Third Friday of Advent: Help My Unbelief

By Julie Johnson

Advent Devotional | December 21, 2018

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

—Psalm 40:1-3 (Read Psalm 40)

For two and a half years, our family waited every day for an email to arrive.

In 2011, we decided to adopt a child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My husband, Roger, was born in the Congo, where his parents served as missionaries, and we believe that adoption is a beautiful outworking of the Gospel. We had room in our hearts and home for another child!

In August of 2013, we were matched with JoJo, a beautiful, joyful baby boy, and we started preparing to bring him home.

Then our paperwork was suspended.

Communication was scarce, but the government stated that they wanted to make sure that children were being properly cared for in their adoptive homes. We gave every proof that we could provide. We visited. We waited.

We worried.

We checked our email for permission to bring him home. The end result was completely out of our control.

During our difficult season of waiting, I tried to play a game with God. I created a formula for my faith. If I could just believe, maybe God would grant the answers to my prayers—my good, just, heartfelt prayers.

If I could just believe, God would grant me the desires of my heart, right?

One night, Roger and I were sitting on the couch, praying. Actually, Roger was praying, because to be honest, I was able to have it out with God when I was by myself, but I couldn’t muster the words when it came to praying with Roger. I was weary from the wait, and I was beginning to resent God for not answering my prayers the way I wanted Him to. I didn’t have anything nice to say.

Roger prayed a simple prayer that night that changed my life.

“God, we’re asking you to bring our son home. And we’re asking that your answers and actions would not be dependent upon our faith, because we’re lacking in that area.”

It was such a moment of clarity and freedom. I realized that, to some degree, I had believed that my faith—or lack thereof—was the reason we were still waiting. If I believed strongly enough, our son would already be home with us, right?

We may or may not articulate or admit it, even to ourselves, but many of us believe that if we have enough faith, we will receive the answers to our prayers. We believe that, if we do good, we will reap goodness in our own lives.

Of course, there is merit to having a good attitude, working hard, and attracting the favor of those around us. But if we follow that logic all the way to the end, it takes us to a place where we believe we determine the course and trajectory of our lives. And the truth is, we control very little.

We can’t control whether our company downsizes and we lose our job, or whether a loved one dies of cancer, or whether our child gets sick. But so often, we treat our faith as though it were a get-out-of-jail-free card, there to relieve us from the pain of our human experience. Sometimes, life is just hard.

We are the weary world, waiting, hoping for things to change.

This is not a new condition. When Jesus walked the earth, many expected the Messiah to come and change their circumstances, to overturn a government, to end oppression and injustice. But instead, He came to make the presence of God accessible. He came to be God with us, Immanuel.

In the waiting, in the minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months of uncertainty, this is something more certain than anything we can hope for. Immanuel carries our sadness, our fear, and our uncertainty. His presence and power are available to all. He brought His Kingdom to earth through Jesus. He brought heaven to earth through our salvation.

And sometimes, despite our lack of faith about any of these truths, joy breaks through.

On March 11, 2016, our son came home to join our family. Our Christmases are different now that he’s home. Seeing him gathered around the tree with our other three children is such a sweet picture of what hope fulfilled looks like. It helps me remember that God is able to do what He has promised. What this looks like, I’m not always certain. But because of Jesus, the presence and nearness of God are assured.

Julie Johnson is homemaker, wife, and mother of two sons and two daughters. She is also a CCO staff alumna.