I was pretty excited about Ben’s recent Air Force commissioning ceremony. I really wanted to make it special for him, to let him know I was proud of him and make him feel celebrated, especially since no one else was able to join us. We only had a couple days’ notice that the ceremony was happening, so it took a little running around to get a gift, make dinner reservations, make sure we all had clean clothes, make sure the camera battery was charged, get directions, and fill up the diaper bag with toys and snacks that would hopefully keep Elden quiet during the ceremony. I really wanted it to go well, and I was a little nervous since Elden has lately been into letting out angry screams when something displeases him, or when he just wants to test us and see what we’ll do about it. So I talked with him beforehand, several times, about what was expected of him. I told him he’d get to see one of his very favorite things, flags, and even gave him a “job” to wave a little flag while dad was up there, and then clap for him at the end. On the drive to pick up Ben for the ceremony, I decided we should pray, thanking God for Ben’s new position and the next chapter in our lives, and praying that he would help Elden behave during the ceremony. I know that things often go better when I take the time to acknowledge God and ask for his help. So I felt like I had covered my bases and was hopeful that things would go well.
They didn’t. It was one of the worst episodes of misbehavior we’ve had in public so far, on the day when I had wanted so badly for things to be perfect and felt like it was my responsibility to make sure they were, not just for my sake and Ben’s but also for the two other people being commissioned and their families who were trying to listen through my son’s defiant yelps. Normally I would have stopped and dealt with the behavior, but the ceremony had started, we were cramped in a tiny room where taking Elden out of the stroller or pushing him out in the stroller would have been just as big a distraction, and I wasn’t going to miss the ceremony, which was so brief that I barely had time to snap the photo that I had promised our parents.
I was really angry. It’s interesting to move from the place of parenting an innocent baby to parenting a child who can defy you, embarrass you, anger you. (I understand and feel compassion for my own parents more all the time.) I apologized to the other families and to Ben. I fought back tears. I was so upset that it was not going to be easy to let it go. I would have stayed angry and upset the rest of the night, but I had wanted so badly for this day to be special for Ben and I couldn’t ruin the rest of it for him by being in a bad mood.
It went against everything inside me in that moment to choose to be happy, especially since we were headed to a fancy steakhouse with the toddler who likes to yell (whose harebrained idea was that again?) and I was not in a forgiving mood. We were blessed with a really nice waiter named Dennis who was good with kids and brought us chocolate milk and extra food to keep him occupied. We had a couple of moments, but overall it went much better than the ceremony.
That night as I lay in bed, I thought about the events of the day and wondered why things went wrong, especially when I had specifically prayed for Elden to be able to have good behavior during the ceremony, just for those couple of minutes. I don’t normally feel the need to ask God “why,” but for some reason the question was coming to my mind this time. I know that just because I pray for something doesn’t mean God has to agree. He’s not Santa or a cosmic vending machine, and prayer is not superstition where you say or do certain things to get the desired results. Prayer is about a relationship, like a child sharing the desires of her heart with her dad. I wondered why, though, did he say no this time? He could have made the day go well. He’s done it before. For a few minutes, I couldn’t think of a good reason for him to have said no to this request, except maybe to show me that I have more work to do on discipline.
But eventually I realized that the situation had taught me to manage my anger when things didn’t go how I wanted them to. I had prayed for that just a few weeks ago, hadn’t I? I had been so upset that I just wanted to vent my emotions and dwell in them, maybe make others dwell in them, too. Only the desire not to ruin the day for Ben convinced me to let it go, to exercise the muscles of controlling myself when I just wanted to control what was happening around me. I wish I could say differently, but I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have controlled myself unless it was a special occasion I was very invested in not ruining, though the fact that it was a special occasion made me feel that much more strongly that it should be perfect, and I was mad that it wasn’t perfect! So I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I think that’s where growth happens.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.” -2 Corinthians 4:8-11
So it took me a while to see it, but God not answering my prayer for things to go smoothly was grace, and it answered another one of my prayers in the process.
