Monday, February 2, 2009

Blessed Assurance


Soaking in the tub the other evening, the words
life is hard floated through my mind. Before I had time to wonder why that little phrase had popped up, it was followed by another: this world is not my home.

Neither of these phrases are new to me. I've known the truth of them for quite some time, but it took an awful lot of hard knocks before their reality sunk in.
Life is hard was especially difficult for me to accept. When I consider my abusive childhood (which propelled me into abusive relationships during my teen and adult years); when I face the shameful fact that I've been married and divorced four times, or remember that I had a serious drinking problem for a number of years: oh, there are too many things to count which should have clued me in, earlier in life, that life is indeed hard.

I was reluctant to admit this, either to myself or others, because (as I now realize) it seemed to be an accusation about God. About His character and motivations. Weren't Christians supposed to take whatever came their way with a smile and a shrug, even if that smile were false all the way through? I thought this. I believed this. I believed too that if I were to tell others how I really felt, how shamed and guilty and fearful and full of despair, I'd be admitting that God just couldn't cut it. I'd be proclaiming before the universe that God talked the talk, but couldn't walk the walk. A refuge and strength in time of trouble? Hardly!

Strange how perspective plays such an all important role in rightly comprehending God's character. For instance, I somehow had gotten it into my head that I must shelter God from the ridicule He'd surely receive if I were to admit to anyone that my heart was faint within me. (I'm rather astonished now to realize how familiar I was with the Psalms during my growing up years. Didn't I notice how often King David voiced his complaints? And what of his raw honesty? Why didn't that clue me in to the possibility of being honest with myself, and with God?)

Now it occurs to me that God has never given me the job of image management--either my own or His. While it's true we're to be a light in the world so that others may see our good works and praise God, I no longer believe that externals are all that matter. If I do some extraordinary work in an effort to bring glory to Him, I think it matters deeply if my heart is in the right place. God doesn't need me to falsely rope others in. He doesn't need me to defend Him, or make excuses for those times when it seems like He just doesn't come through as promised.

I once got into a near argument with a friend about this very subject. Her contention was that life is really pretty good. Mine was more like, huh-uh, hold on a minute. Life is
hard. I wasn't about to back down, for it'd taken me too many decades to come to the place of being able to admit to this truth.

We all know, at least on some level, that this is reality. Though we have moments of pure joy and hope, there's no denying the fact that living in a sinful world is hard. Try though we might to bury our heads in the sand of denial, there will come to all sooner or later those circumstances which nearly do us in. Times when there is no comfort at all in Jesus' promise to be with us to the end of the world.

Nearly two years ago I stood in my son's hospital room, gazing down at him in his comatose state, wondering how this could have happened. I was both surprised and not surprised by this turn of events, by the motorcycle accident which was trying its best to rob him of his life.

I don't get it, I remember telling God in my mind. I don't see how my son is supposed to come to you some day (as you've promised me) if he dies from this accident, or ends up a vegetable for life. I was surprised by the accident simply because it's not something one can ever be prepared for. At the same time I wasn't surprised, because it'd been my experience that God was always doing the unexpected. There is simply no way to predict His actions and decisions, and so the fact that He'd allowed this accident to happen didn't come as a big shock to me.

During those days of waiting for my son to come out of his coma, of sitting by his bedside for 8 hours at a time, except for my frequent escapes to the Smoking Room, I had plenty of time to ponder the ways of this God I'd chosen to betroth myself to as a child.

In the Smoking Room, I saw people hooked up to machines (and yes, still smoking in spite of that fact!) There was a man with a big hole in his face where his mouth should have been. There was a man who'd had most of his bladder removed-- oh, there were so many in a world of hurt. But one thing I noticed is that quite often I'd hear someone, in the midst of telling the rambling tale of what had brought them (or a loved one) to the hospital, say "Well you know God knows just what's He's doing. I sure don't understand, but I know there's a reason for everything."

Statements along those lines were small comfort as I stood or sat, waiting for my son to wake up. They didn't do much to warm my heart as a top brain surgeon showed me x-rays and spoke to me of my son's brain being sheared. How that was worse that if it'd simply gotten bruised. As I stumbled through my days in a fog while doing my best to turn a deaf ear to the daily scathing emails from my son's ex, accusing me and my entire family of everything under the sun (not true, not true!), I marveled that the poor wretches I met in the Smoking Room could find any ray of hope in such hopeless situations.

A relative brought a plaque into my son's hospital room, which read, "Faith makes things possible, not easy." How often my eyes wandered to those words, my heart silently saying a hearty
Amen to the truth of this statement. The plaque now hangs over the archway to my kitchen. No matter how many times I try to hang it straight, every time I glance at it I see that once more it's hanging askew. One day one of my sons came to visit, and that's the first thing he noticed.

"Hey Ma," he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "your faith's crooked."

"Ah, story of my life," I said, and we both laughed.

Well, but isn't it? My faith is often crooked or weak or pitiful, but lately I've come to see it's not so much faith in God that is waning, it's faith in myself. Or the circumstances of life. But whoever said I was supposed to have faith in myself anyhow, let alone in the outward circumstances of life in this precarious world?

My son lived through his accident. With eight brain injuries, he's facing many challenges. He lives in a group home, and comes home to visit on the weekends. He can do many of the things he used to do, but he's not the same person he used to be. Sometimes I think I have two sons with the same name. He'll say or do something so like his old self that I nearly do a double-take. And then he'll say something so out of left field, which makes no sense, that my heart sinks. Oh yeah, I tell myself,
he has brain injuries.

Life is hard, and we would all do well to remember that Jesus told us we would have tribulations in this world. That's what I like about Him: He always tells us the truth. And so I hang on to this one truth while at the same time holding close to my heart another:
this world is not my home. Thank God. Oh thank God that this is so. Thank God we've all been given this choice (of choosing which world to call home), and that early in life I chose to be a pilgrim in this world.

Yes, my faith is oftentimes crooked, but I find that when God seems but a stranger I've only to hang out more with His Son and then everything in my thinking gets straightened out.

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