Saturday, November 26, 2016

It Might Not be Okay on The Yellow Brick Road: God on the Road of Trials

When I was in junior high, I looked up at the high school students and thought, “I can’t wait to be in high school! They have their life all figured out.” When I reached high school, I looked up at the seniors and thought, “I can’t wait to be a senior! Surely they have their life figured out.” When I was a senior, I looked at college students and thought, “College students! They definitely have their lives figured out!” Now that I am in college, I am coming to the swift conclusion that college students and adults likely don’t have everything figured out, either. I’m realizing that life is complicated. People let you down. Classes are hard. Stress can be overwhelming. Staying in the Bible, church, and prayer take work. Life is hard. Sometimes, life is not okay.

It Might not Be Okay

I found myself giving the same piece of counsel to two friends going through two very different circumstances. One was facing a grave diagnosis from a close family member. Another was struggling with determining God’s vocational plan for his life. “I am so sorry for what you’re going through” I began, “The feelings you are experiencing (loneliness, isolation, frustration, anger, fear, listlessness) are not wrong. In fact, those feelings are very normal and part of the process. I’m not going to tell you it’s going to be okay or that things will get better because I don’t know that. The hard truth is, it might not be okay. These feelings might not go away and circumstances might not change. But, that doesn’t mean that this season won’t be good.”

All Things Work Together…

I think we as Christians have a tendency to gloss over the hard parts of the Bible where we are promised persecution and hatred or where great men and women of God have grueling trials. Instead we jump to verses like Romans 8:28 and prattle away that, “All things work together for good…” The point of this verse is not that all things will be good but that God will work them together for good. We may be called to live unimaginably hard lives, but that doesn’t mean they won’t ultimately be good. Paul himself, author of Romans and half of the New Testament, lived a very difficult life filled with hardship after his conversion to Christianity. He describes his sufferings in his first letter to the Corinthians:

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (1st Corinthians  24-27)

 I Can do All Things…

Paul’s life was far from “okay.” And, yet, Paul himself wrote “All things work together for good…” In fact, Paul wrote another quotable verse, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This verse is often used to encouragement before a hard college test or physically challenging task but the context of this verse is suffering, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philipians 4:12-13.)

Nothing about Paul’s life was “okay” but he remained confident that all things would work together for good and that God would enable him to make it through it. But why? Why would God allow Hid beloved children to live not okay lives? Where is God when we feel doubtful and full of fear? Where is God when a family members dies or we loose our job? Where is God on the road of trials? Is got yet with us?

The answer seems to be “yes.” We are God’s children. He cannot help but love us and want the best for us. Then why trials? Why not okay lives? Because it is often hardship that grows us the most.

 Dorothy on The Yellow Brick Road

I was watching one of my favorite childhood films with my family the other day, The Wizard of Oz. The story is a simple one, Dorothy longs for a world beyond the mundanity of everyday life on a Kansas farm. In a tornado she is whisked away to the magical land beyond the rainbow, Oz. Through her adventures along The Yellow Brick Road, she learns that “there’s no place like home” and is magically transported back to Kansas. It’s a charming film, filled with magical characters, bright colors, and catchy songs.

One element, however, stood out to me the last time I watched it. Glenda is a jerk! Glenda, the good witch of the north, (excuse the moral ambiguity for a moment for the sake of my point) is one of the first characters Dorothy encounters in Oz and she alone holds the secret to sending Dorothy back to Kansas. Instead of revealing the secret at the beginning of the film, she sends Dorothy on her quest to find the titular character. After a road of trials involving many dangers and her near death at the hands of The Wicked Witch of the West, Glenda reveals the secret to returning to Kansas was as simple as clicking the heels of her ruby slippers (which she had for the majority of her stay in Oz) three times and repeating, “There’s no place like home.”

Dorothy’s entire quest was useless! Her journey was unnecessary and dangerous. Her not okay few days could have been averted if a powerful being had simply revealed the end of the plot. Then I continued thinking. The Wizard of Oz is Dorothy’s story from a selfish girl who doesn’t appreciate her blessings in Kansas to a selfless young woman who loves her home. Without this road of trials (a staple of every hero’s journey, by the way) her transformation would have been impossible. Glenda is not a jerk. She wants what’s best for Dorothy, even if that requires trials.

 Locked in the Witch’s Castle

We are often like Dorothy, locked in the witch’s castle, crying out to Glenda for help and wondering why she won’t save us. In fact, sometimes, we might never get out of that castle. We might lose our life for our faith. Our life on this side of eternity may never be okay. But that’s not inherently bad. God knows what is best for us. Sometimes, that might require a long road of trials. The challenge to us is to learn to trust His infinite wisdom and find joy in the suffering. Paul also addresses this in his letter to the Romans:

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice  in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:2-5)

 Suffering and the Master Author

Suffering is for our own good. A not okay life can be a good life. The road of trials is a blessing because, without it, we would not become heroes. Yes, it might not be okay for a while. It might not ever be okay. But that is good. If you have given your life to God, He’s the One writing your story. I once heard an author say that the way you test a character’s mettle and grow him is by putting him through hell. God is the master Author. He knows how to best write your story. Through a not okay season, you can learn lessons that you would not otherwise learn and grow in ways you would not have otherwise grown. The challenge is to open ourselves up to the grand plot around us. All things, even our trials, will work together for good, whether that be our good, our companions’ good, or the good of the world. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t just sound like an okay life. That sounds like a great life!     

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