In today’s episode Tamara K. Anderson shares a personal story of hitting a life detour and learning how to move forward when she was in limbo.
In Limbo Waiting for Answers to Prayer? Try These 4 Tips
Welcome to another episode of Tamara’s Takeaways on the Stories of Hope in Hard Times podcast. I’m your host, Tamara K. Anderson and I am so tickled to be here with you today.
Recap of Rob’s Prayer Story
Last week, I interviewed a man named Rob Mooney. Rob was in and out of foster care just had really tough time growing up. But the thing I want to pull away from his episode is about the power of prayer.
There was a day when Rob was hanging out with a couple of his teenage friends. They were just kind of bagging on their families and parents, like teenagers. Anyway, at the end of this, Rob kind of pulled this friend aside and said, You guys complain about your mom’s your dad’s and stuff, but I just wish I had a family.
And this teenage friend of Rob’s looked at him, he said, “Rob, you can have a family. So just pray and ask God for one.” And it was a sincere statement of a faith filled teenager. But it made a difference.
Rob, began praying that very moment for a for a family. Anyway, to make a long story short, an opportunity came up that Rob thought was the perfect opportunity. He’d been waiting in limbo forever, and it looked like this family was gonna adopt him and then it didn’t work out. And Rob was very discouraged.
Finally, as he was beginning his senior year, he met another family that wasn’t exactly like him, but they had qualities that he was lacking. And these people ended up becoming who his children call Grandma and Grandpa, even though he wasn’t officially adopted.
Being in Limbo
So, today, I want to talk about that that state of limbo that we sometimes find ourselves in when we feel we’ve been praying for something. And sometimes when you’re in that limbo, you feel like the heavens are closed. You feel like saying, “God, where are you and I need you the most?”
And, and so what do you do in those times when you know, God’s listening, but it doesn’t feel like He’s there? What do you do when you don’t feel you’re getting answers or as clear of answers to prayers as you’d like to get?
If you have been or are waiting in limbo–know this: You are not alone.
Noah waited not only 40 days and nights, but also had to wait for the water to receed before he could leave the confinement of the ark. The children of Israel waited and wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before they entered the promised land. Jacob waited and worked 7 long years to marry Rachel.
There is a lot of waiting and hanging out in limbo in the scripture stories. Let me tell you a personal story of muddling through limbo.
A Personal Story of Limbo and Change
After I graduated from high school, I went to Brigham Young University for a year. And like every college student, I was doing GE’s (general electives).
I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be when I grew up and I really had this intense desire to try to figure out my life. I wanted to figure out my major and make a plan. Back then I was kind of funny about planning everything, so having a plan was really important for me.
Making a Plan
I took aptitude tests, and eventually decided I wanted to do something in the medical field. But I had a challenge: I got queasy at the sight of blood, so that really limited me. So I ended up looking at what therapies were available at BYU and chose Therapeutic Recreation early in my sophomore year. I prayed about it and felt good about that decision.
And so I grabbed all the information I could on what I needed to graduate with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation, and I started laying out my life year by year, with every class that I would take through to graduation. I even put some space in there for me to serve a mission for my church. Then I figured out when I would meet and marry my husband and wrote that down.
Is This Plan Right?
I hope you’re laughing at this point, because in my innocence and youth, I guess I didn’t realize that not all plans turn out the way you plan them. Now I can really laugh about it because I find it quite humorous to look back on.
I was so proud of my 5 year plan that I began to show it to my friends. And I’m sure inside they were laughing thinking, Good job Tamara, but life doesn’t turn out how you plan. A couple of them encouraged me to pray and talk to God about my plan.
So I approached God in prayer and I said, “God, I’ve laid out this plan for my life and I want to know what you think about it–because I’ve tried to follow the impressions You’ve given me about choosing a major. I also have some really good desires like serving a mission.”
Needless to say, I didn’t get an answer right away.
Getting an Answer
But about a week or two later, I went on a walk with a friend who needed to talk that particular night and, and as we were standing overlooking the campus, I got this super strong impression out of the blue. This impression, though brief, penetrated my mind and heart with words I will never forget. The message was simple, Tamara, you’re going to miss BYU.”
That was the answer I got. “You’re going to miss BYU.”
And I remember standing there looking at BYU campus and thinking, Wait a second. This is not in my plan. Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?
And all of a sudden, these perfectly laid plans for the next five years of my life were completely shattered. I had no idea what I was going to do. All I know is that was not the answer I was looking for.
That brief answer gave me more questions.
The next few weeks were quite chaotic in my mind and my heart. No solid answers seemed to be forthcoming. I felt like I had this direction that I was going to miss BYU, but then what was I supposed to do with it? And it was frightening to be so uncertain.
