What do we do when God's gifts don't come to us pretty?
I find it difficult to tolerate negativity and ungra
tefulness. It's my pet peeve, if you want to call it that. It makes my soul twist inside of me and my heart literally constricts. I get that, "Something is wrong here." feeling. And I know what it is - because complaining about our lot is complaining that God isn't good enough. That He failed us. And if our God is one who fails... where does that leave us? Doesn't it mean that we then try to order and drive things all on our own?
"Never be sympathetic with the
soul whose case makes you come
to the conclusion that God is hard.
God is more tender than
we can conceive."
~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
When I hurry to grab my gratitude journal and jot down something Joel said or did, or how a moment just came together unexpectedly and perfectly, it can feel kind of crazy. I'm giving thanks for my son's laughter? For the giddiness that fills our house when Daddy and Son are screaming, "Attack!" at each other and colliding in the hall in a fit of joy? For early mornings when I am able to pull myself out of bed and have quiet time with Jesus and a glass of iced chai? For fuzzy socks from a best friend that make me feel loved just by skimming them over my toes? Am I making little out of the larger... or is the little making the larger seem, well, not so big?
For instance, death feels unfair. It always, always feels unfair. It feels that something precious is torn from your heart and will never, ever be returned or fixed or healed. It feels so cruel. But doesn't death seem cruel and fearful when we view it outside of Biblical perspective? What is death, really? Death is an easing of all the crazy here on earth and finally, ultimate peace in Heaven. And not only that, but those we feel we have lost forever, they are not gone forever. They are waiting for us and we will never be apart and there will be a day with no more tears. (Revelation 21:4)
We tend to think as pain as a curse, as a hateful judgement - when in reality some of that is part of life and life is ordered by God - and so we are either loved all the time or not at all. We pick and choose what we are thankful for, but God doesn't give care and then turn away. He's steady and consistent. We're the ones who take the good things and call them good - but then are dealt the bad and consider it something that missed God's attention and just shockingly fell into our laps, onto our shoulders, to bear.
Even as Job suffered tremendously in the Bible, he would not say that God had failed him. He may have admitted that it hurt. He may have told God he didn't understand. But he refused to give up on the ultimate goodness of God. Even in the grief of losing his children. Even in the shocking display of unbelief by his own spouse. Even in the face of friends who wanted him to accept blame for his wounds, as though everything that occurs to us is in our hands. We don't always control (or are to blame for) our futures or our blessings or our struggles. God has ordered things, not only for our ultimate good, but for His ultimate glory. Job said it perfectly, "Should we accept good from the Lord and not bad?" (Job 2:10)
We say we should. We say we know that God is love and God is good and that we can trust in Him. But when the really bad, the really ugly, the really hurtful happen - what do we do? Do we not complain in such a way that sounds very much like cursing the God you claim who loves you? What kind of witness is that?
What is different about Christians is not that we go to church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. It's not that we take food to new moms and shut-ins. It's not that we donate coats or school supplies or sing in the choir. All those things may be the outpourings of God's Spirit on you - equipping you with a voice to praise or hands to serve or handiness with a hammer and the ability to make repairs. But those who don't trust God can do nice things for others, too. They can hold doors open and smile at little kids and donate to the Salvation Army bell ringer.
Those "good" things aren't exclusive to Christians.
What is exclusive to us is that even in death, we can rejoice. That even when the doctor insists you come into the office to talk versus hearing the news over the phone, we can trust. That even when babies get sick and live in a hospital room or when pregnancies don't make it to the delivery room or when car crashes change life as we know it - when all the scary happens, what is ours as God's people - what is ours to claim - is that God is in control of it all. If we only focus on the terrible, it's really going to be hard to imagine that God is sweet on us.
What builds trust in any relationship? Isn't it the little things? Don't you start to fall in love when you begin to realize all the ways that person is showing you they are faithful? That they choose you? I remember being in awe of my boyfriend (now husband!) who drove 1.5 hours to get my car started so I could make it home for the weekend. I remember sitting in the driver's seat, bawling my eyes out when he said, "Okay, try to start it - push on the gas." and I just kept thinking, "This is love, this is love." When someone goes above and beyond, especially in the little things - it takes us by surprise. Wow, he noticed? Wow, she appreciates that I didn't forget? Wow, they believe in me?
