When I was in college I took a class called “Violence and Grace in the Novel.” On the first day of class our professor gave us the following exercise as our first homework assignment. She told us to take a sheet of notebook paper and draw a line down the middle. And then she said, “On the left side of the line, I want you to write down every single thing you can think of in your life where you feel like you got “a bum deal.” Write down every heartache, every sorrow, every painful and disappointing thing that has happened to you. And then…on the right side of the paper next to each experience and sorrow I want you to write out how you have seen God bring about what He intended for good, in what Satan intended for evil.” I still remember vividly what I was feeling the first time I did this assignment. As I wrote down every sorrow, suffering, and painful experience in the left hand column I felt sadness, anger, disappointment, and fear. I remember lots of tears.
But then, I started filling out the other side. This was not a mere exercise in shallow, wishful positivity, it was an exercise in seeing the very heart of God. Most of the things I filled out were aspects of God’s character that He revealed to me through suffering and sorrow. Many of those were things I never could have known about Him on the right, if it wasn’t for what I so badly wished had not happened on the left. You simply cannot know what it is to be “blessed” by the comfort of God…if you haven’t truly mourned. As I finished my list and looked just at the right side of the page I was absolutely overwhelmed by the goodness of God. All of the things on the right column…were the very best things in my life. Not always the happiest or easiest moments, but the very best of what life is about, because they were my opportunities to know the Lord and His love more.
Yesterday, I finished the book “A Grace Disguised.” My favorite part is at the very end when Jerry Sittser says of the drunk driving accident that killed his wife, mother and little girl,
“The accident remains now, as it always has been, a horrible experience that did great damage to us and to so many others. It was and will remain a very bad chapter. But the whole of my life is becoming what appears to be a very good book.”
I’ve been thinking about those words all morning as I plod through another long day of living the rest of my life without the child I love so much. There are some things about Charlie’s death that will simply be my lifelong sorrow. I will never, ever want this. I will never, ever stop missing my baby and wishing this story were different. No matter how much good comes of this wound, this will always be a very dark, agonizing chapter in my overall book. A chapter filled with heartbreak and many long nights of the soul where Satan has worked hard to try and accomplish what he intended for evil. Discouragement. Despair. Doubts. Depression. Death. And death, no matter how universal, no matter how ordained by God…is still incredibly and permanently painful.
But, God has not left me, and this is not the end of this chapter. Today I did something very good for my very broken soul. I whipped out a sheet of paper, and more than a decade after I was in that college class…I redid that first homework assignment. I sat down with the Lord Jesus and my notebook paper, and I thought hard about every painful part of the “bum deal” of Charlie’s death. I sat with my Savior. I sat down with the One who, I believe with all my heart, intended for Charlie to die after 300 precious days in my womb. I believe this, because HE holds the keys to death and life and several places in His Word tell me so. I believe this, because He is the Sovereign Lord of all and countless places in His Word tell me so.
Then I moved on to the right column. I wrote down every single way that I can see already how what Satan intended for evil…my loving Father has intended for good. It was painful to do. And honestly, it was uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for my finite human soul to wrap my mind and heart around the reality that all of life’s most painful moments (which I would still do anything to erase if I could) are also used by God to bring about the significant moments in our hearts journey towards Him. It is painful that all of the violence in our lives…leads to all the grace. But it is so. We can’t get around it. Life is pain. And pain brings us to God. And being brought to God…in the end, is the ONE thing in our entire lives that truly matters. Being brought to God is the one thing alone…that makes even the very bad chapters…preludes to our very good books.
Dear friends, if I could challenge you to do one thing that will radically change your outlook on the painful moments in your life…it is to take out a sheet of notebook paper and sit down with the Lord of all. I believe it will help you greatly as God continues to write both suffering and grace in your book too.