Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"It Won't Always Be Like This"

“It won’t always be like this.”

These words God deposited in my heart when our baby girl was a few days old, eating around the clock every two or three hours, which meant I was sleeping in thirty- to forty-minute increments.

Little did I know then that this phrase would become a mantra for other areas of my life.

When I'm recovering from surgery, or suffering through COVID, or experiencing (most recently) food poisoning: “It won’t always be like this.”

When our girl is teething, or coughing, or going through a developmental leap, and our (normally) good sleeper spends a few nights in the chair with mommy, I tell myself: “It won’t always be like this.”

Those tough first weeks with a newborn morph into four- and five- and six-hour stretches of sleep (and now our girl sleeps ten or eleven hours… *high five!*), and the sleep-deprived days are memories we joke about with a hint of pride for our survival skills.

God’s words to me are both an encouragement (“this is temporary”) and a caution (“don’t wish away this season”).

I’ve always heard women say they forget the pain from childbirth—like it’s this supernatural thing God does in our minds so that we’ll continue to procreate.

As a pregnant woman, I received this with skepticism, and now, about 15 months after my first childbirth experience, I understand what they mean.

It’s not that I’ve forgotten the 21-hour, all-natural delivery, but I don’t really remember the pain. It’s like a blurred scene on the film strip of my memory.

Howell remembers that day far more vividly than I do—and I think he’s a bit scarred by it. I can’t even recall the intensity of the contractions. Certainly I remember having them, but I can’t conjure up what they felt like. And I remember that it hurt at the end, but it seems so brief, so passing because moments later, I held my baby girl, and none of it mattered.

That experience was less than 24 hours. Somedays when I remember we spent almost a decade waiting for our girl, it, too, feels like a blink in time.

Not then, of course. But now—on this side of it.

I’ve found that my greatest defense against discouragement in a tough season is to remember. While the pain, the suffering, even the intensity of time—minutes, hours, days, years passing—fades, what remains in my memory is God’s faithfulness.

It stands out above the noise.

Time and again, I remember what He has done for me.

God’s word calls our affliction “light” and “momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17), and I’m sure Paul’s suffering goes far beyond anything I’ve experienced. (In fact, that sort of perspective is good to hang on to.)

Paul goes on to tell us to focus on what is unseen, the eternal, rather than the temporary (2 Cor. 4:18).

Peter says it like this: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Notice that our faith is more precious than gold that perishes. Gold sounds temporal, huh?

But faith—that’s among the things unseen, the things eternal.

His words to me are true: “It won’t always be like this.”

Today I can hardly believe our miracle girl is running all over the house, holding her baby doll, and playing “pretend” with her as she rocks her and feeds her the Cheerios from her snack cup. The girl I spent weeks feeding around the clock now holds a fork and feeds herself. And the nights that felt hard are forgotten, replaced by the warmth of my bed and the comfort of my husband.

If you’ve been grieved by various trials, my friend, if it feels hot under the fire right now, don’t lose heart.

Whatever we are going through is temporary. It might be over in an hour, or a day, or a week, or a year. Even if it takes years upon years, our circumstances are still temporary.

So let’s fix our minds on Christ, on the things of the Spirit, which are life and peace (Ro. 8:6).

Let’s ask God to give us His eternal perspective.

And let’s remember all the times He’s been faithful before to bolster our faith that He will do it again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Question

While recently reading a fiction book for the general market, I came across a bit of dialogue in which one character asks the other whether he believes in God. He hedges something like, sometimes, but not always, to which she replies, “I do.”

But then she goes on to say that as she grew older, the relationship she once enjoyed as a child, she now didn’t. And her reason: “I thought I understood the way things were supposed to work, but as I grew older, I realized I didn’t.”

She continues her speech to reveal one key reason for her disconnect from God as an adult: “Why would God, who’s supposed to be all good and loving, allow innocent people to suffer?”

This is the question that I think everyone—believer or non-believer—has to, at some point, grapple with.

This character ultimately feels both hopeless and unhappy as she attempts to reconcile her current situation with God’s Word—and the Bible falls short, she says. For this reason, we see her abandon her faith.

As I read this passage, something deep in my soul stirred, so I marked it. The depth of that fictional—and secular—conversation required more thought, more time.

I think the question—posed often in another form as “Why do bad things happen to good people?”—needs to be asked in a different way.

How do we discern what is from God?

When formed this way, I believe the Bible not only gives us hope but also gives us an answer—one we choose to believe by faith in His nature.

So, my answer?

If it is good, it is from God. His Word tells us He gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13; James 1:17).

God, by His nature, cannot give us evil gifts. It is not who He is.

This is the first response I would give to this character—that she has lost her hope and her happiness because she’s begun to doubt the very nature of God, His goodness.

When we come to a place where we doubt God’s goodness, then what we see around us determines how we define God and His kingdom. It becomes impossible to separate what we are experiencing (our circumstances) from our certainty or security in God’s love for us, for humanity. 

If He is not good, He is also not loving. If He’s neither loving nor good, then He is easy to blame for all of our bad circumstances, all accounts of evil, all of mankind’s failures.

But He is good. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 119:68, which tells us God is good and what He does is good.

It is who He is—and the only way to crawl out of the pit of hopelessness is to believe this truth.

When we do, it changes our perspective. It changes how we view and answer the rest of this character’s question—why do the innocent suffer? Or, put another way, why do bad things happen to good people?

I’d argue there are three possible reasons—all grounded in the Bible, and I’ll try to be succinct.

1. The first might be our favorite because it takes the responsibility off of us and becomes an easy scapegoat. What is this reason? The devil and his demons. But in all seriousness, the Bible is clear that we have an enemy, an adversary, and he comes “to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). I am not a big “blame it on the Devil” person, but I also think if we don’t understand the very real and present powers of darkness that are at work (Ephesians 6:12), then we are both na├»ve and deceived.

2. The second is less popular because it is our responsibility, the result of our choices. Since the Garden of Eden, there have always been two choices: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16). Adam and Even chose the second tree (Genesis 3), and mankind today still chooses it, even believers. Our choices have consequences. We may be reaping what we have sown (Galatians 6:7-8). No one likes this answer, but it’s simply the truth.

God redeems us from our sin. He doesn’t punish us for our sin. The Bible is clear about that—Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:23-25; Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 2:2).

And yet, these truths also exist. We make choices. And our choices have consequences.

3. And finally—the least popular answer, because it’s both out of our control and hard to swallow: sometimes God simply allows it. We see this play out in the book of Job (Job 2:1-10). The Word also tells us trials are for our testing (James 1:2-4), to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), for our refinement (Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:17), for our sanctification (John 17:17-20; Hebrews 13:12-13), for our good (Romans 8:28-30). None of these processes are easy—or fun.

The truth is, we may never know the reason why.

And let’s be clear here that even if God allows our pain, our suffering, our hard circumstances, our unfair situation—it is not from Him.

Remember, if something is from God, it is good, loving, peaceable (James 3:16-18). These are the gifts He gives. If it lines up with His nature, it is from Him.

And if you find yourself in a place that doesn’t feel good, what can you do?

I implore you, friends, don’t throw in the towel, as this character has done. Don’t abandon your relationship with your Heavenly Father.

Now, in this present circumstances, is the time to press in, to receive His love, His song over you, and to believe in His everlasting goodness and faithfulness.

Won’t you do it? Look for His goodness today.

Each good gift is like a knot on a rope, giving you a place to grip, a way to find footing as you climb out of the pit.

Keep climbing, friends. Keep gripping.