Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rainy Days of Another Sort

Be still, sad heart,
and cease repining;
Behind the clouds
the sun is shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be
dark and dreary.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, An April Day

Sunlight explodes through my windows, and yet, I feel completely under the weather. I don't know if it's because I'm exhausted from all the traveling, or if I'm exhausted from all the living, but today has been a really bad day for my heart. Over a game of Go Fish last night, the children argued about their quantity of siblings and questioned me about death so accusingly, as if I had granted some sort of permission. Didn't I know how much brothers and sisters were wanted? Did I not understand? Then a representative from Matria (my former Home Health Care company) called today with questions about Zachary's delivery in order to close out my file nearly a whole year later. Kindly, they stopped questioning when I was finally able to get it across that my labor was preterm and my baby was dead, but still...

As I drove home Tuesday, I tuned in to some station where one of my former Rhema instructors was preaching to a congregation he now pastors. He was sharing a message on faith with more of a name-it-and-claim-it twist. I wasn't completely listening because I was trying to not be smashed flat by a semi, but basically the message I heard was about how many faith scriptures originally translated talk more about taking, as opposed to the more meek approach of "Lord, if it be thy will." He went on to talk about houses and cars and money, which are absolutely issues of provision that God can and does take care of, but the context of this particular message turned me off, so I turned the radio off and began thinking.

Faith is an area in which I struggle quite alot. I mean, I have faith -- I'm not without -- it's just that sometimes I don't know if I know how to properly operate in faith. I don't know. The whole matter is overwhelming me with confusion of late.

You see, I became a Christ-follower in a very "faith-based" church, and in that particular environment, if anything went "wrong" in your life, surely you lacked faith in some way. (And "wrong" didn't necessarily have to be something actually wrong or abnormal, rather just something not wildly fantastic or extremely good, though in my life lately, wrong is really not at all right.) Over time as I have "continue[d] to work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), I find myself shying away from much of that prosperity gospel sort-of stuff.

Ooo, ruffled feathers. I know. Here's what I believe:

I believe God is almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. I believe God is compassionate and full of tender mercies. I believe the Bible lays out specific instructions for living, giving, and doing, with reciprocal promises for obedience. I believe God is fair and faithful. I believe he is capable and willing to do amazing miracles in the lives of His children. I also believe some other stuff, but these are key to my point.

What I don't believe is that God hangs around for our benefit. I don't believe God is some genie in a bottle waiting to make all of our wildest wishes come true. I don't believe the life of a Christ-follower will be without trouble. I mean, the One whose life I long to model mine after was wrought with turmoil, strife, pain, struggle, betrayal, and death. How could I possibly be so bold to presume that my life would be any better? Ultimately, Christ was victorious over all of that, as I will be, but the hardship all came first. In fact, according to Luke 5:16, sometimes Jesus sought out hardship: "But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer." Jesus sought God (and perhaps found Him to be more accessible) when things around Him weren't so easy.

Then there's Job, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, Joseph, Hannah, the Apostle Paul, and all the other Biblical characters who lived normal lives filled with struggles. While their lives were completely altered as a result of their faith in God, not one of them suddenly flipped a faith switch where they then had every single thing together and totally avoided pain for the rest of their days (or so I presume). Moreover, as believers, we're instructed throughout the Word to remember where God showed up, to sort of build Shechems and Ebenezers (Gen. 2:6-7, 1 Sam. 7:12). In my opinion, those instructions are likely for the times when it seems like God is nowhere to be found.

I believe there's a bigger picture -- a bigger picture for my life, a bigger picture for all of this life, and I am 100% sure that my puny little brain is incapable of comprehending even a fraction of a portion of any of it. I believe that God understands it. I believe He sees me and makes way for me throughout the course of the journey He has planned.

But back to where I'm struggling right now: I know that God, as almighty as He is, can reach down and heal all that ails me. He can make right whatever hidden wrong it is that prevents me from accomplishing that which burdens my heart. That, or He can remove the burden from my heart altogether. I struggle in the fact that neither of those things are happening, and that makes me wonder -- Do I indeed have enough faith?

"You don’t have enough faith," Jesus told them. "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." (Matthew 17:20)

I'm pretty sure I have more than a mustard seed's worth of faith. I mean, without even that tiny amount of faith, I'm quite certain I would not have subjected myself to all the testing and all the trying. At the very, very least, I believe I have that much faith, and in fact, I'm convinced I have more. Even though I disbelieve that God is a genie in a bottle, I absolutely do believe He is a God of miracles and not a respecter of persons, so if He'll do miracles for others and for the former me, He can and wants to do miracles for modern-day me. But that reminds me of something I read during my quiet time last week:

"In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he fell to the ground, face down in the dust, begging to be healed. 'Lord,' he said, 'if you want to, you can heal me and make me well again.' Jesus reached out and touched the man. 'I want to,' he said. 'Be healed!' And instantly the leprosy disappeared." (Luke 5:12-13 NLT)

I think the issue is less that I struggle with the faith of what God can do, and more with the issue of what he wants to do -- at least for me. I could probably break out some night-school psychology and tell you that this issue relates to that instance in my childhood and so on, but the bottom line is after so much struggle, loss, pain, and confusion, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to believe that there's a plan for me, and that plan is good. That leper, though, he reached out and took what Jesus had to give, and instantly, all was made right for him. Maybe there's more to the taking than I generally embrace.

Here's where it boils down to responsibility. I'm responsible to search the scriptures and trust that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of my understanding in this regard. Furthermore, I'm required to quiet the screaming banshee within me, regardless of what understanding I gain:

Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord —- now and always.

-- Psalm 131


  • The Dukes Family

    Wish I could hug you right now. I understand this struggle - not that I have had anything that compares to your loss, but I dealt with this struggle again this week - whether God wants to do certain things for me when He clearly wants to do them for others. It's a question for which I have no answers except that, in my case, I'm certain that God is shaping my character through these things. I'm not sure I can say the same for you - how much heartache does one need to shape character? And so I can't use the same logic for your situation. I do agree with you about who God is though, and I do know He loves you ... and I pray that He'll continue to reveal His plan to you.

  • Amy

    You have taught me so much about faith. Not that I now understand it... or think that I ever will, but I am more comfortable, after mulling things over with you, to say the things that I believe about who God is and the things that I do not understand about Him. Knowing that there are bigger things going on in my life besides my obvious situations and knowing the people that have gone before me that have also been faithful yet have suffered gives me much insight into faith that I never had until recently. As always, your life inspires me. Thank you!

  • niobe

    I have a certain amount of faith, though, I'll admit, sometimes I'm not quite sure what I have faith in. That things will turn out the way I want them to or even in a way that I can bear? Not really. That things will turn out in the way they *should*? Maybe.

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