Remember that feeling of hopefulness, as you stand with your friends on graduation day, on the brink of the future? Remember how you are challenged to change the world and how it seems as if there are no obstacles in your way? Remember?
I am in my 30s now and it’s hard to believe. As I think of my friends and the struggles and the battles they have gone through in life…not just friends I graduated from college or seminary with, but the friends I have picked up all along the way. I think of the innocence of when we first met, and the secrets we shared. I think of the trials that were to come, and how we probably would have trembled if we had known those things.
I’m in my 30s and already I have seen friends lose babies, go through terrible illnesses, struggle in marriage, face tragedy. I’ve seen single friends still walking alone, though they long to find a spouse. I’ve seen friends go through heartbreak and joblessness. I’ve seen friends go through persecution for their faith, and I’ve gone through that too. I’ve seen the Church break my friends’ hearts, and mine too. I’ve known the loneliness of a rural parish, the sadness when people disappoint you, the exhaustion of being a new parent with no support system. I’ve suffered the loss of my father, a loss so huge I am still struggling to come to terms with it.
We’ve suffered. In ways we have not expected. In a time that was sooner than we expected. We’ve made plans, only to see their total reversal. We’ve wondered where God is, in the midst of our struggles.
Our innocence has been lost. We no longer believe we live in a perfect world where bad things don’t happen. We know they do.
But in the midst of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, we’ve found a strength we didn’t know we had. There is nothing like sitting and hearing someone’s story of profound suffering, complete with their honest human reactions in the midst of it…and yet seeing how the fire of this suffering is refining them, making them solid like iron. We have been changed by our suffering.
At times, we want to be called Mara, “bitterness.” But instead, God is working to make us called Naomi, “my delight.”
We went out into the world full and came back empty…and then came back full again.
We found God working in surprising places…through the painful experiences of our lives.
We found the wonder of being alive, in the midst of a world where such suffering takes place.
We found the wonder of an inner strength, given by God. I look at my friends and I marvel at them…even those who think they are nothing great, who struggle and worry about their sinful hearts. I still marvel. I see God’s grace in them as they put one foot in front of another. As they fight for the good, even though the battle is long and hard and seems to yield few instant rewards. I marvel at their faithfulness to God. I marvel that they don’t curse God and die. I marvel at what God is doing in them. Slowly. Imperceptively at first. Like a seed germinating in the ground. I wonder if they see God working in me like that too…