When I Need to Redefine My Idea of God’s Faithfulness
I just finished watching an amazing conversation between Sandra and Andy Stanley and Kate Bowler. They were discussing Kate’s new book and her experience of going through colon cancer and how she drew near to the heart of God through pain. Andy referenced her and her book in his sermon “Becoming Better Through A Crisis”, quoting her saying we all (I think Americans) have a little prosperity gospel in us. For me it looks like when I get to the point where I am uncomfortable with the mystery of God I try to put Him in a box. I’ve written and talked about it a lot over years and in my last post https://www.fellowsojourner.com/single-post/2020/05/14/When-Boundaries-Are-Needed-in-Unexpected-Areas I talk about how when I was single I had stopped attending church on Mother’s and Father’s Day because it was too painful. In that season I also was quick to shut down people who were uncomfortable with my pain and tried to silver lining my living with the desire for a family of my own and praying and hoping for it, but also knowing that even if I my hope didn’t pan out, God is still good. He is still faithful. I was determined to sit in the tension even though it hurt like crazy. Needing to live in this tension wasn’t an easy conclusion come to and I heard Beth Moore first put it in a way I really understood. She said that so often we trust God to_____. As in I trust God to keep my job security. I trust God to help me pass this final. I trust God to come through for me in the way I think He should or said He would. But I believe that is an immature faith. I’m not saying we don’t hope, pray and believe God will come through in a miraculous way. I just think when we bank our faith on circumstances we discover we have a toddler like faith. For example in Matthew 26:30-35 when Peter vehemently told Jesus he would never deny Him. He really meant it in the moment of his untested faith. But then when Peter was stretched past what he could fathom, he saw the fragility in what he thought was deep faith. It’s a process we all must go through if we are to mature in our understanding of a God so grand we can only grasp glimpses of His surface. Instead of building our faith in God to come through for us in the way we think He should, mature faith is built in those seasons when we have no idea where He is. When we get to a place where we simply say I trust God. In those moments though, we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit as our Comforter that is more beautiful than words can describe.
For me this became huge watching my Grandfather slowing fading in a nursing home, his memory slipping each day. He loved God and served Him faithfully his whole life and had I imagined him and my grandmother dying in each others arms like the end of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Instead my amazing grandfather struggled in pain and memory loss for months… and he forgot my name. I don’t think he totally forgot who I was because he seemed to always have a sense that the black haired woman staring at him belonged to him, but he stopped being able to to place me. For a while he remembered me as “his granddaughter the missionary” even though I’d been off the mission field for years. But when he had to be strapped down because the memory loss left him a danger to himself, I knew he remembered my propensity for the daring. He had been trying for days to convince us all to help him out. Even in that state he was endearing. Once time he pointed and counted all of us saying, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 people and no one will help me out”. Near as we can tell he didn’t know he was in the hospital. It seems he thought he was home. But I don’t think it was the happy place home was that he was going to all the time because you could hear the fear in his voice. One day when everyone left his room and we were alone, he looked at me with such intensity and told me where to find something to cut the restraints in his garage. He gave me detailed instructions on how help him out. My grandpa’s garage…. it was a place of legend to my mind growing up. My grandpa could build and fix anything. He started and physically build several churches, built the cabin on the lake I loved visiting growing up, and built his final house. The garage is where is Cadillac and motorcycle with a car seat on the back lived. Yes, I said car seat and it was amazing! Lest in our bubble wrap your kids world someone think that he was negligent, it was as safe as taking a 4 wheeler around with your kid safely stowed away in their five point harness. As a small kid I knew I was loved deeply by my larger than life grandpa when he would take me around their tiny town to the post office on the back of his motorcycle. As I grew older I would sing to him on the back since he didn’t have a radio and he told me over and over how beautiful it sounded. For the introvert who struggled with worth issues and who knew God had given me a voice but was always scared to use it, my soul felt seen on the back of his bike. Grandpa’s garage was full of all sorts of tools and contraptions perfectly organized and kept into place. So decades later when I found myself alone with him in the hospital room and he started to tell me where to go in his garage, I was flooded with a mix of emotions. There was a joy just thinking of that garage and even the smell invaded my senses. But then such a deep pain because I couldn’t do what he was asking. I couldn’t set him free. He had to be strapped down because even at 94 years old my grandpa was as strong as an ox. Even as his mind was going in and out because of sickness, I think he knew if there was anyone who was going to help him make a daring escape, it was his black headed granddaughter. The one who hung on every word he said. The one who learned to bate a hook and fish at his cabin. The one who he prayed daily for as she set out on planes across the ocean because it’s where God was leading. He may not have known my name in that moment but he knew I had a