Heidi Howerton: Hello everyone, again, this is Heidi.
Jani Ortlund: And this is Jani!
Heidi: And we are so thankful to have you all here with us again today. Jani and I have two hot cups of tea and we’re excited to sit down and talk to each other and hopefully hear questions or thoughts from you all at the end if you have any. So whether you are drinking a hot cup of tea or whether you’re drinking a cup of coffee, you’re driving your children to school or finishing up the day and doing dishes, I want you to know how thankful we are to have you here with us.
angry or Afraid 00:44
Heidi: Jani, I know in our last episode we talked a little bit about being angry with God, and I was wondering today if you could spend some time teaching us on, “What do we do when we feel angry towards God?” Or “What do we do about our fears living in this broken world?” I know there was a time that you were telling me that you experienced anger towards God. Could you start off there telling us a little bit about that?
Jani: Yeah, I will, Heidi. I’m a little embarrassed about it, but I’ve been angry at God more times than I’d like to recall, but there was one very important time in my life. I married Ray not knowing that he loved to study. I thought he was just the campus jock. He was captain of the football team and didn’t really study that often. I was the student (straight-A student) and then he went to seminary, and the Lord got a hold of his heart, and after seminary he wanted to get another master’s degree in Hebrew of all things. And then after he finished that second masters, I was pregnant with our third child at that time. He came to me and said, “Honey, I want to go back to school.” And I thought, well, let’s see…he’s got his bachelors and two masters. This must mean a doctorate. And it did. He wanted to move over seas and earn his doctorate in Hebrew.
Heidi: Oh, that would be so scary. Did you have three little kids at that time?
Jani: I was pregnant with the third.
Heidi: So two little kids and being pregnant, and your husband wants to move the whole family to Scotland?
Jani: Yes. Well, he hadn’t actually decided on Scotland yet. At first he wanted to move to Germany and I started crying because I didn’t know German. I was such a wuss! Oh my goodness, I’m so embarrassed. But dear Ray, he just waited. He prayed through two years of my hesitancy, my dragging my heels, and eventually I was ready. And we did, actually, as you know, move to Scotland. Oh my goodness, Heidi, why did it take me two years? Oh, it’s so wonderful once we moved. But there was a hard part there. We sold everything we had: our home, our car, our appliances, our furniture, most of our clothes. We saved Ray’s library and my piano (stored those), and we moved in our suitcases. We were a family of five, so we each were allowed two big suitcases. And we moved overseas to Scotland. And I am embarrassed to say this, but I kind of patted myself on the back thinking, “I’ve done a pretty good thing. I’ve submitted to my husband as a good wife should do.” And in my mind, I’m a little bit embarrassed again to say this, but I felt like I had made a deal with God. Like, “I would do this, and then God would bless me. I was doing everything right, so God would hold up his end of the bargain.”
Jani: Well, two years into our four year program, our fourth baby was born, and the month that little Gavin was born, our investor, with whom we had invested every single penny that we had made from our house and everything we sold, he went belly up and lost everything.
Heidi: Oh my goodness.
Jani: I know. It was really scary. We had no money. We didn’t have enough money even to move back to America. That was every penny that we had. Ray was not allowed to work in Scotland. He was on a student visa. We didn’t know what to do. We were halfway through the program.
Heidi: So what did you do?
Jani: Well, we prayed a lot. I did receive the equivalent of $23 a week for the children. So we had enough to buy bread, peanut butter, milk, and we didn’t want to tell people and expect them to support us in our doctorate, but our parents knew and they would send us money. Some of my prayer partners knew, and I took in children to babysit, and we sold things. We sold our car eventually, and that helped; that got us through three or four more months. We made it! I mean, look at me, I’m sitting here clothed and in my right mind. So the Lord helped us survive.
Jani: But you know, back then my attitude really stunk. We had no regular income. We had sold our car, I was tired. I walked everywhere with these four little kids. I missed my family and I missed the good fellowship that I had back in America. I remember, it was November of 1984—way back in the olden days—and in that one month we had 12 inches of rain, and I had to walk back and forth carrying our groceries in the brain, pushing Gavin in his perambulator, his little pram. I was tired. I was discouraged. And one night our seven year old, Eric, got sick. He was our oldest. We didn’t have enough money to buy the medicine to bring down his fever (the Panadol is what it was called back then). That was on a Wednesday night, and the next day was Thursday. It was Thanksgiving in America. And I didn’t have money for a Turkey. So I thought really hard and I thought, “I’ll make a cheese pizza.”
