“… [God’s] good, pleasing, and perfect will.” ~ Romans 12:2
“Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” ~ Matthew 26:38-39
So, after almost a whole year of silence on this blog what would you choose to write about first? Surely not the will of God? I must be out of my mind. Well, that might not be too far from the truth (easy) given my emotional state throughout this past year. In fact, I imagine that’s some of the reason for my silence over this past year.
Quite a few weeks ago now, I watched an interesting interaction during an adult Sunday school class I was a part of. Towards the end of our discussion one person spoke up saying, “I hope this church doesn’t become like some other churches I’ve experienced.” He went on to explain himself and described a couple recent conversations he’d had with a couple pastors, one during a funeral, where he made a comment to them about taking comfort in what has transpired as “The will of God.” In both instances the ministers didn’t respond as he expected. They showed more reluctance with the idea of the will of God amidst the pain and suffering they were a part of. I’ve been told many times over, one thing (among many) you should never say to the grieving is, “It was God’s will.”
Continuing on, just after the above person shared his disappointment, another person present spoke up in despair and agony, acknowledging that what he is presently going through in his life is the closest thing to hell he could ever imagine, and if this is the will of God, how can that be comforting? I sat and watched this dialogue happen right in front of my eyes. I didn’t know what to say in the moment, but later as I kept thinking about it it occurred to me that, “I know exactly what this second person was saying!” Now, before you become greatly concerned about me, or even disturbed or disgusted for admitting this, let me say more.
This past year, in relation to the circumstances of my past 4-5 years in ministry and where that finds me and my family today along with other hardships from my youth, has been the hardest year emotionally for me by far. It’s not that other years or times haven’t been difficult. Actually, it stems from basically the sum of all the difficult times over the years. I saw something the other day that said, “Depression doesn’t occur from a lack of strength, but rather from one needing to be strong for so long.” This I believe is true.
To put it into words, I have felt great despair and agony, confusion, anger, and even disillusionment and like I’ve been jaded at times by what seems to be what God has willed for my life presently. Now, those are some strong words. I have a hard time writing them. I can only imagine some of your faces and thoughts as you read them. I also value being real though, and writing about this here can also possibly give another person some peace that they’re not crazy either, or necessarily a bad Christian. This, I believe, is part of being human, and living by faith (not sight) in the midst of a real God.
These days I work as a hospital chaplain, and let me tell you, I have witnessed some of the most horrific circumstances known to man. Any given day (even hour or minute) I can come face to face with extremely heartbreaking scenarios. I visit these people. I come alongside and support them. I listen and empathize with them. I acknowledge them and their hurt, accepting them, and together we affirm some faith in God who knows and has a purpose for all things.
When you think about it, what an awesome thing, even sacred, to get to be a part of with other people. I also believe that Jesus can empathize with us in these moments as well, as the reference to Matthew 26:38-39 above shows. He knows what it’s like to be in great agony and despair and struggle with the will of God. In his agony and despair he goes away 3 times successively praying the same thing, and not with any less feeling or emotion—“Father, if there is any other way! Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus chooses to submit and trust God his Father in this moment while desperately desiring some other way, or will. Jesus even knew the purpose of God’s will in this moment, but that doesn’t lessen his distress and felt misery.
I am reminded of a couple other bible characters in this light as well. Job is an obvious choice as he’s quoted as saying once, “Though he (God) slay me, yet I will hope in him (Job 13:15).” Also Jeremiah, who writes in Lamentations 3, “Gone is my splendor and all that I had hoped for from the Lord… Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.” Many psalms give voice to such complaints and yet trust as well.
Eugene Peterson’s, the Message bible translates a later verse in Lamentations 3 as saying, “Though [God] works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.” A showing of that immense love is in Christ going to the cross even in his agony and despair and dying for us and then rising again from the grave. God did something sacred and awesome there, and he may be doing something similar in your life and in our time as well.
Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry on, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, wrote, “I was right when I was little. Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they cannot be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and live well and hard and real.” Someday, amidst everything, I still believe we will find God’s will to be good, pleasing, and perfect.