|2 Cor. 4:8-9||“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”|
Well, well, it’s been a while. I’m afraid I had more or less abandoned this blog for a while because the last few months really burnt me out in many ways. September through November 2011 have proven to be some of the roughest months I’ve faced in ages. I’m not going to whine about all the rubbish that’s been thrown at me, if you want to know you can ask me about it later, but for now I’ll share a few of the tough moments and some of the things I gained out of it all.
I suppose I’ll start with September 4th. That Sunday was an adventure. I had just come from an amazing morning with my church sharing in a wonderful baptism ceremony. Sure, it had been a rough week, but I was feeling that things were finally looking up. The sun was bright, the colours were vibrant, all seemed well with the world. I was cruising in style in my battle-scarred 1995 Subaru Legacy, affectionately termed the ‘Jonster Monster’ with my aviators on and my Tchaikovsky blaring. I slowed down for a cyclist on the road and came to a stop as I waited for a truck to pass so I could turn onto my street from Highway 105. Then suddenly the music stopped. All in a moment my senses were overloaded with sounds, feelings, smells, and sights, that felt totally foreign.
Shattering plastic flew all around, an ear-splitting roar consumed the air, and the adrenaline pulsed through me as my car lurched forward in a horrible jolt. I gripped the streering-wheel, let out a sigh and said: “Shoot.” I had just been hit by a horse-trailer containing 3 tons of hay. Thankfully the truck pulling it had swerved (I might have been dead, or wishing I was dead, otherwise). It had barely skimmed me, but even just a tap at 40 miles an hour can be pretty devastating, as evidenced by the impact on the poor old Jonster Monster.
My day had been interrupted. I felt like the real world had vanished for a moment to give place to a glimpse of a nightmare. But really I had only been given a glimpse into a side of reality that I had hitherto rarely seen, but that many people live with on a daily basis. I was hit by more than a trailer that day. I was hit by the realization that this world is not nearly so bright and cheery as I often believe it to be, that I could leave here without notice any day, and therefore that every moment is something precious that should not be wasted.
Thankfully the physical effects of that accident were definitely minimal, I escaped with nothing more than a bad case of whip-lash. Though, in hindsight I’ve noticed many effects it had on my thinking. On the positive side of things, I found a renewed sense of thankfulness and humility, upon realizing that God has blessed me with a great life, but that it can end at any moment. On the negative side, however, I found that a good deal of my optimism and naivety had been badly damaged. The world seemed a good deal darker to me than it had the day before. It wasn’t that terrible of a car accident, but it definitely impacted me more than I would have thought.
Well, fast-forward past some other frustrations and a few highlights to Sunday, September 18th, the day before my 20th birthday. Of course I was pretty excited about turning 20 and leaving my teen years behind in another step towards being a man. I did indeed take a step towards manhood that day, but it looked nothing like I wanted it to. On the whole, my birthday was a nice day. I had a great time with my family and some of my close guy friends, received a multitude of facebook messages, and so on. But all of that was overshadowed by the 18th, and I just couldn’t enjoy any of it. On that Sunday evening one of my best and dearest friends declared to me that he was renouncing Christianity, and everyone that held to it, including me. For my own sake, I’ll spare the details of what he said to me.
This came like a wrecking ball to me. Two weeks before we had been talking about how he wanted to do missions work in a foreign country. I was so devastated by his actions that it made me question my own faith and stability. I had to spend the next several hours crying out to God in prayer, going over the evidence as to why I believe that Christ is who He claimed to be, and weeping with this fellow’s hurt family. This man was a brother to me, and he betrayed me on a deeper level than anyone had ever done before.
That event truly made me closer to being a man then almost anything else. Why? Because, just like Jesus, as it mentions in Hebrews, I learned obedience through suffering. I cannot explain all of what took place, but I will sum it up with a portion of the exchange that took place between the two of us. He said something along the lines of this: “No one can sanely love me unless they hold to my standards and accept my ideology. Nor can I love them. I refuse to love anyone unconditionally.” Those words, coming after many insults, stabbed me to the core. But, somehow, in that moment, Jesus worked in me. All I could return to him was: “Well, if I cannot sanely love you, then I will love you insanely.”
That event taught me something powerful. It showed me a glimpse of God’s heart. Before that moment I could never have understood what it would be like to truly love someone that hated you in return. That was one of the most breaking experiences I have ever gone through, yet it began the process of something profound in my character.
Fast-forward again past more frustrations, more car troubles, more lost friends, not getting a job that I’d been striving for, and many other trials, to November 5th. This is one I will say very little about, seeing that there’s still a lot of sparks flying around about it. But to put it bluntly, I was physically assaulted on that day. Needless to say, that wasn’t fun. But the effects it had on me were much deeper than on my body. Not only was my physical person threatened, but my character and my spiritual integrity were almost jeopardized.
That moment was the most difficult temptation I have ever faced. The desire to hate was grasping at my heart, striving to overthrow everything I stand for, thirsting to kill the man I aim to be. I wanted nothing more than to give in to bitterness and wrath because I had been wronged. I was shaken to my core at that moment. Yet, somehow, God gave me victory. Maybe it was helped by the fact that a close friend happened to be praying for me, without knowing why, when all of this was happening. In either case, I cannot completely understand how, that much is beyond me, but somehow, He did it.
This all might sound rather silly to someone that doesn’t know my testimony or where I’ve come from, so I will just say that God has brought me out of being a slave to bitterness and hatred for several years. So for me to fall back into that pattern would have been more devastating than I can put into words. That trial held more spiritual significance for me than almost anything else I’ve dealt with.
Yet, in spite of the hardship, God used it to teach me something beautiful. I learned that when you carry out His commands, the blessings far outweigh the brokenness. Out of the temptation to hate, He brought forgiveness. I had never before been given the opportunity to truly pray for an enemy until that day. And I will tell you, it was strenuously difficult, and took me days to finally do it, but I have never felt such a freeing kind of forgiveness. I learned that when Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies, it was really largely for our own benefit as well. When we refuse to forgive, we deepen the wound. But when we surrender to forgiveness and seal it with prayer, the freedom and the victory are astounding.
I also got to carry out the command given in Matthew 18. Although I will perhaps never know the full results, and although it led to a good deal of insults, threats, and mockery, it was another profoundly freeing experience for me. It also showed me that hard words mean nothing when you have the assurance that comes from carrying out Jesus’ commands. When you obey His commands, the confidence He gives you is far stronger than any of the consequences.
Well, I could go on, though I feel that this post is highly unstructured and rambling, so I do believe I’ll end it with one final thought. Through all of this God brought me back to His Word, which I regret to say, I had fallen out of the habit of dwelling in. Lately I’ve been memorizing James, and there is one passage in particular that has kept me holding on through the rough times:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4
These last few months have certainly held trials of various kinds, but God has been showing me that it is certainly something to rejoice over. I have gained more steadfastness than I had ever thought possible for me. God has shown me that learning to praise Him in the hard times makes the pain worth it. Although the hard times are bittersweet, and brokenness is difficult, those are the best circumstances for knowing the Lord on a personal level. It has been in these times that He has proven His character to me unfailingly. It has been in these times that He has answered my prayers beyond doubt. It has been in these times that He has made me one small step closer to being who Jesus has called me to be.