Asking God “Why?”
It was 1996, and I was on top of the world—or at least my little piece of the world. I’d had a long and successful run working with a large McDonald’s franchise owner in Minnesota, and my wife and I concluded it was time for me to strike out into something new. After 17 years working for the golden arches, I came to believe the company was no longer looking for managers who acted like owners, just babysitters and checklists completed on time—not my thing. So, I enrolled in classes to get licensed to sell insurance, found a great guy to work with, and gave my notice and bid tearful goodbyes to some of the most remarkable people I had ever known.
I had built a thriving team, sent many who I’d hired and trained to other McDonald’s locations, and made a lot of money for my owner along the way. With three small kids and a working wife, our life was far from simple, but I was confident in my abilities, and both Sarah and I had prayed about this course of action and felt the green light.
Over the next six weeks, I threw myself into the world of commission-only life insurance sales. I had always believed I could achieve anything if I put in the time and worked harder than anyone else, but this time, I was in for a rude awakening. In the first six weeks, I made a whopping $17 and came to the realization that everything I touched did NOT in fact turn to gold. Have you ever had that moment in your life when you have the feeling you’ve made a gargantuan mistake and it’s too late to go back?
So began a journey for me and my family fraught with financial disaster, relational pain, personal doubt and literal exhaustion as I quickly pivoted from confident provider to subsistence worker in the course of two months. To make ends meet, we took a paper route that required at least one of us (sometimes all of us) to get up and deliver papers at 2am seven days a week. Through a family connection, I was offered a trainee manager position in a portrait studio that developed film back when that was a thing. It paid about 50% of the wage I was making when I left McDonald’s. The church we were attending at the time found out we were in trouble and offered me a part-time job doing setup and cleanup on the weekends, so I took that, too. In addition to her job, Sarah filled in doing papers or work at the church to cover for me when I had to work my new job.
Why did God do this to us? We’d sought His wisdom, and we must’ve heard wrong. What we were going through didn’t make any sense, and it would take some time before we would begin to see His hand at work.
Fast forward about a year, and I was interviewing to become a regional manager for the retail portrait company, had been moved to their largest location which substantially improved my income, and I was once again enjoying building a team and optimizing sales and profits for my employer. We were able to quit the paper route after about 9 months of grueling 2am shifts, but we kept the church job, in large part because I loved it, even though it was very part-time.
In fall 1997, while waiting to see if I would get the regional manager position, the business manager at our church called and asked if I would have lunch with him. When I told my wife I was having lunch with Bill, she asked why, and I responded snarkily that I supposed he was going to offer me a job. She was not impressed, and I assured her I had no intentions of working full-time for the church and was looking forward to the new challenges with my current employer.
Do you ever wonder why you can be so sure of something going in and so completely sure of something different coming out?! I don’t anymore, because it has happened to me too often! Bill and I met, and sure enough, he offered me a position to join the church in the full-time role of Facility Manager for our small but quickly growing church. The wage matched what I was making at my previous job, but was still a ways from what I had made before. I’m a retail guy—I love that stuff, and I was good at it. I’d never managed a facility before and had no idea what it would take. But I also knew immediately in my spirit that I was supposed to take that job. So, for the second time in my life, I walked away from a sure thing and took a leap into the unknown. Having failed miserably on the first leap, it’s fair to say we were both unsure of this second one, but we took it nonetheless.
Twenty years later, almost to the day, I stood before a staff of nearly 300 as the Executive Pastor of what had become the 13th largest church in America (by some measures) and told them it was time once again for me to leave the sure thing and jump into the unknown once more by moving to Arizona and joining the team at Scottsdale Bible, a church I had never heard of before and a model that was significantly different from the one I helped build in Minnesota.
Why did God confirm in our hearts that it was time for me to leave McDonald’s? Because he had something far better in mind for me—something that I couldn’t see or even fathom at the time. If I had stayed at McDonald’s and then been offered that job as the Facility Manager at my church, there would have been too many reasons to decline: I couldn’t take the cut in pay; I would have seen the role as not fitting my skills and calling; I wouldn’t have seen a viable path.
From the time I left McDonald’s to the time I accepted the job at the church, only 18 months or so had elapsed, but to me it was a lifetime of challenging lessons that made me a better person, even as incredibly hard as it was. My spirit of over-confidence in what I could do in my own power was quickly torn down and replaced with a humility that leaned on God for my sustenance. I developed a respect and empathy for people who grind it out each day just trying to make ends meet. Often, there’s more true community among these people who are in it together than we have in the church.
For some of you, your last six months have sounded a lot like my journey 20 years ago. You were on top of the world and now you find yourself asking God, “Why?” What I know for sure, and have often learned the hard way, is that God is weaving a tapestry of life experiences for you and me that we can’t often see except in hindsight. What I know for sure is that if you seek Him in the midst of your circumstances, He’s got you.
More and more nowadays, rather than asking why things are happening the way they are, I’m finding myself asking the question, “God, what are you doing in the midst of this?” and leaving the why up to Him. What is He doing in the midst of this current season? In my opinion, which I am increasingly uncomfortable sharing, God is using what is taking place across our country and world to wake people up to bigger ideas, things that really matter in life. He’s sifting and shaking the Church, calling her back to purpose and mission and away from comfort and the smaller ideas that cause conflict and a lack of Holy Spirit-infused passion for lost people.
If you’re in the middle of the storm right now and it seems like it will never end, know that God is with you in the storm, He’s in the process of redeeming the difficulties and the pain of the storm, and He’s inviting you to draw near to Him in the midst of it all. I’ve missed that boat too many times over the course of my life as I’ve settled into self-focused, swirling seasons of wondering “why?” rather than looking for what God was doing in the middle of it all.
Surprisingly, a good chunk of you reading this are in the opposite position. While it’s true that many around us are hurting because of job loss, pay cuts, or the mess of having to work full time with kids at home for school, you may have so far remained fairly untouched by the financial and social upheavals we’re seeing both here and around our world. What is God calling you into when it comes to your time, your talent, and your treasure?
I don’t know why some among us thrive while others among us suffer. I do know that God expects those of us who know Him to be salt and light to a world that no longer feels safety and security in its possessions, its systems, or its governments. Gosh—could this be the why?