I quickly figured out I was going to leave BYU but I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. My only alternative was to go home to Mesa, Arizona. And for a kid who’d been away at college, establishing those independence boundaries that I was not going to come home at 10 o’clock because I was a college student now was more challenging. So, I just couldn’t imagine going home but I didn’t know what else to do.
And so I, I finished out the semester, but I had to withdraw from the classes that I was scheduled to take that next semester that were for my major. I knew I felt good about my major still, but I still wasn’t sure what I was doing.
And so I went back home at Christmas and did not return to BYU. I signed up to take classes for my major at the local community college, Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. Confession: it was like going back to high school after being up at BYU, but it was a complete leaf of faith where I didn’t feel I was getting a lot of answers.
4 Tips to Try When You’re in Limbo
I’m going to weave a little bit more of that story in as I teach you these four principles.
Tip #1–Keep Communicating
Now, the first principle that I learned through this and other experiences was it is important to keep communicating with God. So the first thing is keep communicating, keep praying–even if you feel like the answers you want, aren’t coming.
Usually got answers one of three ways yes, no, or let’s see What you do with this. Maybe you have to wait for an answer.
A Good Question to Ask
So keep communicating with God. Ask Him, “What can I be doing now?” And then really listen for you any thoughts, ideas or impressions. Other times you have to deduce logically what you are supposed to do. For me, it meant I needed to stop pursuing the path I was on and go somewhere else. I had to ask, “What else would I do?”
And so by process of elimination, I ended up on a path I never imagined. I had to trust that God knew what He was doing.
Thy Will Be Done
And so I kept that communication open with Him. I’d read enough of the Scriptures by that point in my life that I knew the best example of prayer was when Christ said, “Thy will be done.” I knew I wanted to follow his example, even though it was really hard.
And so, my prayers sounded a lot like, “Dear God, I want to pursue this major. I want to stay here at BYU. I worked really hard to get here to get in but Thy will be done. And if it means I need to withdraw for a while, then I will do that.”
This decision was really, really hard for me. It was hard to point go from pointing one direction to completely feeling like I was doing 180. I felt like going home to Arizona was going back in time. And sometimes being in limbo feels like that.
You ask God, “Why am I doing this? I don’t get it.” We don’t get it, but He does. That’s the great thing. Thank goodness He knew what He was doing.
Answers one Bit at a Time
There’s a quote by Richard G. Scott and he said, “When we seek inspiration to help make decisions, the Lord gives gentle promptings. These require us to think, to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act. Seldom does the whole answer to a decisively important matter or complex problem come all at once. More often, it comes a piece at a time, without the end in sight.”
Oh, have you ever felt that way where you want to know where you’re going, but all you get is a tiny piece of information. If you are anything like me and you love planning things out–that is really frustrating. You only get a piece but you want to know the whole plan.
But God doesn’t work like that. (Darn it!) And so, you got to listen to that one piece of information that you got from God and then act on it. And then maybe you’ll get some more.
When God is Hiding
There’s a scripture in Isaiah 8:17, which says, “And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.”
So, sometimes we feel like God is hiding, but we have to keep that communication line open. We have to keep trying to get even one piece of the puzzle next–and ask Him, “What else can I do? Thy will be done. Please give me some inkling of what I can be doing now to move forward.”
Tip #2–Keep Moving
Point number two is keep moving. In my story, when I felt I needed to leave BYU I had to keep moving with that. I decided I was going to go for it and trust God.
And so I took the leap of faith and withdrew from my next semester’s classes. Next, I started calling the Community College down by my parents house and finding out what classes I could take there that would still apply towards my major. They had classes like Human Anatomy and Physiology, (which was a beastly classes to take no matter where you go). I also needed to take some advanced Biology classes and Psychology classes along with several other GE’s while I was at Mesa Community College.
And so I kept moving with the minimal information that I had. I was not taking huge strides nor was I running at this point in my life. We have times in life when we’re running, and we have times when we are just puttering along walking.
Moving Slowly–Like Through the Narrows
I had the opportunity to hike part of the Narrows at Zion National Park with my daughter and two nieces a couple of weeks ago. And that is where you’re hiking up the river with these giant cliffs on the side of you that have been carved by the river and it’s just these beautiful sheer giant red rock.
But as you cross the river, the stones beneath you are a little slippery. And so we had these big sticks to try and to kind of help steady us as we took each us step. Our steps crossing the river were very slow, because you had to really get your footing secured and make sure your foot wasn’t going to slip out from under you before we took the next step. And we couldn’t see through that water because it was deep and it was moving quickly.
So that’s what my steps were like at this time of my life. I was moving slowly, but I was still moving. And I had to trust that God would tell me yes or no at some point. But in the meantime I had to keep moving. And that was really hard to do. I knew the major was right, so I was going to keep moving. I was going to keep taking classes.
And so that’s what I did. There is a quote from a great Old Saint that says,
“God can’t guide us if we are not walking.”
