I astonish myself sometimes with my own thick headedness. Life lessons that I thought I’d learned once and for all, lessons I was sure I had down pat, issues I was convinced would never surface again – rear their ugly head and remind me of my own frailty and need to depend on God.
I’ve been going through something like that in recent days. And it surprises me that this lesson is obviously still to be learned.
I once thought – not consciously, of course, but obviously thought nonetheless – that if I lived my life sincerely trying to please God, then I would somehow be rewarded for it. It’s not that I expected brownie points or gold stars. I didn’t go around thinking, “If I do A, then God will reward me with B.” At least, not that I was aware of. But somehow – I know that’s what I thought. I know it, because when bad stuff happened, I got angry at God and wanted to know “Why???!!!” My own sense of justice was offended. It just wasn’t fair. After all, hadn’t I tried to do right?
Jesus warned us that life would be hard, that we would suffer. “In this world you will have trouble,” the gospel writer records Jesus saying in John 16:33. So we shouldn’t be surprised when trouble comes. But somehow, trouble often catches me off guard.
I’ve had a disappointment recently and my old, bad theology surfaced once again. I just couldn’t understand how this thing, of all things, could have happened. Hadn’t I done everything in my power – almost my entire adult life – to ensure it never did? And once again, I found myself asking, “Why, God???!!!”
It’s been agonizing to be honest. Throat-clenchingly agonizing. Emotional-pain-that-I’ve-felt-in-my-physical-body agonizing. I’ve shed more tears, and cried out to God for His wisdom, guidance, and help more times in the past week than I think I’ve done in the entirety of the past year.
Sometimes life presents hard stuff that I just don’t know how to handle on my own.
But I know now that all the while that I was crying and raging by day, and tossing and turning by night, I wasn’t listening.
Yesterday – I realized I’d crossed a line. Expressing my hurt and anger, worry and fear had hurt someone I love. I knew I needed to rein in my emotions but felt completely incapable of doing so. And so I prayed for help, and then determined to behave as though help would be given. I would ignore the tempestuous voices on the inside – and put on a smile on the outside – going forward. I would no longer dwell on what’s past, what cannot be changed. I would focus only on loving in the present, hoping for the future, and trusting in God’s grace and ability to redeem what’s gone wrong.
And you know what? Help came. Today.
I heard God speak. Not in an audible voice of course. But His voice – which came through the words of others – again and again throughout the day - was astonishingly clear. It communicated that this battle – that I have been attempting to fight through all my internal worrying and wrestling – indeed, that I’ve been fighting for more than 20 years by trying to ensure this bad thing that has occurred never would – is not mine, but God’s. (2 Chronicles 2:15)
I received that message in various ways and through various people. Four times today. I wouldn’t have heard it, if I’d still been raging.
And tonight, I am at peace.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
- John 16:33