Tough Times and Tough Questions4:15 PM
It's all too easy in today's world of flicking back and forth between blogs and lives and pretty pictures and cute stories and funny quips, to believe that life really is as cute and presentable and...containable... as it appears to be in the flat, pixilated screens through which we view these lives. Many of the blogs we read are operated like online journals - as much for the mom's sake as for the public eye - and many others exist simply to provide a creative outlet that might also generate some income for the author. Whatever the case, we should never forget that real lives exist behind these facades. People whose issues or struggles don't photograph well or transmit easily to the blog pages we like to read.
As I go about my daily life right now, I feel caught in an onslaught of sadness, bad news, tragedy.
I'm standing on a shore and every wave that rolls up carries something bad. If not directly for me, then for someone close to me or someone I love.
Yes, these days are also punctuated by funny moments and sweetness and joy and light and laughter, but for some reason, this particular time in my life (and the lives of those around me) is saturated with what seems to be an unusual amount of sadness.
Within the past few weeks, I have been made aware of old high school classmates battling cancer...co-workers dealing with one life disaster after another...death and more death from tragic circumstances like drunk drivers, strange diseases....unexpected health issues resulting in hospitalizations....on top of which one of my best friends in the world suddenly found out she has a brain tumor.
Yesterday, I felt like my phone was burning up with bad news.
This may seem strange, but with so much catastrophe around me, I keep waiting for my bad news. It seems inevitable somehow. I struggle to maintain a positive attitude and not to become a hypochondriac, over-analyzing every little thing that could potentially be something more.
I know life is not always like this. Things ebb and flow and this is, for some odd reason, just where God has me positioned. But I feel helpless and powerless. And I think this is a good thing.
Not an easy thing. Especially not for a control freak like me.
The older I get, the more children I have, the more people I have to look out for, the more I realize that being a control freak only makes you that much more vulnerable to fears and anxiety. It makes me painfully aware of my frailty as a woman and a human being. In all these things, God is there reminding me that I have never been in control. Not ever.
This afternoon during school, I was talking to the kids about something and out of the blue, the following string of questions poured out of the mouth of my daughter, Brooklyn. She sometimes wondered why God wanted us all to worship Him. Why was He the only God we were supposed to follow? What made him different from all the kings we'd studied who felt so important and did all these bad things? Why was God different? Why did he keep changing Pharoah's heart just so God could show off his abilities through the plagues? Why didn't he just let the Israelites go at the beginning? Why would God act like that?
Let me tell you - hearing those questions roll off her mouth made me sit up straight and take that moment extremely seriously. For starters, WOW. What huge thoughts. And what GREAT thoughts.
How many people wonder those same things and get to be adults without ever having voiced the question? They pretend they go along with the whole Christianity thing, but deep in their hearts, they really do wonder why God gets to be God.
The other remarkable thing about her question was the timing.
Here I am, struggling with some of the most basic things a person can struggle with - the seeming injustice of life and death and how it all plays out - but at the core of what I'm working through on a grown-up level is the same basic question.
So I had to think about my response to her, because this was a big moment. For both of us.
Her question about the ongoing plagues sounded a lot like the ongoing struggles I'm watching my friends go through, and I too, wonder why it has to be taken to the lengths it is. Why doesn't God intervene right now?
In an attempt to address Brooklyn's questions as best I could, here's what I said (bear in mind, as I write this, I'm talking to myself some here. I didn't say all this to her quite in this way).
One of the things that makes our God completely unique is that He doesn't have a beginning and He will also never have an end. (August inserted here - "yeah, people will die, but God never will." Well said.)
Our God is the inventor of all things - and He didn't have to make us at all.
But He did. And not only did He make us, but He made us to be a lot like Him in many ways. And He made us so He could be friends with us and teach us to trust Him and learn about Him. He made us to love Him. And even more than that, because He can see everything all at the same time, from Earth's start to Earth's finish, He can see all the different pieces and how they fit together and why they fit together. He wrote the Bible so we can see just how He connects things over time, and to show us how messed up we are and how He can fix that with Jesus. He left clues all throughout history that don't make sense if you just look at that one piece.
For instance, you're wondering why God made Pharoah's heart keep hardening and all the plagues keep happening. It was to show God's power, yes, but not because God was just feeling like a show-off. It also wasn't just for Pharoah - the Israelites, more than the Egyptians - needed to understand the power God had. To really see for themselves what He could do, especially because they did have lots of other gods around them who might seem to be equally powerful. If God was going to rescue them and have them be His people, then they needed to KNOW He was better than the other gods. And he kept doing the plagues because as He did, he proved He was more powerful than their gods. And He also kept going because He knew that He was leading up to a huge clue that would not only be a clue for the Israelites, but for everyone after who would read the Bible and see God's story unfold. He had to get to that last night, the plague where he killed all the firstborn sons, so He could create the Passover. That was so He could show the Israelites (and all the rest of the people who'd read the Bible someday), that the death we deserve is passed over because someone else died instead. It was a clue about Jesus coming in the future.
Throughout history, other gods have tried to compete with our God. And every time one of them tried to challenge God - like with Elijah and the prophets of Baal and Ashorah - or the Philistines and their gods - God blew the other gods away. God can claim to be the most important God because He's proven it.
He has proven that only He is worthy of our worship. Because He made us to worship. And He proves over and over in so many different ways, all throughout time, that He alone deserves our complete trust and worship. He has a story that He has written in the world, over time, that is still unfolding. And all throughout it the little pieces of it, when you look at them individually, may not seem fair or may not make sense, but they all tell the story of how He is worthy. How He takes us, a messed up, sinning bunch of people, and transforms us into something that shines with His glory. We are His story. Our faith when things don't look good. Our trust when things don't make sense. Our belief when we can't see. They are the words that form the sentences that write the paragraphs that tell the story of who our God is and why He alone is God of all.
He is different from the kings we've studied who got too self important and destroyed kingdoms and people. He is different because they thought they were the most important thing ever, the most powerful person ever - but they were wrong. They were just a man God let be in power for a time. So that we could understand how much better it is to serve our God who rewards our faithfulness with His own faithfulness. He protects and defends and takes care of us, rather than constantly taking and taking and taking like kings do.
The thing about God is that He has reasons for doings things. For the way things happen. And those reasons are not always easy to see or something that even make sense right at this time. They make sense in the overall picture that only God fully sees. We get a glimpse of that throughout the Bible, and it gives us a clue about what He's doing today...
Life is hard at times. Our fear and anxiety reflect a fear of the unknown. A fear of a plan that isn't ours. A fear that if something happens to us, nothing will work out the way it was supposed to.
This is my fear.
This is what makes me lose sleep at night.
And then I hear a quiet voice, the Holy Spirit, remind me that the only plan that matters is His. And that from the beginning of time, before my own personal time began, my days were all mapped out, and all taken into His plan. Somehow that plan takes into account my individual choices and I believe the plan fluctuates and undulates and isn't something that makes any sense to me as I look at it now. But His plan is broader and deeper and more amazing and just plain BETTER than mine. Someday, when I'm on the other side of the plan and I see what's been unfolding, it will be more beautiful and magnificent than anything I could have ever imagined. And it will reveal in yet another way the truly unique glory of the God of all.
Until then, I go back to the words in the Bible and take comfort in the stories that have unfolded and that mimic my pain and fears. I revel in the countless testimonies of God's faithfulness and I trust that.
I take advantage of His promise to hear my prayers and I never stop talking to Him.
I remember who God is and why He says to trust Him in all things.