Have you ever had a really bad day? A day when nothing seemed like it was going your way?
Maybe you’ve heard the story about the guy headed somewhere who gets on the plane to get there. Unfortunately, the plane starts to crash and he runs for the back of the plane. Fortunately, there are parachutes. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough for him. Fortunately, the he sees a haystack in a field below and he jumps. Unfortunately, as he gets closer, he sees that the haystack has a pitchfork sticking out of it. Fortunately, he misses the pitchfork… and the haystack, too.
Doesn’t our life have a cyclic pattern to it sometimes, where we can see God moving after we see something unfortunate/terrible/bothersome?
The truth is, most of us would avoid bad things happening if we could. A few years ago, Steven Spielberg made a film called Minority Report where some special cops (led by Tom Cruise) stop crimes before they’re committed. The whole idea is that if we had the ability to know the future, most of us would edit our futures.
But what if there’s a purpose for the bad stuff?
Frederick Buechner writes, “God’s coming is always unforeseen, I think, and the reason is, if I had to guess, is that if he gave us anything much in the way of advance warning, more often than not we would have made ourselves scarce long before he got there.”
I’m not sure I’m ready to call everything from Romans 8:28-37 a “miracle” but I think that too often, we fail to see when God shows up because we don’t have the right attitude.
Lou Holtz tells a story about a man who was late for a job interview at a big corporate meeting. He’s been circling the parking lot for ten minutes and prays, “God, if you’ll help me find a parking space, I’ll quit drinking, go to church, and be a good Christian.” Almost instantaneously, a parking space appears in front of him and he darts into the building, tossing back over his shoulder, “Nevermind, God, I found one!”
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Now, I’m sure we could have a field day with Romans 8:31 “If God is with us, who can stand against us?” or Romans 8:35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” or Romans 8:37 “no, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
This is a wonderful portion of t-shirt slogans and inspirational moments for the church in this little portion of Romans. But 8:28 stands out because I think it’s the most troubling… and the most foundational.
Paul says that we know – do we know, or are we being reminded? – that God works for good in all things for those who love him.
Paul doesn’t say that God works some of the time in some things.
Paul doesn’t say that God works, but only in the good things.
Paul says that God works all of the time in all things for all who love him.
John Ortberg tells a story about an older woman who locked her keys in the car and prayed to God that someone would help her. As she opened her eyes, she looked up to see a tattooed, bearded, burly man approaching her in biker’s leather and a do-rag. “Really, God?” she asked under her breath. “Um, sir, can you break into my car?” She asked. “I’ve locked my keys in the car.”
The man took her the rusted hanger she’d unsuccessfully tried to pick the lock with, and within seconds, he was holding open the door to her car.
“You’re such a nice man!” she cried, jumping to hug him around the neck.
“No, I’m not,” the man gruffly replied, “I just got out of prison for auto theft.”
“Oh, thank God!” she replied. “I prayed and God sent me an expert!”
I have to admit: I have a hard time seeing the tough moments as blessings sometimes. I think that’s why I like the juxtaposition of Matt Redman’s verses in “Blessed Be Your Name”:
Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name
It’s should be relatively easy to see God’s plan when the road is easy, and the material, emotional, and spiritual blessings are flowing down, but what about in the bad stuff?
Buechner writes, “The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilty recrimination and retreat that makes us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.”
Studies have proven that we most of us have “negativity dominance” (Richard Beck). We have a tendency to see the bad, to even let the bad overwhelm the good. The example used is that if a cockroach falls into lemonade, the lemonade is corrupted because of the cockroach – no matter how much lemonade we might be dealing with (a glass, pitcher, ocean). One cockroach can spoil the whole thing. It’s why “disgust” is considered to be “psychologically promiscuous,” because through that learned behavior, we tend to focus on the bad stuff.
[For the record, my wife says I should write a book called The Power of Positive Thinking, which is (of course), sarcastic.]
But what if we didn’t see that “bad” sometimes had to happen for “good” to result?
A seed has to die to fall to the ground and grow into a tree.
Jesus had to die on the cross to be resurrected from the tomb.
We have to die to ourselves to become more like Jesus.
And in the midst of it all, God works good in both what we consider good and bad. God doesn’t create the bad, but God can certainly use it.
So, wise readers/listeners, I did what any preacher would do — I asked my Facebook friends to share their stories about how something bad was turned into something good. I didn’t specify whether God was in it or not: listen to what happened.
