Essay

Count It Pure Joy

2Has anyone else had a bad experience with losing a friend? (I mean “losing” as in a non-death related loss) I feel like most people go through this several times in their life, but if there is someone out there who hasn’t, I think everyone else can agree that it isn’t fun.

Sometimes this isn’t even a ‘conscious’ thing, so to speak. Often what can happen is that your schedule and your friend’s simply doesn’t intersect anymore and you gradually drift apart. That doesn’t mean that you don’t still love that person or you have harsh feelings toward them, you just kinda lost them in the mix.

Other times, this can be the equivalent of a bad breakup. I can still remember some middle-school friendships that fell apart. I felt totally lost and broken-hearted. Now I look back and I feel like those “friendship breakups” were a blessing in disguise for various reasons.

There is still another way this sort of thing can happen, and sometimes it hurts worse than the other two situations. Sometimes God calls your friend/mentor/someone you are close to to somewhere/something that is not in your plans. Sometimes God impresses upon the heart of your loved one to move to another county, another country, another solar system it feels like. What can be frustrating is the way you seem to have been blindsided by “God’s Will.” I don’t put that in quotation to seem like I’m trying to second guess that those decisions are following God’s will, but that’s the phrase we always hear when these things happen.

As a Christian, at the same time that you want this person to follow God’s calling, His will, you can feel upset that God didn’t let you in on the memo, He didn’t call you to the same place, and it seems like He’s going to be leaving you in a difficult situation without them. I think all these feelings are valid stages of dealing with that loss, but they are hurtful when we don’t rest on what God promises, and on who God is.

First of all, let’s talk about ‘fairness.’ Sometimes I think I get the wrong idea about God because I have the idea that God only allows good things for His children. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. Let me explain why I think this.

The Bible says that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” which is something everyone is totally okay with (James 1:17). God gives the best gifts. Forget Santa, it’s God. Santa may ‘see us when we’re sleeping…” etc., but God looks into the hearts of man, and He knows exactly what we need, when we need it, and where (Romans 8:27). God is the only provider we really need—‘sorry not sorry’ to all the cellphone, tv, and internet providers. He also says that He “ works all things to the good of them that love Him,” which is another verse everyone likes (Romans 8:28). Perks of having an omnipotent Heavenly Father who orchestrates the events of the entire universe, am I right?

But, none of this means that our life will be ‘all honey and no bees.’ As a slight digression, my parent’s actually keep bees and I can tell you those girls are frustrating at times. If there was a way to have just honey I think they’d appreciate a little less work, but it might seem a little too easy. When it comes to our life, I think we can almost lose our focus and forget that God had Jesus go through a really difficult life here on earth–quite a lot of metaphorical bees to get to the metaphorical honey.

Even if His life hadn’t been marked by a lot of persecution, just think about how frustrating it would be to know that you have the only thing that can prevent people you love from eternal punishment but you knew no matter what you did they wouldn’t believe you. Nevertheless, His life and the horrific death He endured worked to bring about salvation for everyone who believes in Christ and follows Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

If God allowed His own son to go through horrible things to bring about the reconciliation between God and man, it seems silly that we should think we shouldn’t go through trials in this life to bring about His purpose (John 15:20; 16:33). Even if only one person is reached from me go through a very difficult trial in my life, it’s worth it.

God says He is not willing that anyone should perish, He desires a relationship with everyone—He has created every person on this earth—but, He gives us the ability to choose for ourselves (Matthew 18:12-4; Psalm 139:13-8). We have to decide for ourselves what we will love. (This is why it is so important to continue to share the truth, because people need to hear it in order to make an informed decision about being saved!)

In those trials or difficult periods, we are imitating Christ. Obviously we won’t be perfect, but if we continue to press on and seek God’s will, we’re imitating the life Christ lived. Paul talks about his life in his letters, and expresses that his own gains are “garbage” compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-9). He even says that to die for Christ would be a gain (Philippians 1:21). This totally flips worldly logic on its head. While the world says take all you can get out of this life for yourself; Paul is saying give up your attachment to this world, die to that desire to look out for ‘me, me, me,’ and live for Christ because that’s the only thing that matters. I think he’s got the same passion God has for people. It’s a sacrificial love that endures trials and persecution. While God sent His son, and His son gave His life, Paul wants to reach them at the expense of the ‘good life’ he could live for himself. In doing that he’s serving God and imitating Christ.

Another thing I think about when considering this kind of loss is that sometimes God wants us alone.

I don’t know when the term ‘self-care’ started to become popular, but it seems like it’s everywhere now. Self-care has a lot of connotations, but I think ultimately the goal is just what it says: to take care of yourself.

