Why Does God Allow Trials? (pt. 3)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

By the time I made it back to Texas that winter, I’d been wandering, physically, for only about 4 months. Spiritually, I’d been “wandering” for about half a year. On both counts, however, it felt much longer. I was a whole new kind of desperate after experiencing the drugs and homelessness and the loneliness that comes with that sort of wandering.

My parents accepted me again warmly, if hesitantly, after I returned from North Carolina. I was desperate enough to accept their help even though it came with conditions. The boy had to stay away, preferably in North Carolina. In the end, I felt so sorry for him that I paid his way to TX with money my parents had given me to help me get back on my feet. I stuck him into our house when he refused to stay at a shelter. Things happened that I’m very much not proud of, and then my parents caught on, and everything fell apart. I clung to the guy. Why to him? I really don’t know, but I clung hard until he cheated on me, and then I started to let go.

 

So what is the WHY behind the trials we face?

Christians believe that God has a purpose for everything – and often go as far as to say that there is no such thing as coincidence. Even bad things (trials) have a reason and purpose, and, if you’re a Christian, you know that God promises He “works all things together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

The Bible says that trials produce endurance and patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5). Hope is an interesting thing. It’s a lot like faith. It’s a very active belief in God – a “confident expectation.” How do we grow or increase our hope/faith? Well, the best way to see improvement in any skill is to use it, and trials give us the perfect opportunity to exercise and use our faith, our character, and our hope.

Sometimes, though, I think we get discouraged when we don’t see an immediate benefit from our trials. For me, at every turn, my trial became more unbearable. In addition to the fact that my running did nothing to help with my original pain, I found all kinds of new sources of pain. I found only more and more trouble as I moved through, even though all I was trying to do was make the pain stop, and that continued until I began to turn back to God.

So my point here is two-fold.

  1. There is a purpose to our pain, and that is growth.
  2. There is a choice we must make every time we come upon a trial, and that is which wisdom will we trust. Man’s worldly wisdom? Or God’s wisdom?

Man’s wisdom vs. God’s widsom

These verses describe how God would have us face trials:

  • James 1:12 – Be steadfast
  • Romans 12:12 – Rejoice, have hope, be patient, and pray
  • John 16:33 – Have peace and take heart
  • Phillippians 4 – Don’t be anxious, but pray about everything
  • Romans 5:3, Matthew 5:12, 1 Peter 4: 13 – Multiples verses say to REJOICE in suffering
  • Joshua 1:9 – Be strong and courageous.

 

When I was in the midst of this trial, I was faced with a choice. Would I continue to have faith in Him, or would I doubt? Would I trust in Him and His solutions for my life?

When God would say to pray, believing… the world would say to act. When God would say to honor your parents (period!)… the world would ask whether they are really deserving of honor. When God would say to turn the other cheek… the world would say that you must stand up for yourself. When God would say that trials produce character… the world would say that a loving God wouldn’t let bad things happen to good, undeserving people.

I handled my pain with man’s wisdom: by escaping in every way I could and eventually by turning away from God to every worldly solution I could find. I even physically ran away and clung to a person other than God, all in an effort to ease my pain.

I’m the example not to follow, but there’s another example in Matthew chapter 4. Jesus had been fasting. No food for 40 days. Then the Tempter comes. The Devil. The lord of this world. Basically, Satan offers Jesus some worldly solutions. He questions God’s power. “Turn this rock into bread.”

God was calling Jesus to continue His fast and to do the hard thing by trusting God to provide for his needs, his strength, and his food when it was time to eat. (Be steadfast!) The world said, “Come on, it’s been long enough, just perform a miracle and eat already. You’ve had it rough – it’s time for some easy. You deserve it.”

Jesus chose the unconventional path – God’s way. He stood up and said, no, man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)

God asks you to trust when you can’t see the way, to keep moving when you feel faint, and, sometimes, to do nothing when you’re in a state of hyperactive panic. Sometimes God’s way goes against every natural instinct. Sometimes it seems He is asking us to face more pain than should be necessary. However, I know now that there is a reason behind it, and there is always something really good on the other side.

When God is trying to help me grow, it’s worth it.

 

In my life it seems that God is willing to let me keep choosing the world’s way and reaping that pain until I’m ready to turn back to Him. That was me in this story, and during those times of pain I was just surviving.