My colleague, Glen Riggs, shared with me that he was let go from a job and learned that if he had not been prepared, his family would have been in deep trouble. “I learned that with government assistance, you cannot buy many needed things including toilet paper, diapers, paper towels, laundry detergent soap, and disinfectant spray,” Glen says. “It motivated me to start a project through my old church to supply those things to families in need and that project has now been going for six years and serve over five hundred families.”
Glen adds, “Then I decided to listen to God more, and after seven years of not answering…now I am a preacher.”
A pastor friend, Ben Horrocks shared that checking out a suspected hernia lead to the discovery of cancer. He’s been in remission for four years now. He still doesn’t know if he had a hernia or not, but he knows that checkup saved his life.
Rachel Hundley, a young adult and social worker, says, “Well, of course there are the ways that my personal faith was developed following the sudden death of family members. My grandparents drowned when I was 17, 6 days before I went off to college, and now I look back on it and know that I might not have made it through that first semester away from home if it weren’t for the countless number of people that didn’t forget about me and my grief even though I was away from home.
But also, and more recently, I had (have) a really hard time with my Dad and Stepmom being so far away in California. But I believe that it was no accident that they moved to California and Dad was diagnosed with Lymphoma 3 months later… and they live 1 mile from one of the best cancer centers in the country.”
Lawyer and baseball coach, Joe Moore, has a daughter named Macie who was diagnosed with leukemia. “After Macie was diagnosed with leukemia, an entire group of teachers from her daycare showed up at church the following Sunday,” he says. “Some had never been or not been in a while. Several of them are still coming to church and serving on a regular basis!”
The mother of one of my good friends and the first person to respond to the “What If All The Children Had Coats?” blog, Dawn Lee shared a story about her family’s struggle… and resilience with God’s help.
“We were in the midst of trying to finish our Cape Cod’s second floor by ourselves, SLOWLLLLLY, and a horrendous thunderstorm came through, with lightning hitting our house. The 2x4s that were starting to frame the rooms upstairs provided evenly spaced kindling, and the attic went up in flames FAST, and then the ceiling started to break through.
Water and smoke destroyed almost everything we had, but thanks to an eight–year-old neighbor who saw the flames, we got out before it was too late. The good that came from that was an appreciation for what’s really important in life, a knowledge that ‘stuff’ is just ‘stuff’, an outpouring of love from neighbors, friends, and strangers. One church friend went out that very night and bought each of us the basics—-shoes, underwear, and toothbrushes, so we could get through the first night/day. Others brought food, furniture, toys. It was an awful time, but we ending up being blessed over and over, and were able to even hire the contractors who were rebuilding the downstairs to finish the upstairs for us.
Some years later we were able to walk alongside another family as they spent their first day digging through the “debris” in their yard that had been their life. Leaving that house even twenty-two years after the fire was difficult, because we learned so much there about home.”
Another pastor shared, “I left ministry in 2006 because, I said, if the [denomination] wanted to die, it would have to do it without taking me along with it. That led to a move out of state, which led to being geographically in a new [denominational] [area], which led to me exploring possibilities there, which led to me becoming a new church planter. Which would have never happened in the first place had I not become so frustrated with the dying [denomination] to leave in the first place” (Matt Meisenhelter).
Rick shares, “I planned to attend to Mary Washington College. I had a few deadhead friends there and an old girlfriend. I did not get in. But I got into Longwood and met wife and loved the college. Next week, our oldest daughter applies to Longwood. In August my wife and I celebrate twenty years married. And happily.”
Bambi shared, “How about, the absolute alcoholic rock bottom I hit in the summer of 2011? The night I was blindingly intoxicated, and missed formation and combatives (Army reserve training) the next morning. I sent an email to someone, who in turn sent someone to help, someone I would later find I couldn’t live without, I found God again. and three years, ten months and twenty-eight days later I am STILL sober.”
A friend from seminary, Shannon Fredres shares, “I was married and lived hundreds of miles away from my family. My husband decided to walk away and I was devastated. Now I am able to be where my family is, spending time with my nieces and nephews (which I could never have done in Chicago) and I even met a man who is a MUCH better fit for me than my ex ever was. I know everything always happens for a reason.”
Pastor Tom Lester says, “The economy was not good when I graduated college and I, a committed homebody, moved three hundred miles from my real home, and went through three to four years of what I can only call hell without the handbasket at my job. Did I mention I’m a Meyers-Briggs off the scale introvert? But I met MJ. Tah dah! Her version will be much different!”
