Don’t do that, kid. You’ll just confuse yourself.
One of the advantages of being a fairly smart kid is that you usually pretty well know where the teacher is going before she gets there. (Smart on paper, anyway. Not too swift, some who know me might note, in other respects.) Either you’ve already read that chapter, plus a couple of big books on the subject on your own time, or it’s just intuitive. So you rest your chin in your hand and daydream through the rest of the class, make a respectable or better grade on the test, and never break a sweat worrying about academics. Nice way to go through life, right?
Well, yes, I suppose so. Except that when we become used to that state of affairs, it can be very uncomfortable when the answers aren’t so plain. There just hasn’t been that much opportunity to practice not knowing. In all my school years, the only topic in which I couldn’t jump at least a chapter or two ahead was trigonometry. That, I needed some teachin’ in. (It didn’t help that our super-competent trig teacher was sent to jail for some unwise doings with a student mid-year and he was replaced with a substitute who probably didn’t know very much about the subject at all. But I digress…)
In real life, though, this kind of intelligence isn’t much of an advantage. What it leads to, is impatience, laziness, and when things go wonky and suddenly the answers aren’t so obvious anymore, anxiety. God, unlike high school biology, is unfathomable no matter who you are. You may fool yourself into thinking you know what’s going on, but at the end of the day, He’s still asking “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation?” and you’re still all, like, “um…duhhh…I dunno.”
I spent my late teens and early twenties depressed, agoraphobic, and substance-addicted. Even after I became a Christian, Satan was constantly at my throat, asking “Where is your victory, Cindy? Where’s that perfect life you’re supposed to have now? You’re STILL no better than you were!” And all I could do was cry out to the Lord. I didn’t even have words, most nights. Just sobs.
At the time, I didn’t think God had much to do with the situation I was in. I spent my nights in mental torment, questioning why God had made me the way I was, and why He didn’t rescue me, if He really wanted to save me. I wanted to run ahead of the teacher and have all of the answers right up front. Let’s skip all this practice and go straight to the test, God, OK?
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”
I was being saved, though, not from that anguish, but through it. Even in my most confused times, there was mercy being poured out on my broken life. I couldn’t see it then, but nine years later, here I am, clothed and in my right mind. Not agoraphobic, or socially phobic (most days), or even depressed unless there’s a good hormonal reason for it.
God, in His wisdom, kept me in that very weird, very lonely place, during what are for most people the most exciting years of young adulthood. But I, slow learner that I am, took some time to realize that I should be grateful for that. You see, “kept” is exactly the right word for what God did. Even though I was in pain and, frankly, worthless by most standards, I can see now that what I thought was a dry and desolate wilderness was a safe cocoon of convalescence. I was weak. I had no defense against the world. I needed to be in that place in order to become strong enough to be different. I’m not claiming to be a lovely butterfly now, but I am at least a respectable moth!
Maybe I’ll explain my past further someday, for the curious. Probably not, though. Any Christian who has stumbled through the difficulties of life with faith intact can relate. Every year that passes reveals yet another surprise benefit of the sufferings and (not insignificant, let me tell you) humiliations of the past.
We are being refined. However, we need to be careful not to look too hard for the material benefit in our problems. Sometimes there isn’t one that we can detect for years…or ever. Unfortunately for the student who hates not knowing the answer, this is one Teacher that is so far ahead that there is no catching up. We can only take the lessons as He gives them.
Now I’m walking through another wilderness—have been for a few years—and, lazy student that I am, I’m still trying to run ahead of the teacher so I can find the shortcut to my happy place where it all makes sense.
As we’ve noted many times on this blog, Jesse’s debilitating headaches have put quite a strain on our family. He manages somehow to make it through work most days (thank God he doesn’t operate a jackhammer for a living!), but by the time he gets home, he has no strength left to fight the pain, so he spends most of his time at home in bed, and I spend most of mine without him. It has been this way for four years next month, with only a few weeks’ worth of pain-free days, scattered here and there.
I don’t know why God lets this go on. Perhaps this suffering is the kind that sanctifies. It could be that all of this pain is necessary so that we can minister to others in some way through it. Or so that others might have a chance to minister to us. Maybe God is trying to toughen me up, or make me appreciate my husband more. (Or maybe, as Jesse has not coincidentally been pondering in his own writing, it is to make him less of a brat. I wrote this post first, but he got published first, so now you have both sides of this thing.)
Most likely, though, it’s just the way life is on this fallen planet, and this is the hand our family drew. Even the most intelligent people can make fools of themselves when trying to discern God’s purpose in any given situation. I know this by now. Still I run through all the possibilities my finite mind can muster, thinking that if we can finally grasp whatever lesson it is that God is trying to teach us, the pain will go away and I’ll get my husband back. This is, I know, nothing but magical thinking, and it is far from Biblical.
The temptation to make meaning for ourselves out of the difficulties, rather than letting God add the meaning to it for us in His own time is too strong, at times. I’ve seen it dozens of times in other lives, as well. When tragedy strikes a family, often the response is not one of humbly submitting to God’s authority over our lives, but in our impatience, we try to wrest meaning from it by sanctifying it with our own actions. I’ve seen people do everything from starting a charitable foundation in a child’s name, to forming a political action group (oh, Lord, help Americans who trust in government solutions!), to simply trying to apply their hurt to their own growth in some way. None of these things may be wrong in and of themselves! But it is wrong when they are done in order to create meaning where we can’t seem to find any.
God gives our sufferings meaning in His own time. We don’t have to make meaning for ourselves. Just walk through the valleys with Jesus, leaning on Him, and the purpose in them will, someday, possibly only on the other side of eternity, be so obvious that you’ll thank God not only in spite of your pain, but because of it.
So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good. –1 Peter 4:19