Eventually, though, things began to change. It started when I came back to Texas, to my parents. After some more ups and downs and wanderings, I eventually made my way back to God, back to church, back to prayer, back to the Bible. These things happened slowly, one by one, but eventually I was in a place where I was relying on God and things started to improve. The messes I’d gotten myself into started to disappear as I exercised my trust in God’s solutions.

When I came out on the other side, somewhere around 2007, I was stronger, and my faith had increased by leaps and bounds. I wasn’t just surviving; I was thriving. I had been blessed with things I’d never dreamed I could have just a year before – the perfect (for me, at that time) job, a great apartment, awesome friends. As I received these blessings, knowing I’d done nothing to make them happen, knowing it was all His doing, I gained a new understanding of trust…faith…hope…endurance. I had to live it to begin to understand how awesome it was to experience God’s provision after turning trusting His way. I learned that when we choose worldly solutions and wisdom rather than God, our pain and suffering is compounded, we face more trials, and we create a vicious cycle.

And I think that’s why God allows trials. To allow us to grow and thrive. There is no shortcut to the kind of character produced by suffering. We just need to be sure to face the trials with God’s wisdom. That’s what I remind myself of as I continue to face trials in my life, my marriage, my living situations, and my work.

And I hope you will now remind yourself, as you face trials, to think about God’s infinite wisdom and grace. Trust Him to see you through, and don’t compound your pain by turning to man’s wisdom. You may not be able to see it now, but good things are coming. Growth, character, hope, and likely even physical blessings. Be steadfast!

Where I’ve Been

I haven’t posted anything in ages, and I’m sorry. If you know me, you know it’s been a tough few months! Car trouble, pregnancy, money, depression.

The goal for my next post was to finish up my series on why God allows trials. I have a ton of notes written for that post, but I wasn’t able to complete it before I was hit with one of my own trials (or my own series of trials). Hopefully, my experiences over the last three months will make it a better article than it would have been!

I’ll write it. Soon. But until then, I wanted to say that I’m still here, and I haven’t given up. I’m also still learning. I didn’t face my trials as well as I could have. I was disappointed in myself when my attitude became very negative and I told those closest to me that I was not okay and the situation was not okay and not going to be okay. I believed God was still with me and would see me through, but knowing it deep down wasn’t the same as letting it be reflected through my actions and attitudes. But I will write and finish that series.

By way of update, Hubby and I are expecting baby #1 sometime before October. Smile We have a new(ish) car with lots of back seat space. I am in business for myself as a Virtual Assistant over at www.Michelle.io (check it out!) (running a business is a lot of work!) and have plans to expand and grow. Speaking of expanding and growing, I’m almost ready to get into maternity clothes. And, though I was depressed for a while, I can see the sky again, at least for now, and I’m always grateful for such times as these. Oh, and I’ve learned to drink lots of water. I think that’s most of the new stuff.

How Should Christians React to Sin in Society?

Love the sinner; hate the sin. God can do this, but can we? It seems that if I actively hate the sinful behavior of individuals, I can’t simultaneously show love to the people engaging in that behavior.

Some sins are socially unacceptable. Murder and theft, for instance, are not okay to anyone, whether saved or not. Other things which the Bible condemns as sin are, at least in our current society, considered acceptable. Adultery? Sleeping around is a behavior flaunted in almost every modern TV show I’ve seen. And then we have drunkenness, which is so common no one really thinks anything of it unless someone gets hurt or killed. And homosexuality, which has come to such a place of acceptance that people are being told they CANNOT speak out against it.

More and more, as sin becomes socially acceptable and things like drunkenness, adultery, homosexuality, gluttony, and lying become matters of course, we (Christians) have to decide how to react. The more acceptable these things are, the more prevalent they will be. What do we do when we see people engaging in these behaviors?

Too Much Love

On one side of the spectrum, we have a reaction to sin that involves too much love and a strange idea that tolerance equals love. We react this way because we want people to know that it’s for God to judge, not for us, and we want people to feel loved. We’ve been led to believe that real love means not telling someone they’re wrong. Postmodernism is all about shades of grey and says that truth is relative.

As Christians, when we get sucked into this thinking, we start to shy away from calling anything sin for fear that we will hurt others or drive them away from Christ or, worse, that we might get a reputation of being intolerant. Some Christians believe that the way to deal with sin in society is to completely ignore it and focus only on the “love the sinner” part of the message.

I get the idea of tolerance. I get why Christians are scared to take a stand on anything or say anything politically incorrect. After all, if we speak out against a socially acceptable sin, won’t we be pushing people away from the gospel?

