As a latecomer to Christ, I have found myself looking back on my life recently and - yet again - thanking God for the hard things I've lived through.
No, I'm not a liar, though you could be forgiven for snorting and scoffing right about now. Or for wondering if I'm a bit of a masochist.
In those moments now relegated to history, of course, I didn't appreciate the pain. In fact, most of the time I should confess I struggled with at least a little anger and not a small amount of self-pity. Thinking I surely didn't deserve to go through "this" - whatever "this" was at the time - I struggled to appreciate the pain as I was living through it.
But as I look back on the multitude of experiences that (at the time) I hated, I can now see God's great love for me in denying peace, withholding pleasures, or sustaining difficulty for a season. I learned something every time, and I've come to appreciate a slightly different perspective when I see myself entering yet another season that looks to be..."less than pleasurable."
Having begun another semester of DivorceCare in the last couple of weeks, I have found myself more often telling people that God's plan for our lives - while it may not look "good" from our perspective - is perfect, as He often uses pain and difficulty to strengthen our faith or draw us back to Himself. He often withholds something we are beseeching Him for, as He alone can see that we are begging for something that will ultimately lead to our own destruction.
Valley of Vision, earlier this week, and it's really stuck with me, so I very much wanted to share it:
ChoicesIn an age of steadily-declining reverence and interest in personal holiness, I just love how those Puritans spoke to their Maker.
Though I am allowed to approach thee
I am not unmindful of my sins,
I do not deny my guilt,
I confess my wickedness, and earnestly plead forgiveness.
May I with Moses choose affliction rather than
enjoy the pleasures of sin.
Help me to place myself always under thy guiding and guardian care,
to take firmer hold of the sure covenant that binds me to thee,
to feel more of the purifying, dignifying,
softening influence of the religion I profess,
to have more compassion, love, pity, courtesy,
to deem it an honour to be employed by thee
as an instrument in thy hands,
ready to seize every opportunity of usefulness,
and willing to offer all my talents to thy service.
Thou hast done for me all things well,
has remembered, distinguished, indulged me.
All my desires have not been gratified,
but thy love denied them to me
when fulfillment of my wishes would have
proved my ruin or injury.
My trials have been fewer than my sins,
and when I have kissed the rod it has fallen
from thy hands.
Thou has often wiped away my tears,
restored peace to my mourning heart,
chastened me for my profit.
All thy work for me is perfect,
and I praise thee.
While the entire prayer resonates with me, it is the italicized portion that I've been so drawn to this week, particularly as I talk to other women going through the deeply-painful trials of divorce, separation or marital conflict. So often, when we find ourselves in the midst of a difficult situation, we beg God to remove the pain from our lives. Far from looking at conflict as an opportunity to be drawn deeper into our relationship with Christ and our dependence upon Him, we just want to get out of a situation.
And yet it's that lesson of dependence - that without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), and that His power is only perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) - that it takes us a lifetime to learn. It often takes uncontrollable situations to remind us, teach us, force us to acknowledge that God is in control, we are not, and our very breath is dependent on Him.
What a gift to be able to see - from the perspective of hindsight - that God was faithfully fulfilling promises even in those dark times, even when we cannot see in the moment and would most assuredly never choose it, had we been abandoned to pursue our own "better" agendas.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Count is all joy, myt brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.