This morning as I enter into prayer, I find a strange gratitude welling up inside of me. Gratitude in general is unusual enough for me. But I review scenes of my past and find them a wellspring of gratitude that I wasn't expecting.
Let me be clear. I'm not grateful that these things happened. Bad things happen to everyone, and God is not some ogre who gets his jollies from this.
When bad things happen, I at least (and I'm guessing this is rather true of everyone) become an expert wall builder. I don't want to feel the bad thing, so I wall it off. I snip the nerves that connect me to the experience. When you lay on your arm or leg and it goes numb, it feels heavy and useless, but it doesn't really hurt. It is after you free it that it starts to hurt. So a common and maybe subconscious reaction to emotional pain is to numb it, one way or the other. I have always done this with my mind. Some people do this with addictions. It's all the same mechanism, I think.
So part of the wonder is that all of this is now out of anesthesia. What was master is becoming servant.
I can trace through a whole list:
My father's mental illness and alcoholism, apparently in full swing already when I was born. His absence, in turn with my parents' fighting. My parents' divorce and my mother's stress and an utterly tumultuous relationship with my dad (for all of us). Feeling like a piece of furniture in a house rather than a member of a family. Gut-wrenching desperation and fear over chronic singleness, concurrent with toxic and sometimes abusive relationships with men who proverbially had red flags tattooed all over their faces. Anger and desperation over infertility. Spiritual confusion all along the way over what God's love actually is and layers upon layers of deception that I embraced. And the terror of trusting through actually being healed.
I am not grateful that a single bit of that happened. Except that last word, of course.
I am grateful to realize that God, by His Spirit, was closer to me than I to myself, through all of that. He never abandoned me. He never gave up on me. He never lost patience with me.
Why didn't He stop it all? In answer to that, I'll invite you to watch Season 4 of The Chosen. In this world, things are unleashed. It's the way things are. Jesus did not come to stop the bad things; He came to go through them with us. He gave me the dose of grace I could handle, and infinitely more than I deserved as I consistently rejected and resisted His efforts to draw me closer sooner.
The end, the telos, of humankind is not a happy life on earth. We are made for something much more profound than that. We are made for union with God, forever in eternity, and with eternity starting now and entered into now. And as I see my past and see Jesus with me (which I absolutely, totally and completely, could never see in real time) I see the capacity I have within me now to receive the life of God into me. If I'm a thimble, God will fill me and I'll be a full thimble. If I'm a bowl, God will fill me and I'll be a full bowl. Swimming pool, crater, canyon. We don't have to make hollowing ourselves out a project; life does that. God will always, always, pour out Himself more abundantly than we can hold, because His love is always beyond our power to hold. Our work is to receive from Him and believe what He says.
And I know that whatever may come, this is the reality. I don't like pain and suffering. But I also don't have to fear it or dread it. Because God is faithful.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)