I hate the phrase “Everything happens for a reason.”
I despise it because it draws to mind a picture of God who is somehow responsible for the result of human sin, the brokenness of our imperfect world and everything that results from those things. It pictures a God who is a master puppeteer, controlling our actions as part of some sort of divine plan, where we have no free will and are simply pawns in a game that can feel perverse when pain and evil enter into our lives.
I do, however, believe that when we trust God with our brokenness in big and small ways, He can take Good Fridays and turn them into places where we can find resurrection. That can happen in significant ways, with the huge hurts of our life. In my own life, God has been able to take my biggest sources of pain, for example my rape, my experience living with a chronic alcoholic who died from the disease and losing my job when I was a single mother, and redeemed them.
But I think sometimes we need to focus on the little things, too, looking for God’s presence in ways that are unexpected when life deals you lemons.
That was what Paul was getting at when he wrote to the church in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
He was in prison, waiting to find out how we was going to die — what kind of torture the Romans would use — and he told people to focus on what was positive, knowing that when we do that we will “be able to accomplish all things through Christ who gives us strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
As we continue to deal with this pandemic, I think that his call to focus on these things is a wonderful practice to develop, if you aren’t already doing it, to seek to find what is positive or good or worthy of praise, which is resulting because of or during this “timeout” we are all taking.
Some of the positives I have experienced include that chance to draw closer to my sisters, their spouses and kids as we play Family Trivia every Sunday night (Ian and I are a pretty formidable team), a daily “Music to Start Your Day” email that an area music director (Kirby Stalley) started sending out during the pandemic that has become an amazing way to begin my day in music and the chance to finally get the surgery done on my foot because Ian has been able to care for me and I will be able to work remotely until I can drive again.
It’s been amazing to see God at work at Emanuel, too, as people who previously hadn’t been are becoming connected through our food pantry, shepherding program and YouTube worship, and we are discovering new, exciting ways to grow our faith and expand our ministry through Virtual Choirs, devotions and children’s sermons that star my dog, Marti.
Don’t get me wrong. I know this is hard. People are dying, and livelihoods are being profoundly affected. People are lonely and businesses are suffering. Pain and hurt abound.
But those are things we can’t control and situations we can’t change.
What we can do to get through these times is to listen to St. Paul, who clearly was in a dire situation himself, and realize that we are able to find the strength to deal with the brokenness of life by giving our greatest energy to that which is well pleasing and good.
One of my daily rituals is, at the end of the day, to think of three things for which I am grateful. The goal is to help me live life with an “attitude of gratitude.” On the best days, it gives me a chance to say, “thank you” again and on the worst days, it reminds me that even during the times of deepest hurt and greatest turmoil, God is present.
As we forge ahead, with so much uncertainty as to when and how we will be able to gather again in safety, I plan to add to my prayer time of gratitude an additional prayer, asking God to show me the points of resurrection in the midst of this Good Friday we are experiencing as a nation or world; to help me see what is commendable or pleasing, so that I may have the strength to do all of things that are laid before me.
I don’t believe things happen for a reason, but I do believe in a God who triumphs over death and the grave and who can triumph, too, over the Great Pandemic and all that results, showing forth the power of life in a world filled with death. And that triumph unfolds in big, and in small, ways.
God whose will for us is life, help us to see in all situations that your transformative power is at work, even as we deal with the consequences of sin and the reality of a broken world. Grant us eyes to see where You are redeeming our world and giving us hope, and hearts that are filled with the joy You provide, even in the midst of hurt and sorrow. In the name of your Son, who triumphed over death to give us life, we pray. Amen