Difficulties

Today I am writing in the first free time I’ve managed since the birth of my second daughter, Naomi.  She is almost 7 weeks old, but as anyone who has had a baby knows, life is crazy for a while.  It’s doubly crazy when you also have a 2-year-old.   Life has been difficult in many ways this winter, including in the areas of our finances, sickness, my crazy postpartum hormones, parenting alone since Tim had to work away from home, and lack of sleep.

I don’t know about you, but when I go through difficult times, I get really whiny at God.  I sort of assume that since he says he’s merciful, compassionate, and tender that he will give me what I want when I ask it as some sort of proof of his claims.  This winter I didn’t ask for stupid stuff, but I asked to not be sick any longer, and I asked that my toddler will sleep at night in spite of her teething, and my newborn in spite of her newborn-ness.  I asked that the nursing would go super smoothly and that I wouldn’t have to monitor everything I do quite so closely, and I prayed that Tim will stop coughing all night.  I prayed that someday we can get a raise – even a little one, and I prayed that I wouldn’t feel depressed or full of blind rage for no apparent reasons.

But God didn’t give me what I asked for.

And this made me really frustrated.  And my attitude became, “Well, since you aren’t listening, I will just get along on my own then.”   I know that God is listening, but somehow I felt like his back was turned to me for  a few weeks or a month or so.  It didn’t matter what I asked, he wasn’t going to give it to me.   It wasn’t that he wasn’t listening, it was like he didn’t want to be.

So I started to try to tune in to what God wanted me to do, say, and learn.  What he wanted me to think.  I prayed differently for a week or so, no longer asking for things, but asking him to revive our relationship.  He didn’t say a whole lot that week either.

Maybe I should tell you now that I have been reading 1 Peter.  By this I mean that in the past 3-4 weeks I have read 1 Peter 18 times.   A friend and I get together for accountability, and one of the things we hold each other to is reading 25-30 chapters of Scripture per week.  I thought we’d decided on 1 Peter, my friend thought we’d decided on James, then the holidays hit so we didn’t meet for 2 weeks, and now I am reading 1 Peter again for a couple weeks because my friend has only read it 5 times.   Anyway, 1 Peter, if you’ve never read it, has a LOT to say about suffering.  How good it is.  How we ought to be joyful through suffering, how it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing bad, etc.  Maybe it’s just because I’m going through a season, but I felt like each time I read through 1 Peter, I found the words “suffering”, “difficulty”, and “trial” in even more verses than I had the last time I read it through.

But last Sunday at church our pastor Eric was delivering a message very badly when he stopped abruptly, prayed, and started telling us, with deep vulnerability, that he is a mess, and the reason he was giving the message (on embracing good change and embracing the difficulties associated with change) was because he doesn’t want all of us to avoid doing what God wants us to do the way that he has avoided it in the past. He didn’t want us to think he’s a hypocrite, but that he wants better for us. You could have heard a pin drop in the room.  Everyone was listening.  He followed his notes less closely after that, and I thought the Holy Spirit was speaking through him very clearly.

The message was good.  One of the best I’ve heard from him, and maybe ever heard.  Convicting and real and to the point.

At one point Eric told all of us that he has financial problems.  He spends his money unwisely, and sometimes he has trouble paying his bills.  He told us that he will do this and then cry out to God to rescue him from the difficulty, but God won’t, because sometimes Eric is better off learning from his mistakes and making the changes that need to be made.  I interpreted this to mean that sometimes it’s wiser for God to let us deal with stuff than for him to just deliver us from the situation.

Then Eric said that he’d gone to a quiet place as a sort of retreat, and while there, God had told him something.  What God told him made everything in the past month click in my brain like an epiphany.  God said, “I don’t owe you anything.  When I sent Jesus to the cross, my obligation ended.  Everything else I do for you is just bonus.”