When we were first dating, I flipped through the calendar pages and counted until I knew what day would mark our 100th day together. And on that day I gave Aaron a small stack of cards that I had made for him, each one written with a different thing I loved and appreciated about him. And there weren't tons of big, outlandish things. It was all the little things he did - like asking a best friend to deliver flowers to me at 10 p.m. because I was having a hard time. It was buying me KFC after a Purdue football game when I had a migraine and was sick from barely having eaten all day. It was picking flowers for me at the park while he waited for me to get home.
And when I count daily blessings - I build and build onto how great God is to me. Listing praises, day by day is not something I do because I have to or because I feel like it's so very "Christian" of me. I do it because I want God to know I see. That I'm paying attention. That I'm doing my best to learn what it means to "pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17) and to "give thanks in all things" (Ephesians 5:20). I'm writing out what He does and how He provides and how He heals because in numbering it all, I see how very much I am loved. I see how very much everyone is loved.
"People want the blessing of God,
but they will not stand the thing
that goes straight to the quick."
~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
The tough pill is never easy to swallow. Saying you trust God with your past, with your future and with your right-now, doesn't mean you're giddy 100% of the time. That's not authentic. Being vulnerable, however, is very real and very glorifying. It's okay to say something hurts or that you don't understand. It's okay to say the day was hard and unexpected. There is a line between taking our cares to God and simply complaining or giving up or constantly saying that what you're dealing with is worse than anyone else's battles. The bad thing is, complaining is really easy and we can be negative out of habit. It is one thing to be like Job and to say, "These sores are driving me mad." and to want it to go away. But it is another to give up on God... or to assume, or to allow your words and despair to imply that He has given up on you.
Its hard to look at the deep ugly and believe God was there. That He saw the train coming and didn't do anything to stop it. Life in this sinful world is still life in this sinful world. Things are not going to be fairytale here and our expectations are out of line with reality. Just because you love God doesn't mean you get a free ride through life. It doesn't mean pain didn't happen or won't happen. And maybe it won't. We can't go through life either expecting the other shoe to drop any more than we can go around complaining that we lost a shoe. It is what it is. There has to be an acceptance of what is so that you can see the God who is. So that you can see how His grace covers you all the time. How He carries. How He loves.
We either choose to number life by the bad that happens or by the good that is. We either hang tight to all the ways and situations where we've felt let down or disappointed or harmed or we give thanks in all things. There's not really a gray area there. You can't trust God in only the good times any more than you can be faithful to your husband only when he's being thoughtful and romantic. We may be disappointed if he forgets our anniversary, but we most likely won't walk away from the marriage. You can learn to trust and to give thanks even when right now is less than ideal.
And more and more I think that's what following Christ - what being a Christian - is about. It's not about being perfect and shiny or volunteering until you're exhausted. It's not about never being weak. It's not about never asking for help or admitting that right now is really, really heavy on your heart and your shoulders. But doesn't God tell us He will bear our burdens? Doesn't He tell us to take His pack and carry, because it's light? (Matthew 11:29) If we trudge on and on, dragging our sorrows behind us - is it not our own fault on some level? Are we not doing this thing of negativity and unnecessary sorrow and prolonging healing to ourselves?
I may not always feel like giving thanks in every situation. But I want to learn. I want to do better. Not because it's going to get me to some holy, holy level, but because it draws me to the heart of God. Because in recognizing and noting all the things that are and maybe the things that have been, I count grace. I count mercy. I count forgiveness. I count love.
And when the really ugly happens... doesn't it always help, somehow, just to know you're loved in the middle of it all?
"Above all, look to Jesus Christ,
your Intercessor, and ask yourself,
while He pleads, can your
Father deal ungraciously with you?"
~ C.H. Spurgeon, Morning & Evening