Heidi: Love it! What should we have for Thanksgiving? Oh, we’ll make pizza!
Jani: Yeah. It was the closest I could think of as being somewhat American, although I know it’s Italian, but still somehow it made me think of America. So I make our pizza and I somehow soldier through Thanksgiving dinner. That was Thursday. Thursday night we called each of our families and I just cried on the phone. I was down, I was discouraged. And Friday morning came. I’d borrowed some medicine from our neighbor across the street, Fiona. She helped me. Eric was feeling better. The kids were at school and I sat down to nurse Gavin, and I turned on the BBC there and the famine in Ethiopia had just broken. Heidi, it was terrible in the mid 1980s. And I saw, there on the screen, the moms trying to nurse their babies. They were lying along the side of the road and their babies were dying of thirst. The flies were buzzing around their head. The moms didn’t have enough water to drink to nurse their babies.
“God, You owe me.” 7:25
Jani: And I called Ray, I was just weeping and I asked him, please come home. He came home and prayed with me and for me. I began to see that my relationship with the God of the universe I had made into a bargain, a deal: “God, I’ll do this for you and then you owe me.” I’m so sorry to admit that, but that’s what I felt! And Ray—bless him, he just prayed for me and counseled me through it—he helped me see that my relationship, any relationship with God, is not a bargain. It’s an invitation from Him, on his terms, in his time, with his conditions.
Jani: Job 40:2,8 puts it this way: “He who argues with God, let him answer…Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” That’s what I was doing, Heidi. I was condemning God and putting myself in the right. “I’ve done all this, Lord. Now, you do your part.” Oh, Isaiah 30:15 put it this way (Ray helped me with this verse): “‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling.” I needed to repent of my unwillingness to let God be God.
Jani: Did I really know whom I was angry at? Did I want to join with the Scribes and the Pharisees against the God of the universe? I had to stop shaking my fist at Him. I had to come to Him with open hands of faith. I had to ask Him to help me find my rest in Him alone.
Fear is the chief enemy of the feminine soul. 9:19
Jani: I wonder if you, Heidi, or some of our listeners have ever been afraid that your life wouldn’t turn out the way you think it’s supposed to, and we grow fearful of that. I believe that fear is the chief enemy of the feminine soul. It’s been the chief enemy for my soul. What if we have to live our whole lives in a world that never really satisfies the deepest longing of my heart? If God is in control of everything, is it wrong to ask him for things that I think would make me happy? No, that isn’t wrong because God puts those longings deep within every human heart. The desires for security and stability, we feel come from our creator. He made us, he built those feelings deep into the human heart. He doesn’t despise those longings. He put them there.
Jani: The problem is that we look in the wrong places for the security and stability every human soul needs. We think, “Oh, when I finally find a man who will be good to me and help me build my perfect life…”, or, “When one of us, my husband or me, finally gets that perfect job that will support our perfect lifestyle…” or, “When I finally have children, or when the demands of motherhood aren’t so constant, or when the children finally leave home as successes, or when our retirement account is secure or when…” you know, we just keep filling in the blank.
Living in a NICU 10:55
Jani: But to create a stable life out of the mess we all make of our own lives requires someone outside of ourselves. We can’t do this on our own. That someone is Jesus Christ. He says in John 14, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. Right now, you are living in an imperfect world, but I’m going to prepare a place for you, a perfect place for you, and I will come again and take you there.”
Jani: Let me illustrate it this way. Our daughter-in-law, Esther, married our son, Gavin and their first baby, Isaiah Daniel, was not developing properly in utero, and they determined towards the end of her pregnancy that he had what is called Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). And so little Isaiah had to spend some time in the NIC unit after he was born until he could gain weight and make sure that he was growing. All the while Esther was home getting that nursery ready for him, and she could not wait to bring him home. He was very confined in that little NIC unit, and mom would come and visit and touch him and talk to him, but oh, how she wanted to bring him home. Well, if we know Jesus Christ, our true citizenship is in heaven. It’s like we’re living in a confining incubator here on earth, and God is waiting to scoop us up into his mighty arms and take us home. And he will someday.
