A Practice for the Dark Times

“God’s in control-it will all turn out OK.”

“God will protect your baby, you just need to have faith.”

“God has good plans for you-to prosper you, not to harm you. You need to trust his promises.”

These were just a few of the well-intentioned words of encouragement people in my church family offered me as my husband and I navigated two long months of worry during my first pregnancy. We’d learned that our baby’s brain development wasn’t within normal limits; tests revealed that he may have a mentally disabling and life-threatening problem.

Though I appreciated my friends’ attempts to offer reassuring words-trust me, I felt desperate for reassurance-they rang hollow. I knew the platitudes weren’t quite true. God might allow my son to have a damaged brain, or worse. Things don’t always “turn out OK” and God doesn’t guarantee that if we just trust him hard enough, there will be a happy ending. After all, I knew devoted, prayerful Christians whose children had birth defects.

I eventually got the news I’d longed for: my baby’s brain development turned out to be healthy and within normal limits. But during those months of tests and waiting, I’d faced an important reality: we don’t decide God’s trustworthy once we can look back at a situation and say everything turned out OK. God calls us to trust him before the “happy ending.” We’re called to trust him during those moments when we know in our gut that things may turn out horribly, painfully wrong.

Last night in our small group we talked about the spiritual discipline of submission-the idea of submitting to God’s will in our lives when it doesn’t fit at all with our own plans or desires. One member of our group shared about a period of several years during which times were very tough. This friend struggled with an ongoing anger, bitterness, and frustration at God for the extremely difficult circumstances and the feeling that there was no hope in sight.

Then somehow this friend began a new spiritual practice –to put it in modern terms, this friend began practicing Random Acts of Kindness. Though my friend was experiencing deep inner darkness and discouragement, this friend asked God daily for an opportunity to show kindness or service to others. And most days, God did just that. Though my friend’s discouraging circumstances didn’t change, my friend’s outlook did change through this practice. My friend was able to take the focus off of “self” and onto others. This transformed spiritual inertia into spiritual momentum. This unlikely practice helped my friend make it through a very bad time.

And the truth is that God does allow bad things to happen to us, from personal hardships to national tragedies to natural disaster. No amount of great faith will prevent tragedy from touching us. And if our belief is built on the false hope that God will always keep us safe and happy, it will be a faith that won’t pass the test of life. Jesus promised: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But alongside that declaration of reality stands another truth from Scripture: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…Do not be afraid, for I am with you” (Isaiah 43:2, 5).

My friend who had felt abandoned by God soon experienced the truth of God’s presence. Through each act of kindness, my friend felt God near and within.

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2 responses to “A Practice for the Dark Times

  1. God calls us to trust him before the “happy ending.” We’re called to trust him during those moments when we know in our gut that things may turn out horribly, painfully wrong.

    What are we trusting him for? It seems to me that when well meaning people say “trust God,” they are saying that God will either give me what I want or somehow redeem a tragedy for good. Are they those the only two options for what people mean when they “trust God?”

  2. Good point. I think that we often have a superficial understanding of what trusting God means. The reality is, it isn’t just believing things will turn out to benefit us. I think two good examples from Scripture that point to the answer here are Job and the people of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11. Job’s story is so awful, it feels like hyperbole. And I really don’t think it can be said that Job has a happy ending. Sure, he gets more kids and more possessions at the end –but won’t he always be deeply wounded by the loss of his (first) children? Won’t his faith always be marked by the turmoil he’s gone through? Will he ever again feel “safe” with God (in the comfortable sense we often think of)? Then Hebrews 11 points out, over and over again, that these people are commended basically because they never got their happy ending — at least not here on earth. The focus is entirely on the “ultimate ending” — heaven.
    Trusting God, at its most basic level I think, has to do with very simply clinging to the truth that God is God–is powerful, is supreme, is the ruler of all–and that this life is not all there is.

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