All things work together

lightbulbI had an epiphany this week.

Oddly enough, it was while listening to a podcast recorded on Epiphany, the day on which the liturgical church celebrates the appearance (unveiling, revealing) of Christ to humankind.

My light-bulb moment, however, wasn’t in any way related to the magi visiting baby Jesus nor was it inspired by the words found in the gospel text about the precious gifts they presented to him.

But it was about a gift: life. And it’s a precious gift that we often take for granted. Or we get side-tracked from living it because we’re caught up in trying to work out all the bad things that happen.

A loved one receives a terminal diagnosis.

A marriage breaks down.

A “sure thing” bet on the stock market collapses.

A house burns down.

A business fails.

In all these circumstances, we, as Christians, have had a terrible track record of glibly offering platitudes and cliché-ridden comfort to one another.

“God has a plan.”

“God is trying to teach you something.”

“All things work together for good.”

That last one really hits me because I’ve used it and heard it used so many times, thinking it was a simple affirmation that meant all would be well, or that this too will work out for the best in my life.

Then the light switch was turned on.

All things work together.

Good things. Bad things. Health. Sickness. Happy times. Sad times. Life. Death.

All things work together.

Those life events that stress us, debilitate us, humiliate us, frustrate us, weaken us, work together with those circumstances that encourage us, heal us, empower us, bring us joy and strength.

All things work together.

And this statement that we can find in Romans 8, verse 28, does not mean that all will work out well in the end. Nor does it mean that everything we experience results in what is best for us. It simply means that all things we experience work together and, for us, this is good.

That loved one with the cancer dies.

That divorce still happens.

Our credit record may never recover.

We may find ourselves living in poverty.

This verse is not a cure-all, grief-healing, success-guaranteeing platitude. It is s statement of fact.

Life is a gift. We may choose to focus on the bad or, like Pollyanna, be happily optimistic about everything we face. This does not alter the truth that life is still a gift.

And whether it be good or bad, happy or sad, it is still a precious gift.

And like the gift of all of God’s creation, it is good.

Faith

IMG_1448I was asked recently to share what my faith journey looked like.

I’ll admit: it is a journey, and it certainly involves faith. That said, it’s often difficult for me to articulate. Faith is not black and white (or as I heard one say, “It isn’t binary.”) It looks different for you than it may for me.

It may also include uncertainty, doubt, fear, struggle, deconstruction and reconstruction, and many seasons of growth and change.

It may or may not be tied to a church experience. It may or may not have clearly defined boundaries, milestones, turning points, commitments, or life-changing decisions.

Regardless of what it looks like, it involves questions, hope, and trust that what is promised will come to be, both in this life and in the next. I think the writer of the following reflection also understand it this way.

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“I shall not die, but live, and tell of the Lord’s great deeds.” – Psalm 118: 17

When my mother was dying, some of my siblings and in-laws kept whispering to her that Jesus was waiting to welcome her, that people she loved would be there too, that she could let go without fear. At one point in this litany of reassurance, she woke up, looked right at us, and said in a strong voice, clear as a bell, “Are you sure?”

Immediately everybody said, “Yes, we’re sure!” Even I said so—I who have struggled for years with what ‘life after death’ might rationally mean.

“We’re sure,” I said. I’m sure.

Immediately under my breath I threatened God: “Did you hear that? I just told her it’s true. It had better be. It had better be, do you hear me? I gave her my word.”

Some people claim to know. They’ve seen soft lights, green meadows, felt God’s embrace. If you find that comforting, I’m glad. But none of it is certain. We have only promises and poetry, longing and love, need and hope. The rest is silence.

All the same, if my mother had asked me a thousand times whether it was true about Jesus and loved ones and God’s embrace, a thousand times I would have said yes. And after each yes I would have threatened God, “It had better be.” And after each menacing prayer, silence would be the reply.

That’s hard. It just is.

There’s a reason they call it ‘faith.’

— Mary Luti, from StillSpeaking