Jani: Or to put it another way, we’re “aliens” here on earth. We live differently when we’re aliens. When we moved to Scotland, we lived lightly. We didn’t buy a lot. We rented our home. There are limitations about our life here on earth that we can accept because we know they’re temporary. If we really believe that Jesus is preparing a place for us, then we can put up with things here we can give up our slavery to self interests and fears, and enter into a deeper, fuller kind of living that reaches out beyond the physical world. We can affirm that there exists outside this material world, another world that is more real and fulfilling than anything our eyes can see.
Either Jesus is enough or he’s not enough 13:40
Jani: You see either Jesus is enough or he’s not enough, and you will spend your life trying to make up the deficit and fill the void you fear he either can’t or chooses not to fill your life with. Let’s not be women who let various human fears control how we think about life. Why not ask God to teach us how to live above the fears of, “What if? What if I don’t get married? What if I don’t get pregnant? What if my child isn’t cured of this disease? What if my husband doesn’t love me forever?” Let’s not let our difficulties and trials control our emotional wellbeing and mental stability.
Jani: “Fear not” is the most frequent command given in the Bible. Mom Ortlund used to tell me that because I’m a fearful woman. And I used to think, well, the opposite of fear must just be drumming up more courage. But I don’t believe that. I believe that the opposite of fear is not courage, but faith. Faith in the One who put that longing in our hearts for a perfect place. Faith in the One who knows a perfect world can only remain perfect with perfect people, and we are not! Faith in the One who says, “I will die to take your imperfections onto myself, and give you my perfection.”
He can handle it 15:21
Jani: How does Jesus Christ take our imperfections onto himself? Well, he creates in our longing hearts a way to see the truth about ourselves and the truth about him. And then he asks us to own that. Is it hard for you to believe—really believe—that Jesus is that good? Well, tell him you’ve blown it and you’ve tried to make your own world perfect here and you keep failing. You keep blaming all the imperfect people and imperfect circumstances around you. Tell him that you’re tired of seeking for the answer by blaming everyone else. Tell him that you need him. Tell him that you want him. Trust him. Tell him that you don’t trust him very well, but you want to believe the truth, not a lie. Tell him, “I believe, will you help my unbelief?” Will your world, this side of heaven, still have problems? Yes. I can’t promise that every earthly longing you have will be fulfilled exactly according to your desires, but I can tell you this: God loves you with a personal and powerful love that can so fill your heart that no matter what your circumstances, he will be enough.
Jani: Romans 8:31-32 says, “What shall we say to these things?”—these circumstances around us—“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” You see the human heart is naturally wired to diminish God. Compromise is so automatic that we don’t even recognize it. We find his promises unrewarding and his word boring and his church disagreeable and his expectations too demanding. But we are part of something vast and ancient and glorious. The son of God was chosen in eternity past to be our Redeemer. In eternity past God, set in motion, a loving purpose for us. God wants to set your heart on fire for him! He wants to restore your soul.
God’s Story 17:50
Jani: Let me conclude with some wonderful ideas from two of my favorite resources, Lies Women Believe by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, and The True Woman by Susan Hunt. This is my adaptation of what I’ve learned from parts of their writings. All of this world’s history is the story of redemption. This story is much bigger than you and me. We’re not the main characters in the drama of redemption. We’re not even the point! But by God’s grace, we’re part of it. Our subplots are integral to the whole. It is far more significant to have a small part in this story than to star in my own puny production. This is the cosmic story that will run throughout eternity. Each one of us must ask herself today, will I play my part with grace and joy or will I go for the short run? That insignificant story that really has no point.
Jani: You see, someday heaven is going to come down and mend God’s broken world and make it our true, perfect world once again. Isaiah tells us in chapter 35, “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Let’s come to him with our brokenness and with all the broken relationships and dreams that make us angry and defrayed. Let’s give them all to him. Then we will be able to say, “My soul finds rest in God alone.”
Heidi: Jani, that was so helpful. Thank you so much for sharing with us your own fears and your own experience, and some of the wisdom that God has poured into you and the wisdom that mom Ortlund poured into you. I love just how you talked about our souls finding rest in God alone, and pouring out our hearts to him when when we don’t feel that rest, and trusting that he’ll help us get there.
How do you respond to the brokenness around you? 20:08
Jani: Yes. Thank you Heidi, and thank you to our listeners for joining us today. I hope you’ll take some time to think through how you respond to the brokenness around you, what fears you struggle with. Lay them before the One who died to restore your soul. And as we close, let’s remember God’s word to us through Jeremiah 31:25,”for I will satisfy the weary soul and every languishing soul I will replenish.”