After a decade of marriage and three babies, my wife was nearly done with me. I didn’t know why at the time but I do now; she felt little love from me. What had happened to our precious love and friendship? We were both in the dark on this question and in profound pain. To this date, I believe my personal blind spots were greater than hers (if she even had any).
She carried her pain to her family (and mine) and friends who were not in my fan club. In this section of the bleachers, I was the cause of my wife’s pain, pure and simple. If she left me, they would not weep; instead there would have been applause with a few standing ovations. To say I was bitter toward this crowd would be gross understatement.
I carried my pain differently. I dreamed and I worked, believing that God was about to bring me into a place that vindicated my claim that He had been leading me – another area where my wife had her doubts. However, my vision had been strained due to setbacks that I just knew would soon work themselves out; after all, God was in control! Events were about to transpire, by God’s grace, that would put things right.
Things were also strained because of serious accidents I had recently experienced. I joked (not really) that my protective angel was either off the job or had been replaced by a bungling hit man angel. While waiting for God to show up in my vocational life (which had ties to ministry), I had three whopper accidents in the span of a year. I had even been the cause of another. “Why?” seemed like a very fair question to me. My prayer had become:
“If God is good and God is great then why am I experiencing such a cruel fate?”
I was having nightmares that would fascinate mental health experts. I would awaken in the middle of the night, haunted and harassed by a host of dark thoughts. There was so much tension in my head, my jaw eventually locked shut. But there was hope. There was the big contract with the Air Force that had come through, which would put my business on the map.
Like my ministry project, this contract had divine origins. It was in the bank. Money had been borrowed from family, friends and the ministry. The contract was being fast-tracked. Production was underway. The red carpet had been rolled out and I was being escorted to the front of the line as a sole-source vendor. All of my life had led providentially to this point. It was the only hope on my horizon. Then, the phone rang.
In about 60 seconds, the red carpet (the divinely appointed one) was jerked suddenly from beneath my feet, and the earth started spinning. The Air Force had cancelled my contract. My powers of speech left me. I got in my truck, drove into the woods, hiked for miles and lay down in a pile of leaves. I wept and then slept.
I did not know why my life had devolved into this ongoing calamity. I had been following Jesus as best I knew how (at least this is what I had told myself). Following God had become a living nightmare yet, I knew (and I hated Him for it), He was up to something. I had no place to go but to Him who would not explain Himself or apologize for the hell my life had become. Since God was sovereign, He was either the perpetrator an accomplice to this train wreck. My prayer (although less articulate) resembled Jeremiah’s (and I was yelling it);
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. (Jeremiah 3:19-20)
No one could begin to speak into the devastation of my heart. I recall pleading with God, “Please do not let me pass through this season without getting Your point. The motive behind this prayer is that I did not believe I could live through another earthquake of this magnitude. It was impossible at that moment, but in retrospect, it is easy for me to say;
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and be silent since He has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust, perhaps there is hope. (Jeremiah 3:25-29)
The events that transpired as I was bearing my yoke, sitting in the dust with my mouth shut forever altered my understanding of the ways of God. It turns out, my bitterness was no small matter to him. Neither was the pain I had unintentionally inflicted on my wife. Another red carpet, of sorts, was rolled out to me, giving me an opportunity to deal with my unforgiveness and my bitter heart. God had gone to radically extreme measures (at least by my yardstick) to deal with my heart. I had given it to Him without any holdback clauses a decade earlier. As a good Father, He was simply holding me accountable to the heart-standards of a new creation in Christ.
Why would God cause (or allow) me, or anyone, to suffer like this? I am not 100% sure but I can say with great assurance that there is always hope. That is why we must persevere. In Christ, there is redemption. Our worst nightmares are the staging ground for His most profound victories. Through perseverance, our stories become His stories. Even though it is a hot mess, if we will press on in trust we will come to know the Lord and discover something invaluable about His ways;
where sin has increased, grace may abound all the more (an adaption of Romans 5:20)
Those who know me, know that a flood of blessing has overtaken my life since this season of undoing. Today, I can say with Jeremiah;
The Lord‘s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. (Jeremiah 3:22-25)
I would not want to give the impression that my perseverance was some heroic exertion of courage. It was actually very messy. Neither was my perseverance about my clinging to God. It was about coming to a point of surrendering my strength, surrendering my notion of obedience and piety as causation. (If I am obedient, then good will transpire; then, everyone will live happy Christian lives.) One of God’s points was that I was safe with Him based on His keeping power, not my clinging power. Our clinging power equates to nothing more than religion.
Having made it through this season, God did not confer a spiritual Master’s Degree in Perseverance (an M-DiP) upon me. It turns out this was just Orientation to God’s Life 101. I was privileged to take another related course in my late 50’s. For some, suffering of one kind or another, may always be a part of the curriculum. In this life, suffering is destined to remain an ongoing part of the mystery.
Father, as we live along side those who suffer, may we comfort them with the comforts with which you comfort us. In word and deed, may our lives convey that Your lovingkindness never ceases and that Your compassions never fail. May the substance of our lives prove that we are content, no matter what our circiumstances, with You as our portion. May our stories reveal the grand news of Your life, as we learn to wait and hope. May the world see Your goodness through us. Amen.