For some reason I spent yesterday with a triumvirate of lost relationships on my mind, not people I have casually known, but a handful of the people whom I let all the way inside everything that I am.
You know, the people who tear out the biggest chunks when they leave.
Now, as an avid consumer of media, I know what the “Christian” character is supposed to do. The popular options are variations on a theme. I’m supposed to hate God, or doubt that God is real, or stop trying to love or serve God. OR, on the Hallmark Channel aisle of things, I’m supposed to get some miraculous strength to go skipping on about my life as Jesus magically fills in the gap.
The truth is, neither of those things happened.
For one thing, I positively refuse to live the life of a tired cliche about faith mostly written by people who view God as either a vending machine or a political candidate. You put your faith and worship in, and you get your result. OR, Political Candidate God should promise you what you want, or promise to fix what’s wrong, or you will go find something else.
Both are subtle lies, because both of those reactions are predicated on self-importance. I have put MY coin in the cosmic vending machine and I DESERVE to have and/or keep my house/home/wife/children/employment/goods/health/members/senses…
That HAS to be the thought behind the reaction of hatred or doubt when God takes some or all of those things away. The other versions of this (doubting that God is real) just go one step further to assume that the role of ANY religion or deity is to make sure IWWIWWIWI (I Want What I Want When I Want It) and I get what I want. Otherwise, if that doesn’t happen, then surely God must not exist.
A man I dearly love has had his heart set on marriage since adolescence, and he has never been so much as engaged as he is solidly past thirty, despite two of his younger siblings getting married. But because he WANTS and DREAMS of marriage, then marriage is supposed to be in the cards for him from God.
Where is that written? Where is it promised that he, or I, or anyone else deserves a spouse, is owed a spouse, or needs one to live the life God intends? (Answer: nowhere.) But this belief that the longing is proof of God’s plan (which is sadly what my church casually flips out with no scriptural basis, that if you want to be married you’re not called to celibacy, apparently based on the idea that God never calls us somewhere we absolutely don’t want to be, like, say… Nineveh…)
Taking that specific example, I am not owed employment, my health, the life, health, or as the post began, the life, presence, and affection of the people I most want in my life.
God doesn’t owe me anything, and if I look at what I truly deserve, there is fire, brimstone, gnashing of teeth, worms never stopping, etc… Not pretty.
But God gives me what I don’t deserve. He gave me his love when I was a sinful infant, totally self-focused and inheritedly evil from conception. When I was his enemy, he loved me. When I earned death, he died in my place. Lemme tell ya, I have never had a second’s doubt what Christ said, that greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.
Beyond that, God gives me his incredible gift of the Holy Spirit. I may never get to Jerusalem, but he has made me his temple, meaning: his dwelling place. He has called me brother, and friend. He has promised never to leave or forsake me. He has assured me strength sufficient for my weakness, so that he may be glorified.
Which is why I’m boasting about my weakness today. Tuesday grief and (how does 2 Corinthians put it?) sorrow made it hard to function. The best analogy that I have ever heard about grief is that it’s a knife in your heart. Sometimes, like yesterday, something bumps the handle. The knife has never left, and the edges are still sharp. It hurts as deeply as when the knife was first stabbed in.
But God is deeper still. He has not made me strong to shrug off the weight of the things that I have lost. He has not magically erased thoughts and feelings for those who are no longer in my life (and frankly, I’m really freaked out by an old friend who describes his old relationships as “swallowed up in Christ” so he feels not a shred of energy or remorse not thinking about, praying for, or doing anything for those who used to be closest to him in the world). He has not taken away my pain. But he can carry me on the days when the pain flares up.
God has not replaced those holes in my heart with other people. I’m not even sure that’s possible, as it seems each relationship in my forty years has been a different point of contact, a different seat at my heart’s feast. One chair per love, and so many chairs are empty at the table, and will be forever, or until Christ’s return depending on the faith of the missing smile.
But God has assured me that these present sufferings aren’t worth comparing to the glory that is going to be revealed in us. Some of those chairs are empty by my own hand, and God speaks in Joel that he will repay/restore the years that his punishments have devoured. Some of those chairs are empty by others’ choices, and I have a great High Priest who empathizes in the same way that he lamented over Jerusalem, which refused to be gathered to him like chicks to their mother hen.
So, yesterday I was weak.
And yesterday, today, and tomorrow God is strong in my weakness.
Even knowing how he will one day wipe my tears away, he commands me to cast my cares upon Him, and he listens to them all. Even knowing my sins, faults, and failures, he loves me and offers me his forgiveness, not only his forgiveness, but his presence, not just his presence, but his birthright, not just his adoption and his family, but his very body and blood to forgive my sins, to save me, and make me new.
That is the meaning of joy to this wayward son, the steadfast bedrock that cannot move thought the waves crest about my head and neck, the solid rock to stand on when I can’t see the path, and the shining star in my heart that no darkness can overcome.
What a great and wonderful God my grief revealed to me, reminded me of, yesterday, when it hurt.
He is balm to my soul, indeed.