When God Says No

Photo via Flickr user admitchell08
Photo via Flickr user admitchell08

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

–Deuteronomy 34:1-8

It is moments like these, when we realize we have been clinging to our own expectations, that God surprises us. We must dig deep, let go of our own dreams, and feel grateful for the story that is ours.

Stand with Moses for a moment, looking at the promised land. He has overcome his own insecurities to lead his people. He has escaped slavery. He has suffered in the wilderness for years. If anyone has earned the right to step foot in the promised land, it is him. He thought his role was to lead his people there, and that part of that role was arriving with them and celebrating. What a storybook ending it could have been for Moses, after all he has been through, to step onto the land that will be home to his descendants and to be buried there, brimming with fulfillment and closure and peace. It just seems right that he should have be able to die there. When his people were complaining again, when he was tired and hungry and scared, how many times must Moses have pictured that moment of reaching the destination when it would all be worth it? How sweet, to finally arrive home.

But it was not to be.

We have all had moments like Moses’. We look out and see the future we thought was ours. It’s so close we can taste it. We see the promised land we thought was our ultimate destination. A job we are excited about. A baby we thought was on the way. A friend we thought would walk with us into old age. And the Lord says, “No.”

It is moments like these that I think of Moses, looking out to vast land, realizing he would never know what it felt like to stand on that ground. It is these moments when God says No that we see what we are really made of. The shift, the letting go comes with great grieving. We mourn the story we thought would be ours. We must decide if we will walk into our actual story bitter or grateful. Are we willing to change roles? Adjust our narrative? That we can control. “I let you see it with your eyes,” the Lord said to Moses. Will we allow that to be enough?

Published by Ellie Roscher

Ellie Roscher is the author of How Coffee Saved My Life, and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace. She holds a master’s degree in Theology/Urban Ministry from Luther Seminary and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

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