Everybody loves a happy ending. I am no different. I love a good “happily ever after” story: the infertile couple finally conceives a baby, the cancer patient is cured, a wayward teenager reconciles and returns home! Yes, this is what we were made for! And it’s not wrong to desire, hope and pray for these endings. But what if…the couple’s arms remain empty, the cancer returns or the runaway is never found? What then?
As Christians, we are to consider it all joy when we encounter various trials. (James 1:2) But the truth is we often don’t. Instead, we struggle to make sense of a God who doesn’t line up with our idea of who He is and what He should do. Our knowledge of God and our life circumstances seem in opposition.
How can we reconcile the two and proclaim what Habakkuk does?
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines…
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
How can I?
You see, this is no theory for me. My husband and I are that couple, whose arms remain empty. No miracle child for us. I have tasted the bitterness and gall that Lamentations 3 speaks of and my soul has been downcast within me. I have traveled the long road of grief, and misplaced hope. I was so obsessed with my smaller story, that I forgot it was part of the larger story God was writing. It took me considering that it might be my perspective and understanding that needed changed.
Scripture tells me that God performs mighty deeds for His Name's Sake and that He works things out for good according to His purposes. When the Bible talks over and over about God’s unfailing love and faithfulness, it is to His plan that He is faithful, not mine. God’s purpose is my good, but it is an eternal good; my transformation from death to life, being conformed to the image of His Son. My miracle did not come in the form of an earthly hope fulfilled, but in joy and peace despite my affliction: Christ in me, my hope of glory!
Psalm 119:92 is one of my favorite verses, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” I am thankful for the people in my life, who set an example of loving God’s Word. They inspired me to read, study and fall in love with His Word too. It was in the moments of despair, that the truth I had learned from God’s Word sustained my faith. Though I didn’t feel it, I repeated it, until my feelings matched my faith.
The Holy Spirit used what I knew, combined with faith, to lift me out of the muck and mire. I remember clearly two different moments that shifted my perspective. The first was early on. I had turned to running as my coping mechanism. One day I felt an odd sensation in my Achilles just before heading out on the road. As I ran, I complained to God about the fact He might take my running from me too. His distinct reply was, “I am enough”. In that moment I was filled with conviction that I had been looking to circumstances to satisfy, and joy that I could find satisfaction in Him no matter what. I have continued to run off and on over the years, but only as I have been able to keep it from becoming an idol again.
The second moment was just a year or two ago. Once again I was going over the list of items in life that didn’t work out like I wanted. No career, motherhood, ministry, or healing from my health issues. I had nothing left but God. That is when the proverbial light bulb went off and I realized I was exactly where I needed to be. I once again came face to face with the fact that God is my greatest treasure. He is the one who gives me significance and meaning.
With this awareness, I fully surrendered to His will for my life. I came to truly believe that He is both sovereign and good. Years earlier, at the point of my deepest despair, I chose God over a child, but it wasn’t until recently that I chose it with joy. If not having a child brought Him greater glory and me closer to Him, then I would welcome it. A willingness to accept God’s choice for me, knowing I was in good company with the prophets of old. It is not denial, but hope that enables me to endure with joy.
As C.S. Lewis put it, we currently live in the shadowlands. This realm of grief and joy co-existing. But we know the end of the story. In Christ we are more than conquerors. We will get our “happily ever after” when Christ returns to take us home. Until then, I trust in His unfailing love toward us who believe.