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.

For Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4

Bless those who mourn, eternal God,
with the comfort of your love
that they may face each new day with hope
and the certainty that nothing can destroy
the good that has been given.

May their memories become joyful,
their days enriched with friendship,
and their lives encircled by your love.
Amen.

– Vienna Cobb Anderson, adapted from “Prayers of Our Hearts”

I Hope

I’ve never been that good at finding the right words to say.
Sometimes I stumble, muttering something that halfway sounds appropriate, but consists muchly of “ums,” “ers” and stutters.
And sometimes I find the right words a few minutes too late–when I get into the car after the funeral, or the minute the person I’m attempting-to-be-speaking to walks away.
It takes me a while sometimes to come up with coherent comments.
My brother and his wife lost their second baby this week. Jade had miscarried last year and, when she found out she was pregnant again, we were all excited–yet reserved our excitement, knowing what could happen. This time the baby held on five more weeks.
Long enough for us to begin to think it was safe to be happy. Long enough for Jim and Jade to be more conifident that all would be OK.
And then, while Vicki & I were out to lunch on Wednesday, we got the news. We were devastated for them. Our hearts ached for their loss. What could we do to help them? What could we say that would ease the pain of what they were going through?
I still can’t answer those questions.
I haven’t spoken to Jim yet. Mum says he’s taking it very hard. I can only imagine how he feels because I’ve never known what it’s like to so desperately want a child only to have your hopes and dreams dashed–not once, but twice.
I need to call him. I hope I can find the words to say when he picks up the phone. I hope the conversation won’t drift towards gadgets, work, weather, footy and anything but what is on our hearts.
I hope he can see past my attempts to find the right words and know that I feel his pain and know that God feels it too. I hope and pray that he can see that God is for him and Jade, not against them, and that somehow, through all of this loss, grief and pain, good will come.
I hope. I hope he can too.

A New Kind of Christianity and Grief

Brian McLaren just posted this comment about his book A New Kind of Christianity by a reader whose sentiments I share. What many people don’t understand is that when a person speaks negatively of organised religion, it isn’t necessarily because they have turned their back on it or plan to in the near future. It is quite possible that they are going through a grieving process.

Here’s part of Brian’s post:

Your book has also brought out many other emotions as well… fear, doubt, and at times, a profound grief. I’m not sure why or where this grief is coming from. Is it the loss of my childhood faith I am feeling? Is it a fear that God is unknowable? Is it the loss of one faith before another is formed to replace it? Have you, or any other individuals you have encountered, found this deep grief to be part of the faith-growing journey as well? Any advice for a fellow searcher would be valuable.

You can read the rest of the comment and Brian’s response here.

The Blues are a Given

‘My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?”

How many times in my life have I dared to ask the question, ‘Where are you, God?’ How often have I heard the cry, ‘Where is your God now?’

The obvious answer is that he is in the same place as he was in the good times. Our theology may define the specific ‘where’ that might be. But whether it is in heaven, encompassing everything around us, or in our hearts, God is not absent.

Today I arrived at school to find that one of our former students, who would have been in Year 12 this year was killed in a motorcycle accident on the weekend. I look at this tragic situation and can certainly understand the lament of the psalmist as those close to this lad are crying out, ‘God, where were you when Jason needed you?’

I believe God not only welcomes our desperate cries but invites our lamentation. He isn’t afraid of our doubts, or our giving voice to our fears. And he is with us as we are with him. Embracing us in our sorrow, weeping with us, grieving our loss, singing with us when we have the blues.

Martin B. Copenhaver writes, ‘Lament is not whining. Whiners always find a way to whine, regardless of circumstances. No, lament is a legitimate response to real hardship. Mahalia Jackson could have been referring to lament, rather than the blues, when she said, “Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit yelling for help.”‘

He continues by reminding us that ‘in the Bible there are more prayers of lament than there are prayers of praise. This reminds [us] that God invites our expressions of sorrow and complaint as much as God invites our praise.’

God is not unconcerned or uninterested. He is not an uninvolved deity who watches us ‘from a distance.’ He is near. He is so close to us that Paul put it this way to the Athenians: ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’

The blues are a given. At some point we will all be singing our song of lament. There will be times in life when we will despair, be overcome with sadness, find ourselves in times of deep sorrow.

In that space, we rest in the love of a God who journeys with us–and joins us in our lament.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

After I wrote the above piece and posted it, I went to view it on the blog site and found a randomly selected link that WordPress had supplied. The link was to the poem below which is truly a lament, but with a tinge of hope (at least in my perception of it):

Life’s Poisonous Nectar

Names changing, being shortened to nicknames
Rich lands become crusty and dry
Wavering nights evolve to gold
Present is a stirring within all who wakes
For a moment blue skies and tender trees are in view
Then the veil of darkness closes in again
The earth once more acts as an envelope,
Containing all the fretfulness of the world
A weeping mother, hungers for her child’s well-being
Denying her helplessness, pushing away change
It had snuck up gradually, weaving with skill
Like a full moon shining golden and enormous
Only until an orange sunrise shatters the blue vortex
A final breath, the coldness of a young soul lost
No compensation to be given or a hand to lend
Money steals the hope of the poor
People once healthy and opulent, now destitute
Loss after loss, what is one to gain?
Another fight against tremendous odds
Change has begun to repeat itself.

Inspired by Nectar in a Sieve, Written in 2008
(an anonymous writing from the blog Looking In from the Outside)