Not long after I wrecked my car back in 2011, I had a long conversation with Pastor Larry in which he told me that one thing that helps him gain perspective during difficult times in his life is to consider those around the world who have it much worse than we do. I heard him, and I agreed in theory with what he was saying, but I have a bit of a confession. When I finished talking to him, I called my “person” (you know, that friend who always has your back, and doesn’t get distressed if things come out of your mouth that don’t sound all that spiritual), and I expressed to her that at that exact moment I did not have the wherewithal to care about what other people were having to deal with. I knew I should care that others’ lives were worse than mine, but I just didn’t want to think about it. She agreed with Larry. She also is in the habit of considering those whose lives are more difficult than her own, to remind herself of all that she has to be thankful for. Even so, I could not muster the energy to compare and contrast. At that time, instead of making me thankful, it just made the world seem overwhelmingly sad and tragic. “My life is bad, theirs is worse, and woe is the whole universe.” It took a while for me to come to a place where I could gain the right perspective.
I think it started when I read Joni Eareckson Tada’s book, A Place of Healing: Wrestling With the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty. As I considered Joni’s life, and how every single thing in it has been difficult since that fateful accident when she was a teen that left her a paraplegic, I realized that what I have “suffered” doesn’t even dignify the word. Not only has she suffered far more than I have been asked to endure, she has done it with a heart that desires to be used by God.
After reading Joni’s book, I read several books about the Holocaust. Being reminded of the atrocities that so many people endured for years during WWII helped to sharpen the focus on all I have to be thankful for, here in my large, warm house surrounded by people who love me, able to worship freely, living in society without persecution for my genetic heritage. From there, I went on to read of present day Christians who live in a society where they are regularly jailed for their beliefs. They are denied jobs, shunned by their communities, forced to have abortions, deprived of basic needs, the list goes on. What do I have to complain about? It has been helpful.
I think my tendency is to center my thoughts on what is not to my liking. I can, at any given moment, list all the things about my life that have not lived up to my expectations. As much as I criticize it in others, I have inborn in me a sense of entitlement. When things are difficult, I find myself thinking, “This is not how it should be!” There is a point at which that is a true statement. Before sin entered the world, bringing along with it death, things were not this way. There was a peace and a harmony to the world that no longer exists. So, yes, this is not how things should be. But what I am really thinking when my heart protests in this way is more along the lines of, “I deserve better!” Well, what makes that the case? Is it that I have lived such a good life? What makes me more deserving than these other believers whose lives are so much more complicated and difficult than mine? And am I really saying that I know better than God what will conform me to the image of His Son?
So I have joined the ranks of those who think about how good my life is compared to others. I remind myself that I have little to complain about. And I become thankful. I was telling a friend of mine about this a few weeks back in a Facebook message, and she responded with this, ” When I am able to, I take a nap these days after lunch, and it never fails, as I lay down I think of the women in Africa (and around the world) who are walking miles for water, who don’t have beds or the protection of a home, who are hungry and tired. I look out the window and see the rain or the heat waves or the cold wind and think, what a luxury to take a nap on my bed, in comfort. Thank you God.” Yes! This is the way to keep that complaining spirit at bay. Remember all the little luxuries of life that we take for granted.
Interestingly enough, I learned another layer of this lesson at a funeral for the son of an old friend. It was a tragic death of one who seemed far too young to die. It would have been easy for the family to drown in the unanswered questions, and to grow a veritable forest from the seeds of bitterness that wanted to take root. And yet, the message that the parents gave was this, “God gives.” It would have been easy to concentrate on the second part of the verse they referenced from Job, “The Lord gave, and The Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Surely in this situation it would have been permissible to spend some time considering what had been taken from them in the unexpected death of their only son, who had just seen his 20th birthday. There are other circumstances in the life of this family that just seem to add insult to injury. And yet. Their message that day was this, The Lord GIVES. It was not glib. It was not without grief. It was not that they did not feel the overwhelming loss. Instead it was a conscious decision on their parts to remember all that the Lord had given. It is a choice that I want to make as well.
I am in good health. The Lord gives.
I have a large home with electricity and propane that is keeping me warm and protecting me from the below freezing temperatures of this day. The Lord gives.
My cupboards are full of food. The Lord gives.
I still have both my parents and all four of my siblings, and their spouses, and their children and my husband, and my children and my grandchildren. The Lord gives.
I have a closet full of clothing and shoes. The Lord gives.
I have a church family with which I am able to fellowship on a weekly basis, if not in person, then by the various electronic avenues available to me. The Lord gives.
I have financial income. The Lord gives.
I have pastors who are committed to my spiritual welfare, who shepherd me in keeping with the example set out by the Great Shepherd. The Lord gives.
I have been shown mercy by the triune God, who adopted me as His child through the sacrifice of His Son, and sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within me. The Lord gives.
The Lord gives so much more than He ever takes away from me. Because of the work of His Son, nothing in this life can compare to that which I have been given. He has secured for me a life of peace and rest and communion with God and His people for eternity. If, for a little while, I do without some of the comforts of this passing life, then that is ok. It is nothing compared to the glory that is to come. It is this understanding that makes it possible for Job, and my friends, and for me, to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
I love the contemporary song that has been written from this verse. Many times I have sung through my sobbing, “He gives and takes away, He gives and takes away, my heart will always say, blessed be the name of the Lord.” I weep, because I come to this song when my heart is breaking over perceived loss. But I want to be mindful to come to this song when my heart is bursting over what has been given, as well. I want to sing it when I can emphasize “He gives” as opposed to ” He takes away”. I don’t want to wait until the time is dark and I have to compare my life to those who suffer more in order to bring myself to the point of blessing His name. He gives. He gives! He gives! Blessed be the name of the Lord.