My sweet two-year-old granddaughter experienced her first bout of the stomach flu this weekend. She tried to tell me that she was in pain (which was obvious), but she had no words for ‘nausea’ or ‘gastric distress’. So she had to show me, by emptying the contents of her stomach onto my going-to-the-theater clothes.
Poor little sugar plum, not only in pain but frightened by that bizarre event. I wiped and cuddled and soothed, and she clung to me. “You not leavin’ me, Mama. You not leavin’ me!”
No, baby. Mama definitely can’t go anywhere now. It’s not that Papa couldn’t take good care of you. But you want me, and I want you to know that you can depend on me.
So–call the box office and exchange the tickets. Call my niece and postpone our date. Put girl into clean jammies; put myself into clean jammies. Sit on couch with 7-Up and Tigger and watch a movie. And that was all she really wanted from me.
I didn’t magically make her better–she threw up several more times. (And she’s learned the word ‘basin’ and knows why it’s handy.) I didn’t even take away the pain. But she was comforted because I was there, I said I understood, and I just loved her. She could feel that beyond doubt.
When bad things happen to us, individually or collectively, we too often shake an accusing finger at God, as if He were a deadbeat parent. “Where were You?” we cry. (For a different slant on that question, read the excellent post by Susan Stamper Brown at CP Opinion.)
And, unlike us, God is at least potentially capable of making sure that nothing bad ever happens to His kids. But since He’s set the world up to include consequences, bad things will happen as a result of our own bad actions. And bad things will affect others–that’s what makes sin so sinful: it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sin hurts others, innocent bystanders. But allowing consequences doesn’t mean a parent is unfeeling. And it certainly doesn’t mean that parent is absentee.
Sometimes, the fact that worse things don’t happen, or happen more often, may be an indication of God’s mercy. It’s not as if this world deserves smooth sailing. God doesn’t sugar-coat truth for us, but He does speak encouragement:
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
–John 16:33 NASB
When we rail against the unfairness of life-as-it-is, we betray our conviction that we somehow deserve to have sunshine and roses every day–even if others don’t. And we betray our deeper belief that, like a bird in the hand, this life is worth clutching, because it’s really all we have.
But Jesus makes it clear that there is something else that matters more than this world–this world that He has conquered–with its pain and problems, its trials and its terror. He tells us to take heart.
“I will not leave you as orphans.” (John 14:18)
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)
In the midst of the chaos, pain and loss of our human race, God knows that what we need most from Him is not for Him to pamper us. What we need most is for Him to be present. It is our Father’s loving presence which gives us courage, and the assurance that we can face the next mile, and the next…all the way to the finish line. And beyond.