And that’s the problem.

We try to win people over to Christ by being almost like them. Almost just like them. Not quite the same, but the closer we are, the better our chances, right?

But it’s all wrong.

Be ye holy because I am holy, says the Lord! (see 1 Pet. 1) Come out from among them and be ye separate! (see 2 Cor. 6) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers! (see 2 Cor. 6) Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven! (see Matt. 5) Be not conformed to this world! (see Rom. 12) You must be born again! (see John 3) If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new! (see 2 Cor. 5)

Something inside me just wants to scream that we STOP IT! Stop trying to be as close to the world as possible! Stop accepting sin! Stop averting your eyes and buttoning your lips!

Too Much Hate

On the other end of the spectrum is, of course, a reaction that involves too much hate. Too much judgment. Christians might react this way because they see things in black and white and believe that sin is sin, it’s always wrong, and it should not be tolerated. While there is some truth to that thinking, the reaction is wrong when it leads to shaming people or treating them as less-than-human because of their behavior.

Some Christians take homophobia to a whole new level. It’s like the newest form of racism. People who practice homosexuality can be looked down on so much that they feel like total outsiders. They might even be kicked out of church if they admit to that behavior.

As Christians, when we’re tempted to react this way, we should remind ourselves that we ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (see Rom. 3) Sin entered the world through one man’s choice of [anything other than God] over God. God said, and Adam questioned whether God really knew best, and in the end he chose something other than God. Call it pride or call it disobedience, but it all boils town to, first, a lack of faith or a wrong attitude about God, followed by a choice of something else other than God. Self rather than God. Love rather than God. Pleasure rather than God.

No matter the sin, it all comes back to the same thing, and no matter whether we consider the sin large or small, it’s enough to separate you from God. (see Is. 59) A lie will separate you from God no more or less than murder and no more or less than a sexual sin. Sin is sin. Christians forget that. Christians tend to turn a blind eye to their own faults, then when someone comes around with an obvious sin, they think that associating with that person would be encouraging the sin or showing too much tolerance. Jesus was known for associating with the sinners, but we shun them and kick them while they’re down because their big, obvious sin seems worse to us than our little bad habits.

Sin is sin. We are all sinners. God does not cast away the imperfect. He  uses the weak and the foolish things in this world to confound and shame the wise and the strong. (See 1 Cor. 1)

A Happy Medium

The hateful reaction holds some truth: Sin is wrong, period. It’s not ever okay.

The loving reaction holds some truth, too: Everyone deserves love (because they are God’s creation and God loves them). We aren’t called to disassociate ourselves from sinners.

So how do we love the sinner and hate the sin?

Here are some things I think we should all keep in mind, and hopefully they will help us accomplish this seemingly impossible goal.

  1. God created perfection, but we are all sinners living in a fallen world.
              When sin entered the world through Adam, everything got corrupted. Everything is affected, even you and me. We all have an inclination for sin, and we have all sinned. None of us deserves God’s forgiveness, and if we have it it’s only by His grace. If we do good, it’s only by His grace. If we beat temptation, it’s only by His grace. We need to be in constant humble awareness of this.
  2. We need to deal with ourselves first.
              Christianity is about relationship. Most importantly, my Christian walk is about my relationship with God. That means that the sin I most need to worry about is my own sin, because my sin separates me from God. (see Is. 59) I need to remove the plank from my eye before I can see to remove the speck from someone else’s. (see Matt. 7) I need to confess my sins, repent from them, and consistently walk with God, forgiven and empowered by His grace.
  3. Love is not synonymous with tolerance.
              We should stand for what we believe in. A mother who loves her child deeply will not tolerate disobedience from her child (just as God does not tolerate disobedience from  us). A sister who loves her brother will not tolerate him making bad, harmful decisions (because she doesn’t want to see him get hurt)! Christians do not need to tolerate sin in society if it means we are turning a blind eye and trying to continue as if it’s not happening.
              I believe Christians need to do a better job of calling sin what it is. Don’t be afraid to call it like you see it. When asked to join in on an activity, it’s okay to say, “No, I do not do that. God says that’s not okay.” And it’s also alright to say, “God says sex is good but is intended only for for within the marriage of one man and one woman.” I believe God. I believe His truth is universal. Truth is black and white, not relative. Sin is sin. Truth is truth. Stand up for what you believe, but do so without attacking the people who don’t share the same belief. Like it or not, it is our very same God who gives them the right to choose something other than Him.
  4. Overcome evil with good. (see Rom. 12)
              We need to be light in a dark world. (see Matt. 5) and show Christ to the world by how we live, act, and speak. Our joy, our peace, our love, and our attempts to be better should be our witness and our legacy. We want others to come to Christ and receive forgiveness as we have, and we know that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are people to call upon Him Whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? (see Rom. 10 ) And how are they to hear unless we tell them and show them?

