More than anything else I could ever do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.
If you've ever suffered through a difficult trial, you know the truth of this passage--it's truth is written on the tablet of your heart.
I knew this truth.
But when, in recent weeks, my son's anger continued to escalate in the midst of all the other trials, I lost the perspective revealed in this passage. In my heart, I guess I believed it had limits.
Surely feeling afraid of a nine year old--my own son--is an unfair tribulation.
What child tantrums off and on for a couple hours over being told "I'm sorry, you can't go outside today. There's a windchill and the temperature is too low."
What child slams his bedroom door over and over, throws things against a wall, and jumps around like a lunatic, screaming, over being told, "We can't go to the library today because last night Daddy got a flat tire. He has to hurry and replace the tire before he leaves for work. That leaves no time for us all to get to the library. If the errand doesn't take as long as expected, Daddy will run in after he's done and get you enough books to last until Saturday."
Whether the increased explosiveness is caused by medication, a lack of sleep due to OCD, or another problem, I don't know. I only say no when I can't say yes. This child has very reasonable expectations placed on him.
I now anticipate this turmoil every time I say the word no, but I don't let it run me. He mustn't think it's gaining him anything, for as sweet as I think he is at the core, he's still a child, and children manipulate when they can.
The ability to absorb disappointment, while always impaired in my son, is now completely lacking. He functions like a two year old--only he's a big, strong, scary two year old.
First, I warn him that his anger is escalating quickly, and I ask him to do something that he knows will calm him, such as read a book, draw, or build something. He is usually too angry to do these things, so next, I try to get him to his room as quickly as possible, so that if property is destroyed, it will be limited to one room. And if things are thrown, they won't hit my other children, or me. This type of display puts the whole family into fight-or-flight mode. It isn't healthy. Hearing him go berserk from afar is better than witnessing it with our eyes.
When the explosion subsides he is very remorseful--confused and scared by his lack of control. He clings to me, wondering if I still love him.
He is tormented by the presence of his brother, who is happy, smart, likable, well-behaved. I hear frequently now, "Everybody is happy but me. I hate Paul."
This, coming from a child who's heart is actually very soft.....from a child who loves God and clings to his truths.
Like me, Peter is having trouble persevering in the midst of what seems like an unbearable trial. Like me, he wonders how God could stoop so low, as to stack one boy's deck with so much, and leave another, under the same roof, feeling cursed.
I read this tonight to my three older children, from The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams:
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up." he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
I have always thought this a beautiful story. I cry whenever I read it, as I did tonight.
This time, though, I cried because I saw human suffering in the words. I saw Peter's struggle, my struggle, with the cup we've been given. Can God give one child four neurological disorders--rendering standard drug therapy so problematic it's useless?
Is it fair?
Yes. Because of the cross, it's fair. We were given a gift while we were still sinners--THE CROSS. Whatever the Creator sees fit to do with the created, is fair.
What does Peter get in return for his struggles? What do I get--who must care for him and spend 24/7 with him?
We get to be REAL. And what is "real", for the Christian?
Paul the Apostle had the answer.
Here are examples of his suffering: "beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among the false brethren; I have been in labour and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2Cor.11:24-27).
What conclusion did he come to?
"Therefore", Paul says--because we will one day be raised with Jesus(v.14)--"we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day" (2Cor. 4:16)
In Romans 8:18, Paul says, "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us"
"momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison"(2 Corinthians 4:17).
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
"...Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
I continually lose site of eternity, and then have to preach the same things to myself, over and over on this blog. I wrestle with God, who merely wants to make me REAL--real useful, real godly, real Kingdom-focused.
Sorry about the repetitious lessons, folks.
God is faithful to reveal Himself and His purposes again and again, as he did tonight though The Velveteen Rabbit. I have to trust that just as He ministers to me, he also ministers to Peter. Daily. Hourly.
I can feel that His grace is enough. And when my eyes are heavenward, I tap into even more grace!
I have to trust that Peter, even at nine, can feel sufficient grace from his Father in Heaven--that he can understand the truth of these words: For when I am weak, then I am strong.
These are beautiful words....words we mustn't fight. I can only show Peter how he can love these words, by loving them...living them, myself.