Life’s beautiful but not always a picnic, and in adversity there’s a lot of emotions wrapped around events and relationships that cascade over into a messy, murky pool at the foot of ‘THE problem.’ You know, the big ugly. I’m not minimizing the problem. ‘THE problem’ probably sucks, and is definitely the worst. It’s really hard to get your mind around the fact that this too shall pass.
And if you’re in the church, you are getting hammered by the statement “God works everything out for good.” For gentle, short-term problems this feels admissible, likely even. For those heart-wrenching, painful situations that you’ve wrestled for years over? It’s downright obnoxious.
Because you’re in the middle of the problem!!!! You’ve seen the before, you can’t see the after, and you’re in the middle.
The ambiguous, grey, infuriating middle.
You’ve got no solution, no plan, and you can’t even conceive of one. This is where you realize you have control issues (quiet hand raise), and it’s where you turn to a big God that you maybe understand and currently like, maybe not.
I’ve done my fair share of wrestling this year, the biggest and hardest wrestle over a really challenging relationship in my life. It was one where I had tried all my tools, and they failed. I picked up my weapons, and they backfired, knocking the wind out of me. After being sad that I picked up the weapons, I collapsed angry, exhausted, tired, and hopeless. There was no easy fix, actually it felt like practically there was no fix. It was unavoidable, challenging, and max painful.
Around me I heard the classic line: “God works everything out for good.” When I heard this in pain and when I didn’t understand God’s love, this felt sadistic. Actually, no He won’t. Actually this is the LIVING worst and I can’t win and I’ll live my whole life stuck in this situation. Because I believed God controlled people, part of me thought for that statement to be true God would have had to put me in a really bad situation for a reason, perhaps to do some strength training. Really fatherly, right? No.
People go to jail everyday for what we accuse our good Father of doing.
Men with free will wreak havoc, and God is SO good at building tapestry from tragedy that we misunderstand and call him the master planner of chaos.
But He’s not. I’ve wrestled Him relentlessly for a year. I’ve asked Him why over and over, because in order to actually trust him I needed to process the fact that I…didn’t. I needed to know where he was in the places where I’d felt abandoned and unprotected. My why’s have landed me here: God gave men free will. They have choice after choice after choice every day. God is a powerful influencer, and He chases us down with love and kindness, but love only exists in free will. God finds no satisfaction in controlling 7 billion robots, programmed to love on command. Love is actually the greatest, most beautiful choice. Without choice, there would be no authentic love, and God was willing to risk us choosing wrong in order to give us the precious gift of choice itself. Two trees friends.
7 billion humans grow up in a world where they uniquely acclimated to their tightly-held, steadfast version of normal. These beautiful people and their unique normal have been shaped by pain, a lack of love, shame, and everything the world has to throw at them. 7 billion people who are trying their best to navigate life end up banging into each other and creating a certain kind of chaos that would influence any good Father’s heart. Imagine being compassionately invested in 7 billion lives. But to choose to control people, to choose to erase the probability of wrong ever happening, God would also have to eliminate the choice to love Him, to choose him. Love himself treasures authentic, free-will relationship so highly that even in the face of pain, He chooses not to take it away.
God has been orchestrating beauty from ashes from day 1. He hasn’t stopped. He’s really, really good at it. He’s so good at it that it’s almost hard to believe He didn’t plan the fire that brought the ashes. But he didn’t, he wouldn’t.
So face to face with ‘THE problem,’ I wrestled, warred actually, for a very long time. It was not pretty, neat, or kind. One night after angrily processing myself into exhaustion, I asked the Lord if focusing on ‘THE problem’ is good to be doing. I heard him say no, and asked me to lay down offense.
When I did, I began attacking the faux truths that surrounded ‘THE problem.’ I asked God if this, if the past would ruin my life, would make me way far behind, would ruin my ability to trust. Most importantly, can this actually be redeemed? Is there hope?
The truths he told me were so crazy I kind of just sat there and laughed. His answers were so easy and carefree. No ‘THE problem’ wasn’t hijacking everything. As hard as things felt, this would not ruin my life. God’s carefree response doesn’t mean He didn’t care when my heart broke. It’s that He’s actually really good at turning a really ugly story into a beautiful redemption tale that makes your jaw drop. If you imagine watching your favorite movie with your best friend, you’ve already seen the ending and you know what’s coming. During the break-up/blow-up/disaster scenes I always find myself comforting my friends with “WAIT IT’S OKAY, It gets good!” The journey of watching people you love experience what you love is life. I naturally lose my cool with anticipation waiting for my friends to get to my favorite parts. You watch them watch, you shriek. There’s So. much. JOY!! I imagine my God shrieking at the plot twists, and I always hear his “wait baby, it’s about to get good.”
Jesus is the reason that when I see some of the most incredible people I’ve met, I hear their story and sit stunned. When I meet amazing people I assume they were born into the perfect family, life went their way, and they landed softly and pristinely in the lap of God. But 9 times out of 10 I hear the people I admire most speaking about how they have fought through trauma, abuse, and great pain, and yet the person standing in front of me is…standing. Joy actually radiates off of their beings. They’re happy, whole-hearted, and hilarious. Their past, their process, and their present, are all wrapped up in a glorious Christ. They made it out alive in one piece, they clearly see greater ahead, and they possess hope that, to me, looks beautifully reckless. This is my testament of God: total restoration, no, BETTER than it was before, after what seemed to be total destruction. This puts fire in my veins.
I have heard it said, and have often hated hearing it said, that nothing is too far gone for God to heal. I finally choose to believe that it has to be true. He’s actually that good.
I know what it’s like to stand square in front of the inferno that is ‘THE problem’ and say “never,” so I want to offer hope. God actually is a never say never guy. Literally nothing and no one is too far gone. I had stories of redemption gifted to me, I wasn’t looking for them, but if I could do this again I’d seek out those stories sooner, activate my gift of stubborn, and never let go.
Here I feel like I know nothing else but that our deepest pains will somehow be crafted into beautiful masterpieces, and I can’t wait to witness the beautiful stories in my own life that will knock me flat.
Here’s to all the soon to be broken, beaten nevers.