I sit on the back deck in the early morning and let dew settle on my skin. The moon is a sickle and it lies on its side—a lopsided grin. The sky is starting the slow blush and this is my favorite time—earth waking up. The tree swallows are soaring and diving into the lush green of the meadow and their broad swoops and bold plunges make me catch my breath.
I am thinking my prayers; plucking them like apples from trees. But they are not coming neatly--I can’t seem to gather these thoughts. About a friend who lost a husband too soon…a father of two boys not too far in age from my own. About cousins whose world will never again be the same. About a man who fell and a boy who cannot walk now and an unborn baby who never had a chance and a little girl fighting for her life.
Bad things happen in this world.
It makes me think about grace.
It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace…emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy…(Ann Voskamp, OneThousand Gifts)
I have read Job and I know that He gave that prowling lion permission. I know the scriptures about glorying in suffering and rejoicing in pain. I have felt the deep, transforming power of transcending the hard stuff.
And I know that grace compels us to respond. The Work is done but forgiveness asks us to join in completing the work. The Work is both done and being done. It is a beginning, not an endpoint.
Just when we have given up all—when we are stuck at the crucifixion, blinded by the crosses we bear—what seems the end is revealed for what it is: a new beginning.
And knowing him gives the strength to muck through the darkness.
“He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” (Mark 16:7) Our good Lord goes ahead of us in this world. There is no place we can go that he has not already been.
…It is dark suffering’s umbilical cord that alone can untether new life. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)
Do I believe this? If I ask for a fish, will he give me a snake?
A few years ago during vacation Bible school one of the kids I am teaching asks why. Why does God allow us to suffer? Why do children die and daddies leave and lives break?
The world is broken, I tell her. But he wants us to choose him. We are free not to.
The powers of the world—the powers of death and sin are at work, never sleeping, relentlessly prowling this earth.
I can’t pretend to understand all of these things. There are only glimpses of knowing that light the way. I do not believe that all suffering comes from the hand of God. But, I do believe He uses it.
Pain can transform.
Do I tell this to my friend as she buries her husband?
…take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into a joy that fulfills all emptiness. I have glimpsed it: This, the hard eucharisteo. The hard discipline to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty. The hard discipline to give thanks for all things at all times because He is all good…(Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)
I tell my friend that she is held. That she is loved with a love so big. And trust God with the other parts. When bad things happen, love gives eucharisteo when I cannot. We hold each other. And He holds us.
This is the fifth in a series on Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right WhereYou Are. Join me this time next week for a reflection on Chapter six.
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter One
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Two
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Three
One Thousand Gifts: The Now Sanctuary