Thursday, January 9, 2014

Easy Life?

I've never expected an easy life.  Somehow the 'become a Christian and your life will be perfect' thinking that I've heard before never rang true with me.  Maybe it was just good theology that I heard, maybe it was the influence of my parents and my amazing youth leaders growing up, maybe it was the fact that my childhood church frequently had speakers like Corrie Ten Boom, Nazi prison camp survivor, and Richard Wormbrand, founder of Voices of the Martyrs who spent years being tortured in a Soviet prison for preaching his faith. I was taught that being a Christ-follower is a privilege and that with that comes responsibility, one that's not always easy.

There are pivotal points in our lives that mold us as well as the general soundtrack of our childhood.  One of those for me was something said when I was a little girl.  Someone prayed for me and felt like God had given him a picture for my life.  It was a girl walking along in a field carrying buckets of water.  I kept going back to the well to fill my buckets again because as I walked along I kept sloshing out water on the field.  He said that the water was kindness and the well was God as the source. Then he saw me later again when I was older and while life hadn't been easy, I was still sloshing water.

He mentioned Isaiah 12:3 as a verse for my life, "With joy you will draw waters from the wells of salvation."  The visiting speaker had never met us and didn't even know my name. But my first and middle name literally mean "joyful spirit" and "living water."

But then there are days like the one when your daughter tells you that she wants to die---and you finally realize that she actually means it.  Then there's the day that she gently tells you that despite your best intentions to protect her, you failed and that someone hurt her in a way that's been slowly killing her for years.  And you didn't even know.  And you question what kind of mother you've been at all?  Then there's the day when you think she's doing a lot better, but your other daughter calls from the emergency room to tell you otherwise.  And many other days of different sorts of trials as well.

On days like those it's been comforting to know that in my little girl prophecy that at the end of my life I was still sloshing water.  That I WILL make it.  That I can survive.  That somehow my parched buckets of nothing left to give will be filled again.  And where to fill them. I can cling to that hope partly because of the encouragement given to me as a child, but it's something that we all can find promises of in His Word as well.

But while we know that we will be carried, while we know that our loved ones are actually in better hands than our own, we still wonder, "Why?"

Life was never meant to be lived in a vacuum.  While it might sound peaceful for a time, no one actually wants to live in a sanitized, sealed bubble.  Even safe bubbles have walls that confine.  And we are meant to rub shoulders with things in this world even if they're painful.

C.S. Lewis said, "Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny."

When you go through the hard stuff and eventually smile, when you get back up after you fall down, and when your world looks 'over' but isn't and people around you know it, something amazing happens------you can open your mouth and they listen.  You have a voice.  You have credibility.

You see, it's not about the journey and your failures, weaknesses and pain along the way.  It's about the destination.  WHERE you end up.  WHAT you've learned.  HOW you've made it through.

Kay Warren, whose son killed himself last year, wrote in her book Choose Joy, "All of us want the product of trials and pain--maturity--without having to go through the process.  But James warns us not to try to wiggle out of the hard times too soon; if we do, we will short-circuit the process and remain immature."  She's referring to this:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)

" that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky." (Phil 2:15)

Photo by Beth Waterman (I think!)
Day to day in Kolkata there were some pretty awful days scattered in there.  Days where nothing went right. Where machines broke, tempers flared, local government interfered, or the heat was unbearable.  But around FS those days actually became the very best ones (not that that was easy to remember in the middle!).  Because while they weren't great to live through, those where the days where the stuff that mattered the most happened. Women who were broken beyond our imagining saw people around them respond to trials and difficulty in a different way.  They saw them be kind in the face of ugliness, have faith in the face of despair, hope in the middle of what looked like impossible situations, patience under stress and on and on.  Not that people were perfect, but they walked together. The women weren't just told to live differently than before, they were SHOWN by those who walked beside them in love and who gave credit to why they lived differently to Him.

There was a guard at the door of the grocery store that had all of the 'extras' that I couldn't get at our local bazaar in Kolkata.  I'd go there about every two weeks and ended up having ongoing disagreements with the poor chap.  His job was to make sure that no one exited through the entrance and to make sure that any bags that weren't ladies' purses were checked in at the counter by the entrance

The problem was that the smaller FS bags that I carried just didn't look like purses to him!  He'd say, "Madame, bag," and point to the bag check in counter.  I'd say, "No, this is a handbag."  We'd go back and forth until I'd show him that I, in fact, only had a wallet, etc, inside.  He'd still say, "No, not handbag," until I'd start to get cross.  Then he'd let me through.  I eventually saved time by sounding cross to start off with instead of playing out the same ludicrous exchange each and every time.

The issue was that that man was just glad to have a job.  He'd been given a very narrow set of parameters and perspective to follow and refused to think outside of his box out of fear for his job (and I knew that it wasn't safe to check my wallet, phone, etc, in at the counter!).

We need to remember in the midst of life that we have tunnel vision as well.  Our vision is limited.  Our knowledge of things is actually quite small.  We can't often see the 'whys'.  There's an awful lot that we don't understand.

But God can give us the bigger picture.  He can help us see past today and even if we can't see forward clearly, give us hope for tomorrow.  Because He's already there.  And we've never been promised an easy life to start with.  Just that He'll be faithful, and He promises:

"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.  I have called you by name; you are mine. 
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you to through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you..........From eternity to eternity I am God.  
No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
No one can undo what I have done."  (Is. 43:2-3, 13)

Let's be honest, trials stink.  But in the middle of them we can cling to this:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom.8:38-39)


"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31)

Yeah, that's pretty much the ultimate encouragement right there!