Many of you commented on my post, How NOT To Handle the Hard Stuff, sharing some of the mistakes you’ve made. Below are a few of those, in addition to more that I’ve learned the hard way.
6. Do not define “good” yourself.
When I define what is good, I come up with things like “easy,” “fun,” “pain-free,” and “popular.” Good is something I like or enjoy or something others like and praise me for. But when I look at my circumstances expecting this kind of good, I will always be disappointed, because life isn’t always easy, fun, pain-free, or applauded by onlookers. That disappointment then leads to anger and bitterness. I’ve spent months wallowing there, all because I misunderstood what God means when he promises us good.
God promises to work all things for his glory and our good, but he defines our good like this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:28-29a)
God works in all things to change us so that we become more like Jesus Christ. God teaches that those things that make us more Christ-like are good. For reasons he hasn’t chosen to explain, becoming more like Jesus doesn’t seem to happen much in the easy things, the fun things, the restful things. So he has to take us through the hard things to accomplish his will for us – to be like Jesus.
7. Don’t assume that “safe” and “protected” means physically safe or protected.
This is similar to #6. Our spiritual growth and health is of utmost importance to God. He promises to keep and protect his children til the end, but this means their souls are protected, not necessarily their bodies. This is a huge mistake I made. But over the years, friends and family have suffered physical harm from other people or from illness or from accidents. And I raged at God, yelling “You promised to protect your children!” And finally, this year, I stopped raging long enough to hear him say back, “I did. But not the way you expected me to.”
8. Don’t assume the world, or even your friends and family, owe you help or sympathy.
One of my friends wrote that she has struggled at times when she expected people to come around and help her, but they did not. And I’ve also wrestled through episodes in which I felt helpless and cried out to people who did not respond with help. It can be so easy to focus on them and how they let you down, when in fact God may be trying to teach you more rest and reliance on him alone. Sometimes he allows us to be alone as part of our training in righteousness.
9. Don’t plot or exact revenge.
“‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord. ‘I will repay.'” Revenge is a sin, plain and simple. But how many times have I imagined all sorts of poetic justice upon those who have hurt me or the ones I love? How many times have I withheld forgiveness in my heart as a way of getting someone back for hurting me? And how often does that kind of thinking actually hurt me instead? Plotting revenge and refusing to forgive (or to be ready to forgive) feeds my anger and hurt and resentment. That anger bleeds into all other areas of my life, including the way I treat the ones I love. Now I’m the one at fault, sinning against my friends and family.
10. Don’t stop being thankful.
You don’t have to be thankful forthe hard thing, at least, not right away. But you can always find something or someone to thank God for. In a ladies’ Bible study I participated in this fall, one of the questions I had to answer was what were three things I was thankful for in my current trial. I’m sure my face looked as sour as I felt when I read that question. But I gave it a try and did find three things, even if I did write them down grudgingly. And it helped me to remember that God hadn’t abandoned me. There, in writing, were three examples of provisions he had made for us during and after the death of my daughter, Elli.
- She died peacefully, at home. She hadn’t gotten sick and spent weeks in the hospital and away from friends and family. She spent the preceding days with us and with her friends at school, in her normal routine.
- We did not have to make any agonizing decisions regarding how long to keep trying or when to stop life-saving measures. There was no code team, chest tubes, electric shocks, needles into bones or emergency surgery.
- She died on the one day each week in which no investigation would be launched into the sweet and capable women who helped me care for her during the week. Neither of them had been in the house in the previous 24 hours. We were so thankful that in their own grief at the loss of Elli, neither them had to undergo any scrutiny of their actions.
Like it or not, we’re all going to face something painful, difficult, unplanned, and unwanted at some point in our lives. Whether we emerge from it stronger or weaker depends in large part on how we respond to it.