Another friend from seminary who has worked with kids in some tough settings, Jenny Williams shared, “Because of my parents’ divorce, and living through that nightmare, I’m better able to understand/minister to the students I work with who are divorced kids. It’s only through the grace and love from God that brings something good out of something horrible. Out of the rape that occurred in college has come a passion to help others through similar situations. When I share that part of my testimony to girls and female college students, many are able to break their silence and share their own abuse stories which opens the door for God’s healing.”
A contractor, and newly-minted licensed local pastor, Jay Harrison shares, “I lost my job two weeks before my Emmaus walk and because I had nothing to worry about God spoke to me and I could finally hear His call to ministry since all “background noise” was gone. Now I have my own business and it supports my ministry in ways my old job could have never allowed.”
Another pastor (and baseball coach), Russ Mason, shares, “In April 2014 I was on the scene of a fatal car accident where an eighteen-year-old, young man was killed on the night of his sister’s birthday (it was a Friday evening around 11 p.m.). That Sunday, we returned to the scene to bring granola bars and water bottles to those who were visiting and paying their respects. At that moment, we met the sister and one of the other young men who was sitting in the back of the car during the accident.
The next day I found myself standing in the living room of the young man who died where I spent two hours talking with the father of the young man and praying with a group of twenty to thirty teenagers. That same night I found myself in the hospital room of the young man who was driving the car that tragic night. In the coming weeks and months, one relationship led to another and by the summer, Shari and I had fifty to one hundred middle school, high school, and college students who were in our lives on a regular basis. All of the families and all of the young people who knew the young man killed in the accident handled this tragedy with great grace, love, compassion, and spiritual understanding. One family even invited us to lead a Bible study in their home! There’s more to the story but that is how one horrific night had many happy endings in the following days, weeks, and months.”
The mother of two wonderful little boys, Shannon Davis shared: “Well for us with Joshuas diagnosis with type 1 diabetes, it was horrific. The doctors told us we were with in 3 hours of him dying, our entire lives changed those five days in the hospital. Everything about it is awful, but because of this horrific disease we have met people we never would have, created amazing relationships, and Joshua testified in the VA senate and house to introduce legislation for type one care in the schools. We have grown as a family, and have stepped into a place we never dreamed of being in. At the age of four and five Joshua was on a first name basis with Senators and Delegates. He has developed a personality that will hopefully help lead change in lots of things in the future. While we HATE this disease and what it has done to our child we are thankful for all it has brought us.”
Joanne’s coworker and friend, Brandy Hobbs shared:
“You know the bad.
The good…. I know that Dean bumping his head changing air filters was a God thing. I remain grateful for the 16 months that we had together after the diagnosis. I am so glad that we were here in Virginia. The friends that we have made here are our new family. They are the reason that the kids and I have no intention of moving back to NC. I have continuously been overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity of others. I have never understood like I do now the powerful connection of the human spirit from one person to another. I could never eloquently explain the gratitude that I have in my heart for all of the kindness that people have shown me since Dean got sick. Although I continue to grieve Dean’s loss, my journey through this makes me want to teach my kids about resilience. I feel like everything we have experienced makes me want to repay kindness to others. Right now, I am more grateful for my life than I have ever been. There is still much uncertainty ahead for me but I have great faith that despite all of the tragedy, the kids and I without question have been blessed beyond measure by the people in our lives. God definitely has favor on my life.
I forgot to mention how much I appreciate all that the doctors, nurses, and health care workers in general did for us. I do not have any regret about the care Dean received and although I prayed for a different outcome, I would not change a thing. Dean loved everyone that was part of his journey and we are grateful to them all. The compassion they showed us was remarkable. Part of the reason Dean was in clinical trials was not only to save his own life but to also hopefully help others. It gives me great peace to know that he did. Hospice nurses should wear capes. Surely, they are everyday heroes.”
In my experience, people with deep faith can handle the hurt. It might take awhile, but somehow, they find a way. Eric Metaxas writes, “if he is actually the God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine, even the bad things can ultimately be a blessing. In fact, God wants us to know that, because our sufferings will be easier to bear if we know that God is with us in the midst of them, leading us toward something ultimately redemptive and beautiful.”
But how we deal with it, how we receive all things, has a lot to do with our attitude, and the way we turn to God and our faith community in both the good and the bad. Somehow, there’s something greater at work, right? Somehow, if we could just hold on … if we could just see the “why” of the situation…
Because, Viktor Frankl says, “in some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment that it finds meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice. Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost many ‘how.'”
I don’t know how you’ll make it through your next struggle, test, temptation, or resistance, but I know why you can.
Rest in the power of Christ Jesus, and know that in all things, God works for good in those who love him.