To Trust... or How to Trust
"I said to the man from Nairobi, who sat on the seat right beside me..."
I'm smiling as I tell you this is not a limerick.
I actually did make a new friend from Nairobi, Kenya.
Last month (before Jaymun's relapse) Fr. Joseph Oduor Afulo, S.J. and I spent a few hours together at 30,000 feet. Among all possiblilities, we happened to be musing on the intersection of God's will and the will of humans.
As we talked about why a person would will to enter a relationship with God without first appreciating who God was, our native language strengths gave us a unique moment. I was saying something like "If a person always sees God as unfair and judgmental, and spends his entire life running away from God, then when that person first turns toward God, why... "
The man from Nairobi gently interjected in his accented English with a smile,
"Some might say that God first turned to that person". We chuckled, I agreed, and there was an instant where I saw this man's heart, I bonded with his humble appreciation of the magnitude of God's love for the people he created, however recalcitrant they might be.
Fr. Joseph is the Principal of Hekima College in Nairobi, Kenya. He was en-route to visit his alma-mater in Milwaukee (Marquette). During our time in the air, we proceeded to talk about how all things in life, including difficulties and sorrows, become tools in the hand of God as He pursues deeper relationship with His children.
The early part of my Christian life I spent attending a church that strongly stressed God's will and purposes.
Then my prayers focused on God accomplishing His will and on my receiving peace by either
becoming one with His purposes, or by submitting to the incomprehensibility of His plans.
And so I carry with me an appreciation of what I call the "grand purpose theology" championed by the root branches of Christianity. The belief that God's will directs life to us, and should be cherished, rather than minimized. That God purposely at times uses sorrows to draw his children closer -
that He specifically allows challenges and difficulties to teach us lessons of faith, and to help us to mature.
I have learned that God did not create us simply to know truth by inspiration or study, but to learn truth by experience. His plan was for us to realize truth by living through behavior and consequences. He wanted our lives to mirror His character. So that means God chose for us to more fully appreciate qualities like "mercy, sympathy, trust, faithfulness, etc." by purposely allowing us to pass through periods of "failure, sorrow, danger, dependency, etc." He willed to display these (His) infinite qualities by creating a time where they would be slowly learned or uncovered in the lives of His children.
On the other side of the coin, the church I currently attend emphasizes what I call "action theology". This stresses that we are responsible to draw closer to God, to repent from our destructive ways, to embrace His salvation, to tell others about Him, to pray, to work, to grow, to serve, etc. To brightly reflect His love to a hurting world. That the devil uses troubles to attack God's children - and that by faith we are victorious. That God responds to our prayers, that our actions really do make a difference in this world, That God challenges us to do His work, and rewards our faithfulness. This is a wonderful environment from which to teach my children how to be useful members of God's family.
However, these two different aspects of life "God's purposes" and "Our actions" are now interacting intensely - especially with my son Jaymun's illness. I feel torn between resignation to God's greater plan, and desparate need for rescue. Do I spend time resting in God's wisdom and faithfulness - or do I urgently plead for timely help? What created this predicament is that these concepts are much more than just ideas in my mind. I have a real relationship with God - I feel that when I ask Him, He hears and comes to help me. Ever since God actually conquered my own resistance and I started responding to Him, my trust in Him has been growing. Not only am I awed by His desire for me to be in relationship with Him, I have learned practical lessons about His faithfulness. So then it becomes more and more natural for me to instinctively turn to my heavenly Father for help when I am in trouble. And I expect He is there even before I ask.
However, then when He does not help me or answer my plea for help (the way I expected), I feel somewhat betrayed. Over this past year, I have prayed passionately for the healing of several ill people. Granted, I was praying for the children of others, and it is undoubtedly easier for me to accept "God's will" for some other family. However, in the back of my mind I think about my own son, and one after another as I have seen other cancer patients succumb to this disease, I have wrestled with feelings of betrayal.
Why, God? Why didn't you answer our prayers? Are we right to trust you? Why do I feel let down by you?
I suppose to answer these questions, one might simply retreat from actually expecting timely answers from God. One might simply rather focus on the eventual accomplishment of His grander divine will. This past year, every time my prayers went unanswered, I have been forced to examine the larger perspective of God's will, and so I have been seeking (and I thought I was finding) peace there.
But that peace does me no good when my own son has toxins flowing into his veins to kill his blood cells. Last week Jaymun was diagnosed with relapsed Leukemia - and I recognized just how tough it is to rest in God's will. This week I have been so confused - like wandering in a black fog. Resting in "Thy will be done" seemed to be a lonely logic that was larger than my limited capacity. Weighing the infinite options of God's will was suppressing my freedom to cry out as a child, earnestly expecting real help.
I'll give you a practical example of what I mean: Suppose you are a child - walking with your father - and a mean dog starts heading in your direction. How do you respond?
Do you reason to yourself: "My father is strong - he is wise - he will do what is best for me?"
Do you then announce to your father: "Dad, I know you are good and wise, and have a good plan for me. There's a big mean dog coming at us - and I know if you want to save me from this mean dog, you can ...Your will be done, Dad!"
Well, no, I think what you do, is grab your Dad's legs and reach up expecting Him to pick you up and hold you safe. And then if he doesn't pick you up - you start urgently calling out for him to pull you up to safety - all the while knowing he will - never thinking he will let you down.
And so the same thing held true for me with Jaymun this week - yes, I admit it took about a week for the confusion to settle, and for me to get back to receiving real peace. I am not getting that peace by figuring out God's plans, or even worrying about them any more. Being here at the hospital, my heart breaks for Jaymun, and the intensity of the emergency happening in his body. I can almost see the cancer cells, and the chemo drugs, and the healthy tissue -
and I see a battleground. I see the mean "dogs" with sharp teeth and nasty growls heading our way.
But then all these things are nothing compared to the grace and power of my Father in heaven.
He is not a distant Father, but a Father who knows the anguish of my heart and loves to protect and care for me.
He gave me this boy - and he cherishes those blessed moments I have with my son even more than I do. And so I hold Jaymun, and talk to my Father in heaven about my son.
And I beg Him to pick us up and hold us in His arms ...To keep us safe ...To hold us close.
And He is so strong, I feel so entirely safe with Him. Psalm 91
Just spending the time relying on God - Him who knows what I need - is what gives me the strength in this time. Tomorrow may have its own set of difficulties - but the Lord is big enough to handle those once tomorrow gets there. Notice - I am already projecting confidence into the future. However, I have just learned keenly (again), that when tomorrow comes, the confidence I need for that new day will not come so much from relying on yesterday's memory of faith - but by again obtaining fresh love from the Father in that day to help us with the current perils.
A week ago Friday, Hospital Chaplain Jim sat and listened to my disorganized thoughts and after a time made the following observation. "God led the children of Israel through the Red Sea - and there was a great victory. But then they ended up in the desert - and were fed manna every day from the hand of God - each day just enough for that day"
Today I have lived out that experience. God gave us a great miracle with Jaymun back in 2006. The "sea parted" before us - and God's mighty hand brought us through to safety. Then there came a time to reflect on the larger picture.
But now we are back journeying as it were through the wilderness - and my theology just got a lot simpler:
God is there for us to lean on today. He will be there tomorrow also.
Who better to trust our own son with, than the One who gave His own Son to die for us?
"Father, please help!"
"...I live from God's love - draw strength from above - His presence that goes on before me."