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” 
Vince Lombardi

Writing Practice

Before this past summer, I never really thought of writing as something to be practiced. To be honest, I’ve never been too good with the idea of “practice,” anyway. It always felt unproductive. I practiced my trumpet in school mainly because we had to log how many hours of practice we did at home and get graded on it, and I was too strict with myself to lie about the time spent practicing.

I’m pretty sure the only reason I learned to type properly was due to my awesome keyboarding teacher Mrs. Smith, who made a song and dance to the sound of our practice typing.

FJF (space) FJF (space) *Mrs. Smith does a little dance*

Usually, though, I’m too interested in the finished product.  I guess I thought that all writing needed to be awesome in order to be valuable. I didn’t think that I could just write nonsense in a spiral notebook and practice my craft so that my writing is better when it comes to creating that final product.

I knew that writers write and that if I wanted to be a writer I should write more. But I thought that meant, “write more good, finished products.” Now, I know better. I’ve been reading library books and trying to take in all the advice about writing practice. Two of my favorites so far have been Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Finding Your Writer’s Voice by Thaisa Frank & Dorothy Wall.

Tips for practicing writing:

  • Use pen and paper. At least try it. It feels totally different from typing, and the words seem to flow more naturally.
  • Write regularly. Be as regular as you can, and write SOMETHING. Anything.
  • Write in different circumstances. When you’re alert or tired, when you’re alone or in company, when you’re stressed and calm, when you’re inside or outside, with a cat on your lap, in poor lighting, with a brownie on the table, with tea steeping on the counter, with distractions and without. Change it up. Try everything.
  • Don’t read back over your writing practice right away.
  • Find things to write about. Make notes (in your journal, on your phone, through email, whatever), and take inspiration from life. Take notice if a neat phrase crosses  your mind out of nowhere. It won’t stick with you for long. Watch people. Look at things. Use these notes as prompts to begin your writing practice.

Writers must write

Writers do write and must write, and the truth is that practice is far from unproductive. In fact, whatever your craft is, you have to do it over and over and over again if you want to become great. Great cooks cook. Great painters paint. Great musicians music. (Yeah, I just said that. Deal with it.) Great writers write.

Practice: to perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

Some bits and pieces from my notebook:

The hot-pink high-heel dangled from one finger. . .

At the first sound of raindrops, the cat dashed for cover under the couch. . .

The waves were huge. I had never seen them so big, so violent. So green. . .

I’m gripping his hand. Partly for the security, partly to ground me in reality. Partly because I can’t explain or express what I’m feeling, but I know it’s okay because he’s there. . .

Libraries are cool. All the books smell of books. . .

Green crunchy cabbage is good in ramen. . .

The fan of the AC whirrs and blows and motors on. . .

League of Legends: the game where you die. The game that kills you, enrages you, addicts you. . .

Why Does God Allow Trials? (pt. 2)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

During my time away from God, the time I spent calling myself agnostic, I let down a lot of standards. Certain things weren’t temptations for me, so I stayed pure in some areas not because of my morals or standards but because I just had no interest. I did, however, try out (more) forms of self-medication and escapism. I left my family, turned my back on their attempts to help, and ran off to Arkansas where I moved in with a guy I barely knew. Then later I ran off with another guy I barely knew. I lied and snuck around and let things come out of my mouth that I’d not previously allowed.

My coming back to God was a process. It didn’t happen in a sudden transformation. In fact, it’s been an ongoing thing ever since its beginning, but I guess that’s how relationships work.

After several months of wandering, I hit a new low. My depression and anxiety were untreated because, of course, I had no insurance and no money. My Asperger’s had never been diagnosed, let alone had I learned how to handle it. I had no job. I was alone with a guy I’d only known a couple months with all my family hundreds of miles away. I had a suitcase of clothing and books, a pillow and blanket, and a tent with a leak, and it was winter. And it was in the mountains of North Carolina. And it was raining. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

For once, it wasn’t just me who was lying awake at night.

