t breathe as fear gripped me.
I began to almost run, and he ran behind me matching my pace. Thankfully his drunken stride was uneven. Finally I turned back to run to the trolley bus stop and lost myself in the crowd. He followed but eventually lost sight of me.
Once in my apartment, I collapsed into my bed and wept before the Lord, begging Him not to leave me alone. My fear turned to outrage. I reminded Him of all I had given up for Him to come to Ukraine and all but demanded He not treat me like this. Why would He allow me to feel so desperately alone?
The culmination of my time in a foreign land and the struggles I had endured suddenly engulfed me as I fixed my eyes totally on myself. It hadn’t been so long ago that I knew the presence of the Lord so strongly in my life. I was confident that He has asked me to serve Him by going to Ukraine. I had joyfully put aside other plans in my life to follow Him, to obey what He called me to do. My eyes were once fixed on the ever faithful God of the Universe, and now they had turned elsewhere.
Crafting myself as an idol
As I sought the answers for my pain, I learned a valuable lesson from God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. Shortly after God had delivered His people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites stopped in the desert of Sinai. Just three months before, the Israelites had seen miraculous events—God had rescued their lives from destruction, parted the Red Sea, and allowed them to walk on dry land to escape the pursuit of the Egyptians. It was here God called Moses, their leader, to meet with Him on Mount Sinai. There God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, and in the desert Israel became impatient waiting on God.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ … So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron … and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf. (Exodus 32:1,3-4)
How quickly the Israelites forgot their one true Lord and made their own gods to worship. While in the Ukraine, I realized I hadn’t made a golden calf, but I did have an idol—it was me. I didn’t seek God. I demanded to be treated the way I wanted.
In the face of fear, wearied by the loneliness and trials of being in an unfamiliar culture, I replaced my worship of God with a fixation on myself. An idol, no matter which one, is nothing. “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4b).
Clinging to nothing but God
In that moment of revelation, weeping before the Lord, I admitted I had nothing to cling to except Him. Worshipping an idol was worshipping nothing. Fixing my eyes on myself and demanding my own justice was futile. I had to choose whether or not I believed that God alone was enough for me, not my will but His.
Repentant and broken, I searched the Bible for some evidence that God had not left me alone. I had just finished reading the book of Job. I frantically scanned the pages wanting reassurance of the promise of God to provide for me, I came to Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” In the margin next to this Scripture I saw two words I had once written: WOULD I?
I wept, realizing the answer to my question was NO, I had not. In a frightening situation, I had experienced God’s protection. But I did not respond with hope in Him; I responded with a defiant cry of injustice.
When faced with loss, sadness or devastation, we can rejoice in God. We have a God who cares for us. Habakkuk 3:17-19 tells us:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
Praise God it was not the strength of my faith that determined His faithfulness. As I have continued to be faced with situations full of fear, loneliness, hurt, and confusion, this lesson continues to strengthen my walk with Him. He reminds me that my hope is in Him. My hope is not in myself nor in my idea of what circumstances God should allow in my life. In spite of it all, though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.
Copyright 2008 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.