One of the many lovely things about Christmas and the New Year is the way families and friends come together around the table for a meal. The dimly lit dining room aglow with reflections of the Christmas tree and Percy Faith’s Holiday album hanging in the air seem to cast a spell on those huddled around its oak belly. For most folks, the eating doesn’t stop when the last of the Prime Rib is dipped in au jus; instead, the feast continues with all varieties of sugary goodness: frosted, chocolately, cut-into-shapes, sprinkled, and embellished to the point that eating these small pieces of art seems paramount to some kind of sin.
Once the final page is torn from the calendar and I must face a new week in old jeans, I am left feeling heavy. All this unrestrained, recreational eating ultimately leaves me with sludge in my shoes and a brick in my gut. [Enter New Year’s Resolutions and daydreams about Bob Harper :)]
Sometimes, though, heaviness is not about what I ate. Sometimes it sneaks in the back door from unexpected places: a weird conversation. Feeling slighted. Hearing of another’s sadness. Seeking shalom in your community, only to find that it evades.
This kind of heaviness settles like a hefty wig about my head. It wears like cumbersome shoulder pads. Follows me like a lonely pup. Sometimes, as my husband says, I “drive the struggle bus”. I like to think that I do a commendable job of keeping the bus on the road and getting it into park after a short trip around the block, but if I’m honest, I’d rather quit driving it altogether.
Struggles are not new to humanity, nor are they unique to me or you. Maybe other people, older and wiser no doubt, are just better equipped to deal with them. I guess each of us has our own propensities and gifts, and mine appears to be making really good guacamole. Not dealing with certain stripes of adversity.
Christians like to say things like, “Well, I guess God must be wanting to teach me something, because I’m really dealing with a lot of strife.”
I don’t know what to think about this, although I’m sure it’s come out of my own mouth many times. Perhaps it’s human nature to look for the silver lining and try to make meaning out of confusion. But what does that comment really mean?
That people living with a terminal illness need to be taught a lesson?
That single men and women must learn something before they can continue down the path of finding a mate?
That if my friend on the brink of divorce would just “get it”, God would reverse the situation?
…which raises all sorts of other questions:
God, if I learn this “thing”, will you remove this heaviness?
Will you heal this man if he achieves the lesson objective?
Are, then, those without struggles not in need of teaching? Do they have it “all together”? They somehow “figured it out”?
I don’t know. This type of theology seems too transactional for me. Do this and I’ll give you what you want. Learn the lesson and I’ll change things for you. Conditional love? Conditional provision?
When Jesus was in the Garden, He prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” [Mk 14:36] How did God respond to this prayer? With a crowd of mocking scoffers and wooden beams hoisted up, nails holding the weight of the world. Despite his prayers, God [thankfully] did not stop the events leading to our Salvation. And what of the Apostle Paul? In 2 Cor. 12:7-10 he speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” that he thrice asks the Lord to remove–to no avail.
What are we to think?
Friends, I’ve put on a different pair of glasses and am looking through a new lens this year. I still spend considerable time in self-examination, trying to discern whether God is revealing anything about me while I’m driving the bus. Maybe after removing a few layers I’ll come away with a decision to make some changes. To do better next time. To ask for forgiveness.
The irony is that struggle often does reveal our weaknesses [as Paul discusses]. But never is it promised that our ability to detect those weaknesses or to “learn something” would guarantee that we will now live in blissful abundance, grinning from ear-to-ear and eating ice cream for breakfast.
Struggle happens in a sinful world. Struggle happens when things aren’t the way God designed them to be in Eden.
So until Jesus comes back to make all things new [Rev. 21:5], I guess we’ll all be driving the bus.
I have to make peace with that.