Nothing to Show

I met a woman last weekend who mentioned that she’d started her counseling graduate degree seven years ago, but ended up getting pregnant part way through the program. When she learned her child had special needs, she dropped out to focus on parenting. 14 months after her first was born, she was surprised with another baby and had a third about a year ago. She confessed that she seemed lost, that she didn’t really know whether she’d ever go back and finish her degree, and wondered whether she’d ever have anything to show down the line.

My knee-jerk reaction was, “But you’ll have raised three kids!”

She brushed my incredulity aside, as I’ve done so many times when standing in her shoes about the exact same issue: “I have no idea how they’ll turn out.”

I hear (and feel) the same worry that my acquaintance mentioned. “What if I have nothing to show for this life?” I know many other moms do, too, because so much of what we do is unseen and devalued in our culture. It also takes a long time to see the fruit. You don’t know until years into it what will come of it and even if you do everything you can, your kids can end up haywire. It’s easy to wonder whether it was worth it.

As I thought about even the more notable, outward projects to which we can devote our lives, they, too, can end up haywire. Churches & businesses get planted and never take root. Counselors have no idea whether their clients will function any better when their meetings are done. A close friend of mine devoted the past few years to starting a ministry overseas only to be told that she’d be moving to another project. There are countless things we step out in faith to do with no idea how they’ll turn out. We really may have nothing to show for it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Hebrews 11:1, a verse that appears on many mugs, embroidered pillows, and other Christian tchotchkes. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s usually accompanied by beautiful pictures which make it sound so hopeful and sweet.

But with flesh on it, it’s not nearly as lovely.

The very heart of Hebrews 11:1 says that faith can only be in things we don’t have and don’t see. Faith exists when we don’t know what will happen, when we don’t have what was promised in hand, in unanswered prayers, and seasons of dryness. When we see something happen, it doesn’t require faith.

The author of Hebrews goes on to list examples of faith, including Abraham, who was called to leave his home and go to a place where the Lord would lead. Abraham believed the God would give him a good land and descendants as numerous as stars in the sky and sand on the seashore. The problem was that by the end of his life, Abraham was still living by faith. When he died, he owned a single piece of land in the land that was supposed to be his, a grave, for his wife. He had one child with Sarah, hardly what one would call numerous.

But Abraham did have something to show for his efforts: faith. It is precisely his faith that created a legacy that’s echoed through generations. It would have been far easier to give up as the years turned to decades and nothing seemed to happen. The fact that he clung to that faith is what led to his descendants in the faith like the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore.

Maybe you won’t have anything outward to show for your faithfulness today. Things may not turn out as you hoped when you started. I pray that you’d hold fast to the promise that even when things seem like a flop that the Lord is yet at work in those unseen parts, creating in you something worth more than gold.

May you have faith that your faith is enough.

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