In the present culture, there seems to be a major contrast with self-care. On one side there are people who work too hard and don’t take care of themselves, while on the opposite side there’s too much ‘self-care’ (which sometimes actually turns out to be laziness masquerading as good mental health/general well-being practices) and not any good stresses that push people to work. (I don’t say this to pick a fight with people who have legitimate mental health concerns or struggles with self-care).

I think the same contrast applies to our spiritual health, but it’s a little different. Sometimes we seem to push aside spiritual matters for the sake of ‘work.’ “I’ll have my quiet time when I get done with ___,” “I pray the whole time I’m driving to work so I’m good for the day,” or “If I can just get through___, then I think it’ll be easier to____.” There are a lot of excuses. Most of the time I don’t think we intentionally try to ‘push God out.’ We just get absorbed in ‘work,’ in the ‘here and now.’ We start to lose our focus.

Or, other times, we get lax in the discipline of spending time with God. In any relationship there is an element of discipline. After a certain point, when the newness wears off and we aren’t so captivated by our significant other, it becomes more of a matter of commitment. You are disciplined in practicing things that you started out doing because you loved it. That sounds really awful in some ways.

“Honey, I’m going to keep asking you about your day because I love you despite the fact that I’m kind of over talking to you now. You’ve lost the exciting newness you once had.”

(Someone write a romance novel about that!)

But, what I mean is, it takes a commitment to make any relationship work, even friendships and with your work. You aren’t always going to be excited about what it takes to maintain a good relationship or work ethic.

I know that I’m guilty of this, but there’s a lot more focus on doing ‘what feels right’ or ‘what you’re passionate about’ instead of being disciplined. Why? Discipline is not fun. It’s boring. It’s being consistent and purposeful, and seriously where’s the fun in that? In our spiritual life, we aren’t going to be ‘on fire’ every single day. Some days we’re going to want to sleep in those extra few minutes we meant to get up and spend some time in God’s word. Some days we’re going to want to watch tv instead or go out to dinner. Those things begin to look like the laziness I mentioned earlier.

In either case, sometimes God allows those times of trials, difficulties and/or loneliness to happen in order to wake us up. It’s not exactly a nice wakeup call.

In my own life, I feel like I get to a point where I put too much focus on other people. I start trying to get their approval and tie my worth to who they think I am instead of trying to gain God’s approval and viewing myself through his eyes. When those relationships ultimately crumble, it hurts, but God always uses that loneliness to speak to my heart.

I think Hosea perfectly captures this dynamic in our relationship with God. If you haven’t read it, basically God tells Hosea to “marry a promiscuous woman” (Hosea 1:2). Gomer is extremely unfaithful, but Hosea still loves her and he takes her back (just to clarify, we’re Gomer, the unfaithful woman, in that analogy). But, there’s a part of this book that always really stands out to me: when God talks about her being abandoned by her lovers and she is drawn out alone in the wilderness (Hosea 2:7; 2:14-23). God uses that time to reach her and remind her that the lovers she’s spending all her time on are not really loving her. He shows his own faithful love toward her in forgiving her and taking her back. He displays the real love she craves and needs.

In our own lives, sometimes we love the things of this world and get carried away from God. Sometimes it can even be things related to church. When we start getting more devoted to, say, the songs we sing in church than we do to Who we’re worshipping, it starts to become like those ‘lovers.’

So, God will draw us out and isolate us in the wilderness to ‘speak to us tenderly.’ He offers us a different kind of ‘self-care’ by pointing us to Himself and His word (see! I didn’t leave you hanging with that comparison!). Maybe my views are not popular, but I honestly believe we are not going to find a ‘stable’ identity outside of God. Without God’s love and grace I would find it very hard to love and forgive myself, and I know I would have almost no hope when it comes to the need to seek other’s approval. God allows those hard times, sometimes, so that we confront those issues. Often in those circumstance, we can’t do anything else. We may have literally no one else to turn to.

Jesus went into the wilderness Himself where He endured temptation and fasted for 40 days (Luke 4:1-13), and He seems to have frequently isolated Himself to spend time with God (Mark 14:32 for example). Sometimes we need to feel that loneliness. As much as it hurts, it’s never without purpose and God can always use it to your good and His glory. After Jesus was tempted alone in the wilderness, the Bible says He “returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:14). When we are at our weakest, that’s when God reveals Himself to be strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). And, sometimes those times of loneliness are when we are reassured of His love for us–we get revived.

I’ll close by quoting James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  James 1:2-3

God has a purpose for whatever loss you may be going through. Let it pull you closer to Him and His promises. Don’t forget that He promises to be with you always (Matthew 28:20).

—Liz

 

 

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