And so we have got to keep walking. And eventually we’ll hit a point where God either says, yes, you’re on the right path or no, you messed up.
Tip #3–Keep Looking
The third tip or principle is to keep looking for the hand of God in your life. Keep looking for blessings.
The ironic thing is when things go wrong, or contrary to what we expect, it’s easy to look for what we don’t have versus what we do. And I will tell you right now that at that point in my life, it was really easy for me to say, “I feel so lost and out of touch. I don’t know what I’m doing. What do I do now? I had this plan, but now it’s been dashed.”
One of the important lessons I’ve learned through that and since then, is that it’s important to keep looking for how God is blessing you. Even in those hard times, when you feel Heaven is closed–maybe you get a text or watching the sunrise and cheers you. Maybe it’s the hug of a child or a friend calling at the right time to just cheer you up.
So, look for those blessings, count them, write them down, journal about them, because we need to remember the good things in the good times and in the probably evem more in hard times.
Back in January, I heard a great talk at church by a man named Robert Elliot. And he said this about times when you feel like God isn’t answering prayers, he said, “Quit looking at the closed door and look at the open window pouring out blessings.” Isn’t that beautiful?
Focus on the Window Pouring out Blessings
Sometimes we have to take our focus off of what we were planning and hoping for and look for how God is blessing us instead. Maybe we have to pray for God to help us see those blessings because we’re not seeing them because we’re still fixated on that door that was just closed to us. So quit looking at the closed door and look at the open window pouring out blessings.
Tip #4–Keep Remembering
Tip number four is keep remembering. This one is important because when you feel like heaven is closed, it is important to pause and remember when God has helped you and blessed you in the past. Sometimes it’s good to go back and read those journal entries. If you didn’t write them down, that’s fine. Just think about them again. Remember how God helped you through a previous hard time. Surely He’s not going to stop helping you now–especially when He’s asked you to take some obscure path or detour.
So keep remembering that if God got you through past trauma and trials, He isn’t going to suddenly stop. He’s got this and He’s got you. You can trust him.
Someday We’ll Understand
Dieter Uchtdorf said, “Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.” I love that quote. So just remind yourself that sometime 10, 20 or 30 years from now you’ll look back on that experience and think, “Oh, I get it now.”
Finishing My Story
Let me conclude the story. Going to Mesa, Arizona, at that point in my life was a leap of faith. It taught me to trust God and looking back on it now I had experiences there and met people and learned things about myself I could not have learned any other way. And I’m thankful for it.
Some of the things I went through were absolutely blissful and wonderful. And some of the things I went through, shattered my heart. But I learned to trust God more completely.
And these highs and lows actually ended up preparing me better to serve that mission that I was able to serve. So, even though my life didn’t turn out the way I thought, I was able to I know God guided me–even when I felt like he wasn’t listening or giving me answers as quickly as I wanted them.
God kept helping me because of those four points that I shared with you. First, I kept communicating. Second, I kept moving. Third, I kept looking for blessings of how the Lord was helping me. And fourth, I kept remembering that God had helped me through hard things in the past, and he surely wasn’t going to stop now.
What Can You Do?
So those are the four tips I want you to think about today. Because I know that lives have been upturned and are crazy right now with Coronavirus with the uncertainty of the economy.
And if you feel like heaven is closed, keep talking to God. Keep moving and taking baby steps like you’re going through a river so slow till you get your footing. And then start taking the next step until you feel like that steps is okay. And God will stop you if you’re going in the wrong direction. Keep moving forward with faith. Keep counting your blessings, and keep remembering how God has blessed you in the past.
Final Tip–For the Weary
Now if you are feeling weary and worn out, because we often do, (especially when we’re under a lot of stress and completely overwhelmed), there is a great verse in Isaiah, I’d love to point you to as we conclude. You can find this in Isaiah chapter 40.
In verse 28 it talks about how God the Lord is the Creator of the ends of the earth, that He faints not, and He isn’t weary. So even though you may be feeling faint and weary, God does not ever feel that way.
And so this makes this following verse seem even more important and more powerful. Isaiah 40:31, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
So my friends, hang in there. Lean on God and be God strong.
Something to Laugh About
All right, my friends, before we go, I have to let share a laugh with you because we need that right now. We had a night a few days ago just sitting around as a family. And I don’t know how this happened, but all of a sudden somebody started making noises with their mouth. Then somebody else joined in. And soon we were all trying to copy each other and it ended up sounding like a barnyard. So, I grabbed my phone and I recorded some of the noises that we were making as a family and I hope that they will make you laugh. Because I know that finding ways to relieve stress when things are crazy is fun. So, listen to our crazy noises (including Nathan doing a really shrill voice).
Wow, I guess I am peeling back the layers on our family just so you know, we are just as unique as your family.
Have a blessed day. Hope on and keep that communication going with God and He will guide you.
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