propensity to walk the line. although I am a rules follower I am also a social norm breaker. So I stood there with tears streaming down my face as he pleaded with me to go to the garage and get something to set him free. His thinking was obviously not in the moment we were, but what was he feeling. Did he feel betrayed by the ones he loved most? Did he question our love? I mean here he was alone with his little one he loved so much who always jumped with both feet for what she’s passionate about, but she did nothing. Oh what lies did the enemy of his soul speak to him about his identity and about the love of God in that moment? Yeah watching my grandfather fade and eventually die did not at all line up with how I understood Romans 8:28 at the time: And we know that for those who love God all things work together. I had been in dark seasons before, the darkest seasons on my life which left me curled up on the floor experiencing pain, loneliness, and suffering I couldn’t have comprehended existed before experiencing them myself. But in the end, I saw my suffering redeemed. I knew the heart of God in a way I never would have otherwise. In that season there were people who tried to pray away my circumstances but I remembered asking them not to unless I had learned all I could. When those moments were all said and done there were also tangible things I’d seen God do. I’d seen Him come through over and over in the miraculous but most importantly I’d been drawn closer to the heat of God and I learned how to trust Him more deeply. But I have seen no purpose or redemption in watching someone I love end their time on earth in such an undignified way. There was no silver lining the pain away as I begged God to take him to heaven so his suffering would end. We live in a fallen world and as a follower of Christ I believe until we get to heaven we will endure things that won’t make sense and that may never seem to have a purpose. I can choose to use these things to draw me closer to the heart and God and deepen my hope for heaven or I can grow bitter and explain away what feels like the faithlessness of my limited understanding of God. I can redesign my tiny little box I choose to try and make God operate in and numb the places in my heart that know the truth. After the initial days in the hospital, my grandfather got a version of better. However he never again stepped foot in the home he built with his own hands. He never again drove his Cadillac which he had just put beautiful new white walls on. He never again slept next to his wife that He’d loved longer than the average person lives. He did not go out the way we thought he would. He did however, the last time I saw him face to face, remember my name. After about eight months of watching the man who was a giant in my eyes slowly fade, I once again found myself alone with him. This time there were no restraints needed because he couldn’t get up. I sat at the foot of that bed like I had so many times when I was little, but in this moment feeling helpless and hurt. Then he reached out, patted my hand and said, “How’s Danelle doing?” In a moment where the weight of living in a fallen world crashed down on me so hard, God in His goodness gave me one of the greatest gifts. My grandfather looked me in the eyes, said my name, and reminded me that he had held me and my welfare so close to his heart. As quickly as the moment came it left as the room once again flooded with people. If I remember the timeline is correctly, he stayed in the nursing home two more months as his memory got dimmer and dimmer and his body got weaker and weaker. When he died he did not look to heaven and say he saw Jesus. He made no indication there was a choir of angels singing to him as he passed from this world to the next. There was no visible proof God was moving in that moment. After he died a friend posted how their mother, who had also love God faithful, passed peacefully with arms extended to heaven. My friend described it as a testament to God’s faithfulness and to them I’m sure it felt that way. But to me that story felt cruel and made God seem heartless. My family did not have that experience. Instead we were faced head on with the reality that death is cruel and often as final breaths are expressed, pain is present. It is the ultimate “put your money where your mouth is” moment and I truly can rest in my faith of God’s goodness. A goodness that supersedes our definition of goodness based on what we see or experience.
And while God did not come through for my grandpa in the way we’d hoped he would, in the way be prayed He would, or in the way we had faith He would, He is still a good and loving God. And in His goodness He gave me the gift of hearing my grandfather say my name one last time. A gift I didn’t even ask for because I didn’t know I needed it. In dark times I can go back to that moment sitting on the edge of that hospital bed and remind myself that I can trust God to lead me. I won’t always like the dance and it’s ok. I won’t always understand why He dips when He does, while He twirls when He does, or why He turns the lights off on the dance floor sometimes. But I can always trust that He is, even when I can’t feel Him, near me. So I will keep praying for the miraculous and I will keep hoping for the Norman Rockwell kinds of days. But my faith in not built on God coming through like I think He said He would. My faith is built on the love of The One Who Put The Stars Into Place who is The One Who Loves Me Most. Every morning He beckons me to draw near to Him and get deeper glimpses of His heart. Sometimes I answer the call with expectant abandon but other times it feels more like an obligation when I’d rather stay in bed. And sometimes, tragically I hit the snooze button on the call, only to wake up later with the sadness of knowing I’d missed a moment with Him. But oh the comfort that despite my propensity for selfishness, He still extends the invitation day after day. It’s an invitation to know that He is good, not because of what he does or does not do, but because of who He is.