He was cold and frustrated and, now, wet from the leak in our tent. I was miserably curled up on the half-deflated air mattress, my precious Tempurpedic pillow hard as a rock from the cold. We had moved our camp down the mountain a bit, so it wasn’t quite as freezing as it had been the previous nights, but it was miserable nonetheless. My one beige blanket wasn’t enough to keep us warm.

It had taken hours, the first night, for my hip to touch the ground, but apparently the hole in the mattress had grown, and this time it only took half an hour. I couldn’t help but think of the waste of money both the tent and the air mattress had turned out to be. What useful things we could have bought when we arrived in Asheville, NC, if we hadn’t purchased these wastes. Food, for instance, would have been good. Shampoo, maybe. A camping stove. But we had none of those.

The rain began to fall harder, and we realized we couldn’t stay in the tent all night like this. Instead, we let ourselves out into the dark woods with our jackets and singleĀ  umbrella and began to walk into town. There was a 24-hour diner down the hill and about a half a mile past the Greyhound bus station (where we had arrived several days prior). We took seats and ordered coffee and hot chocolate, and I pulled out my old Nokia cellphone, grateful once again that my sister had let me remain on the family phone plan when I ran away.

While he lay down on the bench on his side of the table, I dialed my mom in Texas, and I told her about my miserable predicament, but it didn’t take long before I realized I couldn’t accept any offers of help from her since they would involve leaving him here, stranded and alone. My parents – no, actually, every one of my family and friends disapproved of my choice of companion. I could see their point. If I had not gotten involved with him, I would still be in Arkansas with a place to stay and a not-so-bad job at a daycare. Instead, I’d brought home a stray and decided to take care of him, sacrificing what little I had because he liked me and gave me attention.

The staff in the diner grew tired of us, of him sleeping in their booth, of the fact that we were obviously just using them as a place to hide from the weather even though we couldn’t afford any real purchases, and they told us we needed to leave. We ended up walking about 3 miles down to Walmart, the only other business open in the middle of the night, and we spent the rest of the night pacing around the store, killing time.

The next day, we were sitting in a church waiting for the attached soup kitchen to open for lunch, when I received a phone call from an angry-sounding man asking for my companion. My companion filled me in after the call, telling me it was nothing – a misunderstanding or a wrong number. They said he owed money, but he didn’t, and they had the wrong guy. They claimed to have a recording of his voice, but it wasn’t him. Feeling confused, I tried to shrug it off, but the ball dropped later that day as we were in the bus station.

It was my sister who called, this time. Michelle, I need to talk to you about the cellphone bill. I knew it was going to be bad. And it was. He had racked up hundreds of dollars on my phone, which was in my sister’s name. What was worse, the charges weren’t all innocent like the text messages that cost $0.10 per message or the calls to information (411). Most of the charges were from calls and texts to 900 numbers. Hotlines. Inappropriate, embarrassing secrets, all going on behind my own back on my own phone.

Finally, I was disgusted enough to agree to my mother’s offer. That same day, I got onĀ  yet another Greyhound bus and headed back home to Texas, leaving my companion behind. (For a time.)

Mom and Michelle in 2006

(My mom and me eating cake for my Bday about a month after this story takes place.)

How to Be Productive

I sat down this evening to make a list of “stuff that I do.” The idea was to have a somewhat balanced list. On one side, I’d list all the productive activities. On the other side, I’d list all the unproductive activities. Then, when I finish something I have to do (like work), I can decide what to spend time on next by picking from one side or the other.

I don’t know if that would have worked or not because a funny thing happened while I was making the list. I was able to think of eleven productive activities very easily, but when I moved my pen to the other side of the paper I could only think of three unproductive activities. I sat. I thought. I checked my favorite search engine. I looked around the room. Nothing. Just three things.

My list is so unbalanced.

But here’s the other funny thing: I spend more of my non-work hours on those three unproductive activities than I spend on the eleven productive activities!

I guess it’s time for a change. I get 8-9 hours each day (most days) to live my life outside of work & sleep, and I want to be more conscious of how I’m spending my time. Play is good, but there needs to be a balance. And my productive activities aren’t all work. Some of them are (cleaning, for example), but many of them are just good, constructive uses of time that are plenty enjoyable.

After all, I’ve been thinking lately about who I want to be, especially now that I’m closer to 30 than 20. Unless the person I want to be is an unkempt bum who wastes most of her free time, I should probably start using my time more wisely.

That is all.

Any thoughts? Please share!!