Let’s be honest. Not honest but self-protective. Let’s just actually say it.
I don’t know if it’s going to work.
Pick which “it” I mean. Raising my children so that they live peaceably in their own skin. Having kids I can be proud I had a hand in parenting. Looking back at their years of living in my house and knowing I did well by them.
Am I going to do something with my life? Not just pass through. Live. Suck the marrow, blow every speck of gunpowder, make a contribution, leave something worth claiming?
Will it matter that I was here?
We’re afraid and we try to cushion against that fear with comfort. Comfort foods and comfortable habits, routines that protect us from looking at our naked selves. Distractions and entertainments. Not bad in themselves, but when we use them as anesthesia…
There are darker questions, too. My dad was chronically ill for the last twenty-five years of his life…which means it started when he was younger than I am now. What if the mental illness…? Some people live in the “knowledge” that only other people’s children get sick, or get in accidents, or die. They would never say this out loud, but they live that way. I’ve had that illusion shattered, and the pieces never went back together.
“But,” some might ask, “what about your faith? Don’t you trust God?”
I’m giving that question the big smile, the one I set on my face in lieu of ripping tonsils out.
I trust God. I’ve chosen a life that, in some significant and tangible ways, relies on God’s faithfulness or else. Or else we’re not okay. I’m not boasting. I’m just distinguishing between what I trust God to do (and protect against) and the rest.
Let’s say it out loud. Okay, I’ll type it hard and you read it out loud, if you want.
I believe God forgives my sin and loves me. I mean, loves me deeper than the roots that hold earth together, that keep the sun burning and the planets spinning. And you, too. It’s laughable what minuscule things we think might change that love. We are God’s beloved; he delights in us as the children he adores, both created and adopted. Yep, completely believe that, day in and day out.
I believe that God’s justice and mercy and compassion and goodness will win. I don’t know how, exactly. I mean, I know Jesus will return, and that will be a very good day. But I don’t know how God will even the score, restore everything and heal the atrocities we’ve committed against one another. I just know he will.
Those are bigger than the issues I’m afraid of. I know that. How God heals genocide and racial hatred in humanity is more of a deal than whether I’m of sound mind for the next forty or so years. So what’s my problem?
The death of our son, Isaac, taught me not to expect God to keep promises he never made. Sounds simple enough, until you review what is and is not promised.
God promises he will be with us through our suffering. He pledges by his own name that he will never leave us nor forsake us. We will never suffer alone.
When Isaac died, I was ragingly furious with God. I hated him. I felt betrayed. But God had not betrayed me. God simply never says our children will not die before us. How I wish he did.
It’s not that I think God is indifferent to our suffering. But Jesus says we will suffer. He guarantees it. Suffering is both part of the human condition and a condition of following Jesus. If you want to be my disciple, this will happen. It’s why many people decide not to be his disciples.
God does not make certain that our lives go smoothly or according to our plans. He doesn’t. Our lives might go approximately the way we hope, for a while. Some people are lucky that way. But to believe that God “blesses” us with trouble free lives is a)an unbiblical fantasy, and b)spitting in the faces of the millions of Christians who suffer hunger and persecution and all the ravages of poverty. God doesn’t love us more than those people. It’s sick and wrong to think so, and it’s the opposite of what Jesus repeatedly says.
So it’s not my masochism or my lack of faith that makes me say God may not keep my children from suffering cancer or car accidents. It’s the experience that I’ve already held a dead son, and somehow God has convinced me more deeply of his love for me after that moment. It’s Jesus’ correcting the assumption that people who suffer must be worse sinners, or that God hates the poor and loves the rich. If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we must be followers on his terms, not ours. Otherwise, we aren’t really following. That makes sense, right?
So these are my fears. I know I have some gift of writing, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get anywhere with it. I may lack the courage. I may not be able to endure the discouragement and disappointment. But I’m trying. I’m praying and asking for God’s help. I think he hears my prayer. He answers, in some manner, though I can’t always tell how. I’ve been praying and trying for a long time. I’m praying and trying some more.
I’m trying to love my kids and be the father that I can be. Of course God cares about this, since he loves me and he loves them. But some days I know my selfishness and smallness and fears are getting the better of me. God still loves me on those days. He forgives my sins. He even redeems the bad stuff I pull. But my kids still bear the consequences of my sins. And that sucks. Don’t give me easy answers here. Don’t. I’ve seen parents who loved their kids and those kids are now very screwed up adults. Some are dead. If you want to believe there is a perfect formula that guarantees your children will come out as you hope, with the lives you hope, I won’t stop you (though you may not want to read this blog much more). But our children are people who will make their own decisions and choices and get their own consequences, good and bad. That’s the deal.
I’m scared for them. My greatest hope is that they will see God’s grace in my life and that will help them believe it for their own lives. My greatest hope is that they will know God adores them.
i know there are simpler, cleaner, more (in my opinion) naive versions of faith out there. How do I say this nicely? If they work for you, that’s great, but they’re kind of a lie. (Nope, that wasn’t nice.) A guy in my young adult group once explained that whenever God takes anything away from us, it’s because he has something better for us, like when he takes away our old bicycle but it’s only because he has a much nicer, newer bike he wants to give us. The problem was, our son had died maybe six months before that. Any theology that works only when we’re insulated and privileged doesn’t actually work at all.
I also know there are many people with much stronger faith than I have, and I always try my hardest not to speak against someone else’s faith just because mine is weaker. When my friend tells me that God is calling him to a place I’d be afraid to walk to tell those guys who scare the snot out of me that God loves them, I don’t say, “You shouldn’t do that! That’s stupid, you might get hurt!” I pray for his safety and encourage him to go where God leads.
If life has worked smoothly for you so far, you may not need what I have to say. You may know in your bones that God has blessed your every step and I simply lack the understanding you have. I fully leave that between you and God, because what do I know? I’m just trying to walk this faithfully the best I know how.
But if you’ve been wondering why faith in God isn’t working even remotely like it’s “supposed to,” and feeling vaguely like you’re trying to convince yourself of something, I propose to you that some of what you believe God’s supposed to do may not be based on what God said. God just isn’t committed to our comfort. He’s committed to our growth. He’s committed to our part in his Kingdom. But that part may be more through our failure than our success and more through our weakness than our strength.
What does that mean about my plans and my hopes? Well, the old joke is:
Q: How do you make God laugh?
A: Tell him your plans.
This series is on fighting for hope. I hope I love my children as well as I can and I make a difference in the world. I hope I make the world a better place before I leave and some of the people I’ve loved are so transformed through that love that they make the world even better. I hope I can use my gifts fully and fearlessly, without worrying or even caring what other people will think if I fail.
Deeper than anything, my hope is rooted in God, to let my desires and plans and yes, even my hopes, be submitted to him. My hope is not in making myself who I want to be, not in self-realization, not in catching a break and avoiding more of the tragedy we’ve already suffered. My hope is in God, who loves us, and is shaping us through whatever we face.