Do you know what? Life can be shit sometimes. Yep I said it. You can take me up on my language if you really want to, but in doing so, you’ll totally miss the point. Something really, really horrible happened the other day. But I’m learning (slowly!) that God is not in the shit. I think He’s in what you see behind it and through it.
I used to foolishly think that being a ‘good’ Christian was an insurance policy against life’s manmade disasters so when something particularly bad happened a few years ago, I sobbed my guts out to this God I’d strived to follow, “What the hell are you doing?! I’ve always tried to do whatever it was that you asked of me so how come I’m in so much pain? I’ve always tried to do my best, so why wasn’t that good enough?”
(Oh, and therein lies a massive lie, infected into me throughout my life to make me believe that I will never be good enough.)
As Heather Caliri recently put it, “I have spent so much effort in my life trying to be good. A good daughter. A good Christian…But sometimes approval is not particularly helpful or even healthy…Gaining “goodness” in the eyes of other people is a terrible goal…Let’s get real: we are not good… The most we can say about ourselves is that we’re choosing to face our demons—or not.”
Heather writes that Jesus said there is only one person who is good, God alone. But trusting that God is good is a really difficult thing especially when you’re in pain.
I’m reading Sarah Bessey’s book ‘Out of Sorts’ at the moment – if you’ve not read this, order it now! She refers to two ways of seeing the Jesus story: either as the Gospel of Atonement (‘sin management’, full of definitions and boundaries, a movement to make people with better morals) or the Gospel of the Kingdom (a life-giving transformation into the likeness of Jesus.) If there’s one thing I’ve learnt these last few years, it’s that there’s so much more to the love of God than a set of rules.
Sarah writes about how pain can illuminate the background brightness of God’s kingdom here and now, a kingdom that “…purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love.” (p128)
I found that a faith based on a set of rules just can’t cut it when we’re in pain, but the Kingdom can. Here’s a list of signs of God’s kingdom that Sarah gives us to look out for here and now: beauty, redemption, miracles, wholeness, healing, renewal, friendship, conversation, prayer, worship, work, music, art, justice, jubilee, mercy, love, sex, aging. Whenever you see the goodness of these things, you’re seeing God.
I could bore you with lots of examples, but here are the ones that stood out for me yesterday:
Friendship and conversation: God has given me AMAZING people who love me, talk with me, cry with me and step up to be exactly who I need when I need them most. (Thank you guys, I love you!)
Love: Holding and being held is a really precious expression of God’s love for me. (Holding small babies at our toddler group was awesome therapy!)
Music: Waking up with “What the world needs now” running round my head was God’s way of saying He knew what I needed yesterday and reassuring me of His unconditional ‘love, sweet love’. He was not demanding I tackle another mountain in my own strength.
Art: Hot on the heels of the proverbial hitting the fan, came Heather’s blog post which when reading 20 minutes into emotional shock was frankly like having Jesus sat next to me saying, “This is what I think about it. It’s ok. I’ve got you.”
Wholeness: Without the challenge of yesterday I wouldn’t be continuing to move on, wouldn’t have deepened relationships old and new that sustain me, wouldn’t be continuing to find and enjoy my God-given identity.
I am SO not ready to say I believe that God allows/sends us pain. I just don’t know if I can (or need to) sign up to that one. But I am more and more able to see the background brightness of God’s kingdom that the darkness illuminates. This is where I find God – not in a set of rules masqueraded as an insurance policy against the shit hitting the fan but in the redemption and the healing that surrounds the pain. The pain is not beautiful. It’s awful. I don’t want it. I don’t like it and the beauty it illuminates does not discount it. But sometimes I see a glimmer of hope in the background. Sometimes I see the Kingdom breaking through. Not just the hope of heaven after this life, but a little bit of the Kingdom here and now. And I’m thankful for that, I really am.