Recently I have found myself challenged by the frequency that the word “but” escapes my lips. In the midst of big life changes, faith steps, and everyday challenges I often hear myself throwing the word “but” around as an indicator that any number of excuses and faith-killing words are about to come out of my mouth.
When I really started to pay attention to how I use the word “but” it became clear that in my personal dictionary it’s most often used as a way to excuse poor outcomes, avoid uncomfortable realities, or justify losing focus or giving up in the face of difficulties. While I realise that this is one of the actual English language definitions of the word, I have been challenged to examine the size of “but” in my life.
Just as important as the use of the “but”, is which word directly follows it. I am seeing the power in the statement “but God” more than ever before in my life. While the statement “but I” is bringing with it the most discomfort and often defeat. How often in scripture do we see the depiction of a truly hopeless situation, where change and growth seem impossible… but God. There was no way, but God made a way. Someone was lost, but now they are found.
Someone was broken, but now they are restored. The stark contrast between these “but’s” and statements like; I was going to try again, but I failed last time. I was going somewhere, but I got lost. They asked me a question, but I didn’t know. I thought I could do it, but I couldn’t.
The word “but” makes it difficult to hold two different realities at once. Realities where you can be walking into what God has for your life, but be facing incredible suffering in your health. You can be stepping into a new role at work, but you can be hit with unexpected difficulty in your marriage. You can be seeing incredible prosperity in your finances, but unexpectedly have your property damaged.
What I am learning, is that perhaps an unwritten rule in my own dictionary should be that the word ‘but’ should only be followed by the word ‘God’. That I can rewrite the sentences about two realities by using ‘and’. I can be walking into exactly what God has for my life, AND be facing challenges or hardship in another part of my life.
Jesus finding us in the ‘and’
As I have been unpacking this theory, I have been constantly reminded of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Jesus waits for her to come from the centre of town to the well, in order to draw water for her household. She is doing this task at a different time of day to what would be considered normal, and in reading the story we soon learn that she likely does this on purpose to avoid facing scorn from the other women in her community for the choices she is making in her life. She meets Jesus, and he asks her for a drink of water.
She argues with Jesus about why she shouldn’t give him a drink, why he shouldn’t even ask. But, but, but. Jesus speaks to her about the truth, that he is the source of life-giving water. That if she keeps drawing from this well, continues to drink this water, she will only be thirsty again. Jesus talks to her about how she has been living her life, he doesn’t hide from the truth of her choices. Her mess.
Jesus meets her at her well, and while I am in no way suggesting this was a metaphorical well, what I think we can tell from the story is that Jesus starts talking about spiritual ‘water’ rather quickly into this exchange. In this encounter Jesus outlines with her that she is from a despised people group, and that she is bouncing from relationship to relationship, and that she is returning to choices time and again in an attempt to quench her ‘thirst’ and is left thirsting again and again. That while Jesus shouldn’t even be at this well or in this town, he came there to meet her.
Jesus came to meet her at her well. In the face of a list of reasons why he shouldn’t, a list of ‘but I am not worthy’ statements, Jesus doesn’t deny or shy away from these realities. He knows them, and acknowledges them, and he comes to her anyway to offer her grace.
But God and I
What I am learning in this season, is that both can co-exist in this faith life. We can be very human, and doing our best to walk out all the things God has for us. And be facing hard things, feeling hard things, having to deal with hard decisions, but God is still trustworthy and I don’t have to rely on my own understanding. But God sent his son to die on a cross, and I have been set free. I failed last time, but God is with me and I can try again. I couldn’t do it, but God strengthened me and I got through it.
Jamine Gardner is an Occupational Therapist specialising in paediatric development and disability. Jamine runs a children’s ministry program for children with special needs at church, and is passionate about seeing people walk with Jesus in every stage of their life. Jamine runs a paediatric practice with her best friend, loves going to the beach with her dog, and laughing with the people she loves.