Sunday, August 27, 2017

All the time: the (true) Facebook comments that hurt

I was scrolling through social media and stopped to read a few posts. One was from a friend who had recently purchased a new home. Another had accepted a new job offer. Another announced her pregnancy. Another’s loved one was finally in remission from cancer.

As I read each post, I rejoiced with my sisters. I had been praying that many of them would receive these gifts. Through it all, I wanted what was best for them.

But I’ll be honest—the comments were incredibly hard to read, and in some instances moved me to tears. Not happy tears, but tears of frustration and confusion.

We knew you’d get the house! Our God is so good!

Praise God! We have such a good Father.

It was only a matter of time because God is good!


My frustration with these comments caught me off guard.  Why should I be frustrated with the truth of God’s goodness? In spite of our struggles, I still believed in God’s goodness with a whole heart. So why did the comments hit my ears like screechy nails on a chalkboard? Was it jealousy, anger, disbelief, or something else?

I realized my frustration came from extracting underlying messages beneath each comment—many of which had hurt me through the years. The commentators may not have even meant these words, but I could not help but hear them.

Beneath the comments, I heard: God always answers our prayers exactly how we want when we ask with faith because he loves us. God is good because your prayer was answered and the healing came. When good things happen, it means God is good. When bad things happen, he must be bad or maybe just doesn’t love you as much as everyone else.

The above comments weren’t written in words, but I couldn’t help but read them underneath the words appearing on the screen. Each one hurt to see. So many times I wanted to step in and assert God’s goodness even if the deal never closed, unemployment remained, the womb was empty, and the cancer spread. I held back simply because the gifts of the original posters each warranted a celebration, not an argument.  This was a time to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Yet as I wrestled through these comments, something important occurred to me—the statement that God is good is true. You get the house, the car, or the job—God is so good and provides for his children. A new life is conceived—God is so good and sovereign over each life. Your loved one is healed of an illness—God is so good and has the power to heal even the most critical form of disease. There was nothing wrong with the original statements, free from the underlying meanings. The commentators should continue to declare God’s goodness. His name deserves to be praised. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge God’s goodness when the earthly good we hope for never comes. God was and is good in the season of waiting, in the pain, and in the "no". His goodness is not conditional.

I must add that we can know something is true, and not always feel it. I know God is good all the time, but there are times when my feelings don't match up and I wrestle to make peace with this tension. When you don't feel the goodness, cling to the promise that it is there--but don't feel shame for the deep grief or the struggle. I think God knows this is all going to be pretty uncomfortable, and beckons us to keep our eyes fixed on Christ--the one who will set all of this discomfort right for eternity. At the times when I felt the most pain, I needed others to show me God's love--the words didn't always comfort, but the love displayed through shared tears, warm meals, and unconditional availability did.

You lost the house—God is still good in this hard season, even when we cannot see. What a blessing that Christ is preparing an eternal place for us with him.

You still aren’t pregnant—God is so good and draws near to the brokenhearted. He provides opportunities be fruitful in our lives, even when the womb is not.

The physical healing never came—In the midst of the pain and anguish, what a blessing to have such a hope in Jesus. God is so good and sacrificed so much to offer us eternal healing.

So yes, God is good. All the time. May we declare his goodness not only in seasons of celebration, but when our dreams unravel and our hearts ache. May we fix our eyes on Christ and all he has done of us, and allow our hearts to be overwhelmed by the glory of his goodness.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

I still have hope

The surrender of a dream is a painful process. In fact, we rarely allow ourselves to consider that some plans may never come to fruition. When we see our friends’ plans begin to unravel, we often offer platitudes such as “Don’t give up” and “Don’t lose hope.”

But what do we mean when we say these things? What does it mean to “never give up” or to “cling to hope”?

Hours after our newborn son passed away, a nurse squeezed my hand and spoke the words. “Don’t lose hope,” she said. “You’ll have another one.” I heard the same words after our second loss and again after our third.  

I heard the words again after we lost our twins—raising our count to five babies in heaven. A nurse intently listened to my medical history with sympathetic eyes. “Don’t give up,” she said gently.

I tiredly shook my head. “I think this is it for me,” I said, doing my best to offer a kind smile. I cannot describe the disappointment and the shock I saw on her face. Her eyes glistened with tears and I felt as if I had crushed her spirit.  “Oh honey, don’t say that,” she said. “Don’t give up hope.”

In that moment I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate all that I hold in my heart. I haven’t given up hope; I’ve simply redirected my hope to where it should have always been.

I want to make it absolutely clear that there is nothing wrong with hoping for children.  We have a God-given desire to be fruitful and to disciple. Children are a blessing and Jesus has made his love for children extremely clear. We have the freedom to desire children. Many of us are given the opportunity to birth and to raise the future generations. This is a beautiful, God-given task.

In the same vein, we’ve also been given the freedom grieve those we have lost. Death is the result of a broken world and we have complete permission to mourn and lament this brokenness.

The problem isn’t in what we hope for. The problem is when we completely place our hope on something other than Jesus. The very best things in the world—most of which are things God has blessed us with and are worth celebrating—will never bring us true contentment. Only Christ can fill the void that is in our hearts. 

I have no expectations of ever becoming pregnant again. Could God open my womb and give us more children? Yes. Will we be pursuing this? No—not unless he clearly leads us in this direction. Could he give them to us anyway? Absolutely. I do not know God’s plans for the future and I will not try to predict them--I never expected to become pregnant again before our twins, yet I was graciously given time to carry and cherish them. I trust him with the rest of our story. 

People are combative toward this answer. I’m often met with reactions similar to that of the kind nurse—shock, horror, and the assumption that we’ve simply lost all hope.

The truth is, our hearts have been filled with such hope. Something changed in us after our third loss. For the first time, we both felt excited about a future that may not include additional pregnancies. The realization rocked us at first, but we came to embrace it with joy—it was, and still is, a genuine realization. It was not a “coping mechanism” for heartache or “lowering our standards” to make ourselves feel better—the realization was true and still stands. We are able to look forward to the future with excitement, even if that future does not include more babies.

Before the twins, God began to stir a new thing in our hearts. The specifics were, and still are, a bit hazy—but we began to feel so dissatisfied with our hopes for an easy life where all of our plans unfold without a hitch. We began to feel drawn toward the broken, the unreached, the forgotten, and the orphan. Our hearts yearned for the adventure of missional living. The pull is still there—the specifics still hazy. But we have hope that God will continue to open and close doors as we continue to run forward, just as he has through our entire journey thus far.

Hope and grief can live hand in hand. This hope does not take away from the ache that is in our hearts. This ache is a reminder that this broken world is not our home, and makes Christ’s death and resurrection that much sweeter. We still grieve, ache, and cry out with tearful eyes. But just as our hope does not take away our grief, our grief does not take away our hope.

I have not given up, nor have I lost hope. I’ve simply redirected my hope to where it counts. While we may have completely changed lanes, we have not given up. Please do not mistake the two.

There is joy in this sorrow. God had promised me many incredible things—but good health, an easy life, and even healthy babies were never one of them. In fact, he promised that this life would be full of suffering—but to take heart and cling to hope, because HE had overcome and would return to restore all that is broken. When I think of this, I cannot help but be filled with such hope.