I took my dog for a walk. Going outside into the fresh air seems to always wake me up from racing, disorganized thoughts. Walking around my new neighborhood here in Augusta, I reflected on my year. It has been a rough year of loss and service that has called upon every bone in my body and every bit of faith I could muster. I’ll admit, I have had intense moments of questioning God’s role in my and other’s suffering. I knew better than to believe that He had forsaken me, or worse- inflicted such difficulty in my life. But, this has been enough to cause me to question His existence. Where was this “Good God” I had been brought up to know?
This time of year is hard for a lot of people. Some of you will grieve over an empty seat this year. Some of you will continue to wade through unanswered prayers. Some of you will doubt His goodness as you experience the lack of good in the world. Some of you have struggled though advent season trying to find this thing called “hope”. We are challenged in church to serve more this time of year, to give, to be the love of God. But maybe you are the one that is walking into church feeling like you more so meet the description of the downcast than the servant overflowing with God’s goodness and favor. Maybe you have experienced enough in life already that God never seemed like a possibility anyways.
Amidst all the “joy” and cards and singing and well wishes for the Christmas season, there are a few things I had to unlearn in order to discover the realness of God.
- There is a God, but He’s nothing like you would think. He doesn’t think like you and He doesn’t even exist within the same context of time. Considering He is the Beginning and the End, His wisdom considers every angle of our past, future, present, and all those we connect with. His ideas will never make sense to us until they unfold and we are able to see the tip of the iceberg we are standing on. He made us with limited foresight and understanding and is therefore graceful when we need to vent. He can handle it, and would rather you be vulnerable to Him than hide. Sometimes, when we don’t understand, it is simply because it is not time for us to. Just when you think you have Him figured out, something will happen and your pretty box of “God” will be too small.
- God is still good, even when my circumstances are bad. I have nothing against Santa, but he is not God, and God is not Santa. His grace is free, we don’t earn it by being good. No amount of being “good” will keep us from difficulty. God’s goodness does not equal favor. He is Good because He is Good. I Am. He just is. Experiencing that goodness is not about whether He makes my life easier, it is simply that in His presence, I am home, and it is good. Oh my friend, God is so good. In a dark and dreary world riddled with sin, He is the one place of goodness that can pierce the darkness of our own heart and create light. This earthly life has been out of control from the beginning because of sin. Humanity chose (and will always choose) themselves before God. Because of that, sin and it’s consequences has affected the earth (land, air, and water), our biology, our relationships- all of creation. The only answer is to choose God instead of ourselves- that has always been the better choice. He never said life would be easy, He said we wouldn’t be alone.
- God doesn’t inflict us, He allows it. The beginning of Job shows a discussion between Satan and God where Satan asks permission to afflict, and God says yes or no. Nothing passes by God unnoticed. God knows everything that is happening in your life, and for reasons you may not know right now, He is allowing it. That doesn’t mean He is less good. It means He is more God than we can understand. My greatest comfort this year was having a couple of friends tell me that He had decided I could bare this. Job, a faithful servant of God, was brought to a breaking point and God did not let him break. God does indeed know our limits. We may not see it now, but there is always a hedge of protection somewhere. There were always limits put on Satan with Job. Looking back, it seemed like God was allowing every area of my life to be afflicted, except for my children. They seemed unscathed by all that was happening around them. But every other area, even my faith seemed like open game. I had some very human conditions on my belief in Him, and He knew that I would come out like a piece of coal under enough pressure, with something more pure and a whole lot more real. The answer to “why” will always be so that we will see the glory of God in our life and then tell others. Not because He is selfish and is playing games with our life, but because He is the answer to sin, and ultimately home.
- Community is crucial to experiencing God’s love. Nothing is more tempting than sulking alone. Isolation is the easiest answer to the pain we feel. If we do not reach out and are convinced that no one cares, we will entirely miss out on hearing God. Sometimes we can’t hear God because He wants to tangibly answer you. That can’t happen without people. When He calls the church body to be the hands and feet of Christ, He is calling on His people to listen to His promptings to feed the hungry (spiritually and physically). It’s like the story of the man who asked for God to rescue him in a flood and he turned down the truck, the boat, and the helicopter because it wasn’t God himself. Or better yet, the moment when my son chose a crippled woman to receive the gift card in his hand. God didn’t heal her legs, and she may have not even needed that money, but his actions introduced or reminded her of God’s love for her as evidenced in her tears. Joy was the simultaneous experience for both. We can hear God’s wisdom, be reminded of His Word, feel cared for and nourished, be challenged when selfish, as well as find perspective and a place to serve ourselves- all within a community of believers. Never again will I be in a place where I do not participate in a community of believers.
- A baby really can change everything. As we finish out the advent season, we think about expecting Jesus. That may seem ridiculous when Jesus already happened. Believe me, what could be more mysterious and confusing about a baby answering the need of humanity? But God’s people waited 400 years to hear from God. In His ultimate wisdom, He allowed the people to be brought to a place of groaning in their need for a Savior. Not because He is not good, but because He knew it would be the only way they would recognize Him is if they realized how much they needed Him. Time had to be made pregnant for hope to be revealed. People were broken, their prior understanding and doctrine sifted, until their eyes could see the shift that was about to take place. I think I get that this year. Sometimes God is quiet because he knows that there will be a moment, a quite pregnant moment where we will experience our Savior in a new way. A baby can change everything and it did. In that moment, God opened up heaven in a new way and chose to relate to us in the most personal way. By becoming human, God would answer the groanings of a world that needed hope. I need Jesus, so do you. He understands everything we feel, and then some- loss, betrayal, physical infliction, loneliness, fear, agony. He ultimately experienced separation from God- something we will never feel. In our own desperation, we can wait expectantly for a Savior that has already defeated sin and death and wait for Him to illuminate who He can be in our present darkness. He is a healer, more than the physical- He can heal the brokenhearted. He offers freedom from that which binds you- whether it is yourself, your behavior, or your fear.
I don’t know what that looks like for you, but you won’t experience it apart from others. It won’t happen without realizing that you are not God. And it doesn’t happen without it changing something in you. Real joy is in stepping outside of ourselves and showing someone else what we ourselves need- to know that we are not alone.
Give away a free hug to a widow whose body is aching to be held. Give away a smile, to someone who has not been “seen” lately. Give money, if you have been blessed with it, to someone who feels buried in medical bills. Give your grace to your spouse who is not perfect, but attempts it daily. Give a cup of coffee to the car behind you in the drive through. Deliver ice cream to a single mom or a spouse of a deployed soldier after their kids go to bed and can’t leave to get it when they are craving it. Sit and listen to a veteran’s story.
And if you are needing something this year, my prayer is that you will open your heart to worship and invite your Creator in. Then, connect with others and look for they good around you. God just may surprise you in a way you weren’t expecting.