I like my trials to end up in neatly wrapped packages. The specific formula I want those packages wrapped in is simple: “Trial + Lesson Learned = Comfort and Closure.” This allows me to wrap up my trials, set them on a pretty shelf where later I can look at them and say things like, “Oh yeah, that was the time I couldn’t afford tuition, but God intervened and I learned to trust him more.” Or, “Here’s the package where I was struggling to pass my classes, but God taught me how to learn from my failures and persevere.”
Now, I firmly believe scripture affirms that God uses trials for our good and his glory (Hebrews 12:5-11, Romans 8:28, James 1:2-4, etc.), and I can see some major ways that God has used trials in my life for fruit in his kingdom. For instance, my sister and I lost my mom to cancer when we were little, but through that circumstance our eyes were opened to the gospel. I cannot proclaim enough how many times I look at that trial, in all its beautiful wrappings and see joy in the midst of the pain and sorrow because of how much we gained by receiving Jesus. My mom received ultimate healing—redemption, justification, and glorification.
Other trials have been more difficult to wrap and put on the shelf. As an adult, I watched my father battle cancer for three painful years. It feels like just yesterday I was lying next to him in his bed whispering in his ear “Dad, if you’re waiting for me to say goodbye, I’m not. I’m just going to say, ‘See you later.” Days later, God swept him into eternity.
I can’t wrap that trial up, and it still breaks my heart how much I miss my dad. Yes, I’m sure I have learned a lot of valuable things through these past few years as a result of that trial, but I simply can’t find a neatly fitting package to place it in.
And maybe it’s because our trials don’t actually fit a formula and they can’t be wrapped and placed on a shelf.
Today, just three months away from my wedding, I am sitting across the hospital room from my best friend, the love of my life, my fiancé. His 27th birthday is next week, and the doctors just diagnosed him with cancer. Our worlds stopped.
Over the last twenty-four hours we have agonized and wept over that news and have experienced a myriad of thoughts and emotions. We are waiting to hear the biopsy results to confirm that he has CML, so he can move forward with pills that can fix what is happening in his body. As the dust settles for just a moment, my mind races ahead and wants to find how we can wrap this one up. What should we be learning? How do we fit this into a formula that makes sense to our hurting hearts and foggy brains? What is the “spiritual reason” we are going through this and how can that satisfy our souls’ longings for answers.
These questions reminded me of the book of Job. In the past, my greatest hang-up with reading Job is that in the end, he never really produced a neatly wrapped package to stick on the shelf. His cries of, “Why, God?” were answered with more questions. And today it hit me. God’s response (Job 38-41) may suggest that we are unable to wrap our trials in neatly wrapped packages because we can’t even begin to fathom the full extent what God is doing in the midst of our life’s stories. What we do know is that we can be expectant, hopeful, and joyful knowing that a sovereign God is working out our story (and all stories) in a way that ultimately tells his story of redemption for mankind*. To say that I can recognize, pinpoint, and “wrap-up” all the ways he is working in any given trial is simply arrogant or ignorant. Yet I keep trying to do that in order to provide myself with comfort and closure in the circumstances that I can’t figure out.
That is why instead of feverishly trying to make my trials fit a formula, I need to rest, and be ok without answers.
Rest, and feel, and cry, and bleed, and question…and let myself be comforted by the sovereign God who is working out my story for my ultimate good and his ultimate glory.
And that is far greater than a neatly wrapped package.
[If you would like to donate to Bobbi Jean and Ray’s medical expenses, please visit their GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/yvptfqws Thank you! -B+R’s GFM Campaign Creator]
*These are truths gleaned through the first sermon in a series we are working through in church. Check it out at The Church in DeKalb.