I’m reading about the life of Joseph right now, the Technicolor Dreamcoat guy. Joseph experienced a lot of bad things, a lot of injustices. He was thrown into a pit and left for dead by his brothers, then sold as a slave, thrown into jail after being falsely accused of trying to seduce someone else’s wife, and forgotten for years by the jailmates he helped free. He had hope, though. God had told him before any of that happened that he had special plans for Joseph’s life, and Joseph didn’t give into despair because he believed God, despite his circumstances. It also enabled him to forgive the wrongs done to him, because he knew that regardless of the actions of others, God would be faithful to take care of him, just like his father Jacob had believed in the past. This is what he said to his brothers when he revealed his identity to them many years later:
“Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’” Genesis 45:4-11
“But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” -Genesis 50:19-21
How does all that relate to my parenting foibles? It’s the idea of seemingly unanswered prayer. I’m sure that Joseph prayed to God for deliverance many times over the years, and it probably often seemed that deliverance was not coming. But eventually it did. And each one of the bad things that happened to Joseph played a large part in bringing him to his current position, commander of all of Pharaoh’s resources and able to save many lives, including his family’s, from famine. God knows what he is doing, even when it seems quite the contrary. The experiences probably played a role in preparing his character for his future calling, as well, since he was a bit immature and self-righteous in the beginning. I know God wants to refine my character, too.
As much as Jacob has grown on me through my recent reading of Genesis, I can’t help noticing a contrast between him and Joseph in this story. Joseph trusts in God, remains optimistic, acts with integrity, helps others, and keeps going the best he can through his dismal circumstances. He even seems thankful for what he went through. Jacob, however, gives into despair. Of course any parent would be incredibly distraught to believe that his child was dead. But Jacob declared that he would never be happy again, that he would choose to dwell in his misery until he died, even though he had 11 other sons who needed his love. Perhaps his complete inconsolability was the fruit of having allowed such favoritism to grow in his heart, favoritism that had fueled his sons’ anger and violence toward Joseph? At any rate, it seems that over the years Jacob, like his father Isaac, had forgotten the deep faith he had in God at first, forgotten the importance of viewing all life’s circumstances in light of God. He didn’t cry out to God in his anguish or even in anger, he just retreated into himself and gave up.
These are the founding fathers of our faith. It’s a bit of a relief to be in the company of these people (just about every person of faith in the Bible) who fumble along, forget God sometimes, sometimes even do unspeakable things. But he is faithful in spite of us. He is faithful even when we’re wondering where he is.
“Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.” -2 Timothy 2:11-13
I know being upset about my kid acting up and a day not going perfectly is nothing compared to the deep anguish many other people might be going through. I don’t want to make light of that pain or attempt to cover over it with pat answers. Pain was never supposed to be a part of the picture. Death was not the way it was supposed to be. It is not wrong to grieve over those things deeply. God does. Remember when Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus? He wept. I believe he was not just weeping for his friend, whom he knew he’d raise from the dead in just a few minutes. I believe he was weeping over how messed up, awful, broken, sad everything had gotten. Weeping over death itself, and the inner struggles of his grieving and confused friends. This was not the way it was supposed to be, not the way humanity was supposed to be, in so much pain and confusion! I think he also may have been weeping that they still didn’t understand, still didn’t really fully believe who he was. Nevertheless, he was going to fix things. That was why he came.
For anyone who is wondering where God is in your circumstances right now, I don’t have all the answers for you, but I pray that the Lord would make himself known to you in the midst of the confusion and pain. I firmly believe that he will if you ask him to. I hope that you will find a thread of hope in knowing that this is not the end of the story, and that as messed up and never-should-have-been as your circumstances are, he is still able to bring beauty from the ashes and use it all for good. It’s what he does.
“The things the world says can’t be fixed are exactly the things Jesus came to change.” -Dick Ryan
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.” -Psalm 147:3
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” -Revelation 21:3-7
“Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.” -Psalm 103:2-6