So that day I was too busy after church to have time to process what I’d learned.  But the next day I took nap time and started journaling my thoughts to God.  Here is what came to me as I scribbled in my spiral-bound notebook.

“Dad,

I haven’t known exactly how to connect with You lately, but I feel like You’ve been trying to teach me some new lessons.

1) You don’t owe me anything. Just because I ask You for something doesn’t mean You have to give it to me. Nor, if You don’t make my life peachy and perfect, are you somehow neglecting Your end of some unspoken bargain.  I don’t deserve You, and I can’t boss You around.

2) Life is difficult. I need to get over it. Difficulties, problems, trials, etc. will all shape my character, but if I’m not careful I’ll let it shape me into a bitter nag.  Instead, I should be mindful of Your sovereignty, of heaven, and of Your instructions to be joyful because in the long run my faith will be stronger for having experienced those trials.

3) I need to stop whining.  Difficulties and trials are much less horrible if I am less self-centered and more cheerful. It’s a bit if a mind over matter deal, and if I just face the problem, it goes much better.

4) I need to adjust my expectations.  I can’t expect everyone to do and be how I imagine or hope or plan that they will be.  I think this will help me become less reactive and more relaxed.  Not that I want to let everything slide in life, but that when Kira acts 2 years old, I will not be surprised and angry.  I can discipline with a clear mind that is not clouded by anger.  Or when I don’t get enough sleep my attitude isn’t constantly, “I only got 3 hours of sleep, this day isn’t going to go well.”  Which makes my expectations for my own behavior very low.  I expect Kira to act like an adult, and Naomi to act like someone on a schedule, but I don’t act that way myself.

5) I need to keep a clear focus on You and act in a way worthy of  Your gift of salvation.  Even when things are difficult and stressful and hormonal, I need to be calm, thankful, and focused on Jesus’ example of willing suffering.  I need to not be a martyr (“Oh poor me!”) but realistic (“The world is a challenging place, and it doesn’t revolve around me”).  Lord, please help me change my thinking.

6) I need to stop being so selfish.  I can serve Tim more, boss him around less, and have less.  I can be thankful for what I have instead of wanting more.  I can stop being annoyed when people don’t consult me before doing things I’d prefer they didn’t do.  I can sleep less and be happy.  Eat less and be happy.  Clean more – or clean less – and be happy.  Selfishness kills happiness.

7) I need to stop trying to eliminate discomfort (pain, difficulty, trials, etc.) from my life.  I spend a lot of time and energy trying to eliminate discomfort, and it’s not getting me anywhere.  In fact, it’s making me a discomfort to be around.  When difficulty, pain, trials – even feeling inadequate – happens, I should embrace it joyfully and let it teach me greater humility, joy, thankfulness, and dependence on You.

Lord, thank You that I “missed” a “much-needed” nap to get this out of my head, figure out what You’ve been trying to teach me, and write it down.  So what if I’m sick, up at all hours of the night with my newborn, and life’s been a crazy ride lately?  I’m glad You love me and care enough to teach me.  Please keep allowing difficulty in my life so I can become someone You truly want to spend eternity with.  I love You.”

After writing that journal entry, I have felt much better, and have been dealing with the stresses of life much more cheerfully and calmly.  I have not been crazy angry or crying all afternoon.  I have been getting a little more sleep sometimes, and less at others, but have been handling it well.  I have been letting Tim sleep when Kira wakes up in the middle of the night if I hear her first.  I have been ok with not making as much money as I would like, and have even committed some of our money to helping a family I know that is going through much more than I have been lately.  Tim and I have been getting better slowly, and the nursing is going ok too.  Ok, the nursing must be going really well since Naomi grew 2 pounds since birth, is an inch longer, and has a 40 cm head.  :)  Even though life isn’t better in every way, I am better.  And honestly, I am wondering what sort of things God is going to teach me through the trials of my future.  Hopefully, I will act less like a toddler that God is putting in timeout than I have in the near past.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV

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