John Lennon once noted that "life is what happens while you are making other plans". So much happens in this journey that we never planned…both good and bad. Recently I heard two stories of "life" happening to people of faith. One responded with bitterness and despair toward a God who had deserted him. The other told a story of lessons learned, inexplicable peace and trust in a God who is faithful. Why the difference? A song by Josh Wilson offered some food for thought as the iPod Devotional for this week. The song is called Before the Morning and the lyrics explore the tough question of why we must deal with pain even as we seek to follow God faithfully.
Do you wonder why you have to,
feel the things that hurt you,
if there's a God who loves you,
where is He now?
Indeed. Where is He now? I suspect there is not an honest believer who has never wrestled with that question. I have. I wrestled with the question when our only daughter was born with a terminal birth defect. When my beloved bride was diagnosed with breast cancer. Death and suffering of family and friends have caused me to wonder.
The song Before the Morning was written about Wilson's friends Tim and Paula Beal. You can see their story here and it is a blessing and encouragement to watch. When they faced an agonizing decision Paula offered this amazing insight to her husband.
"If we can trust God with our eternity we've got to trust Him with our now."
I remember my bride making a declaration of trust when she faced an uncertain future with her breast cancer diagnosis. Her words inspired me. "I am not and I will not question God."
Joni did not want to go through what she went through. But she knew that God had been faithful and she believed that would not change. It did not.
Maybe, there are things you can't see
and all those things are happening
to bring a better ending
some day, some how, you'll see, you'll see
We have seen how God has used our trials in our lives and in the lives of others through His grace. I am reading a thoughtful book called The Perfect Loss. Author Chip Dodd begins the volume with these words.
"Life is tragic; God is faithful."
He concludes one story with this observation.
I wish the story from that point onward could be idyllic, the way we long to have life, but instead God's faithfulness so often shows most clearly through tragedy. The same way the beauty, the richness, and the detail of a photograph is taken from the negative.
So much of life is like this pattern—tragedy, then redemption to victory—because we rejected God's freedom in the beginning, initiating tragedy. Freedom seems like such a wonderful thing, but only if we recognize it as a gift and treat it accordingly. The responsibility of freedom humans have failed miserably. We take the gift and use it over and over and over again to refuse how we are made for relationship with our own hearts, the hearts of others, and the heart of God. Instead of finding full life in how God made us, we use our freedom to refuse relationship if it costs us potential pain of hurt or more hurt; we block with fierceness the very thing that can grant full life—a vulnerable heart before a good God.
To be that vulnerable we have to trust the truth that Josh Wilson sings about in the song chorus.
Would dare you, would you dare, to believe,
that you still have a reason to sing,
'cause the pain you've been feeling,
can't compare to the joy that's coming
I believe that. I believe I have a reason to sing. I believe in the joy that's coming. I believe in a God who used brokenness and hurt to tear down the protective walls of self to learn how to trust Him and others with my needs. I believe I can live in a realm of grace that allows me to see and love others without the judgment that clouded the eye of my heart for so long. And I believe in the outcome of the journey no matter how tough it can be at times.
And hold on cause there's good for those who love God
But life is not a snapshot
It might take a little time but you'll see the bigger picture because the pain you've been feeling,
it's just the hurt before the healing
the pain you've been feeling,
just the dark before the morning
Paul wrote this to the church at Corinth.
...As God's grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4, NLT)
I pray that you hold firm to your trust and surrender to God when "life" happens. And I pray that you and I will remember that trials and hurt are just the dark before the morning.