We have this neighbor kid. He’s an only child. He has three bikes and a small motorcycle. He has a trampoline and a zip line in his backyard. He has a large house and a dog. And, because he’s an only child, he doesn’t have to share his bedroom or his toys or his anything with anyone.
I know this because my sons mention it. Often. They gaze toward his house and list off all the things this boy has that they don’t. Beneath their words is an undercurrent of It’s soooo not fair.
And though I remind them that he’s probably lonely sometimes and that Christmas morning must be very boring at his house, I can definitely understand where my boys are coming from. I’ve found myself doing the same sort of thing lately. And it’s really difficult to be genuinely happy for your friends’ blessings when you’re feeling all grumbly and discontent and coveting some of those blessings for yourself.
You know how the Apostle Paul wrote about learning to be content in any and every situation, whether in plenty or in want? Well, I’ve realized this isn’t such an easy lesson to learn. Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger from bandits, in danger from rivers, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger from his own countrymen, from enemies, from those pretending to be believers. He worked hard; he went without sleep; he was truly hungry and thirsty; he was cold and didn’t have enough clothing; and he worried about all the new churches he planted. I don’t have it that bad, but the past few years haven’t been a piece of cake for my family.
In the middle of our hard times, I have seen God’s blessings. But those blessings haven’t always felt much like blessings, and they haven’t always been obvious.
You know how some people will tell you about the time one bad thing happened to them, but they endured and good things started pouring down on them? Or they’ll tell you about the time their prayer wasn’t answered the way they wanted, but then something really awesome happened instead? Or they’ll tell you about the time they were sick and God healed them and they were better and stronger than before?
Yeah, that’s not how our lives have played out in the past few years. At all.
My husband almost died, but God spared his life. And we’re really thankful for that blessing. But the medicine he has had to take to save his life comes with all sorts of horrible side effects and has made his diabetes difficult to control. So the medicine is a blessing for saving my husband’s life, but it sure doesn’t feel like much of a blessing on a daily basis because of all the other problems it causes.
When God impressed upon our hearts to go into full-time missions, we obeyed. My husband quit his job; we sold our house; we got rid of more than half our belongings; and we moved far away from family. We know we were obedient, and there is a blessing in that. Good things happened because we moved when we felt the Spirit say Move. But our four years serving as missionaries were not easy years. We struggled financially; my husband had major health issues; our relationships with some people around us were difficult and strained. Our children fought their own battles in school and with making and keeping friends in a community that seemed to change regularly. As a mom, it was very difficult to watch them long for a security and stability I could not provide. And we’re still dealing with the financial fallout of those lean years.
Of course, even in those hardships, there were blessings. But those blessings can sometimes seem pretty intangible. It’s hard to rejoice that my daughter’s faith is being strengthened as she learns to bring her anger and fear and discontentment to the Lord. It’s not easy to be thankful that my son is learning that when life and death and the future are uncertain, God’s character remains the same. I would much rather they not feel so uncertain about life and death and the future; I would much rather they not feel so angry and afraid and unhappy.
When we felt a release from full-time missions and God provided a job for my husband, we saw the blessings of a regular paycheck and a larger home. But along with those blessings, we’ve had higher bills and a broken-down car and a broken computer and unexpected medical bills and on and on.
And, like my sons’ gazing toward the neighbor’s house, my heart’s undertones cry It’s not fair!
And then God’s Spirit reminds me of Paul’s list of all the horrible things that he’d endured. Yet he said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. . . . [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
He went on to say, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Oh, I am not there yet. I surely don’t delight in hardships. I am not boasting gladly in my weaknesses. But I see my weaknesses. I see my difficulties and know they are much too big for little ol’ me. I know that God is strong and that His power is most evident when life is way too much for me — even if He’s not rescuing me and blessing me and handling things the way I think would be most logical! Even if it seems He trades one sorrow for another and one big problem for an almost-as-big problem.
It’s easy to compare myself to others and pout and whine instead of remembering the blessings I do have. It’s easy to look at the hard stuff and ignore the long list of good things. It’s easy to feel weighed down by difficulties and feel only my own weakness rather than rejoicing in God’s strength made available to me.
It’s easy to feel like the hardships are lasting forever, forgetting that Paul wrote, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Today, I choose to fix my eyes on the unseen, eternal glory that far outweighs any trouble that may come to me here. Tomorrow I might feel whiny and pouty again, but today I choose to boast in my weakness and delight in the strength of my God.
And don’t tell my boys, but I’m pretty sure this anxious momma couldn’t handle a zip line and trampoline and motorcycle right now anyway!