My favorite passage from Jerry Sittser’s book, A Grace Disguised, which he wrote after losing his mom, wife, and daughter in a car accident reads, “I have this sense that the story God has begun to write he will finish. That story will be good. The accident remains now, as it always has been, a horrible experience that did great damage to us and to so many others. It was and will remain a very bad chapter. But the whole of my life is becoming what appears to be a very good book” (p. 212).
Your story and my story can still be a really good book; it can be a story of love and loss, tears and laughter, sorrow and praise – but we have to fight for it.
The apostle Paul went through shipwrecks, illnesses, physical beatings, persecution, the death of friends, and on and on. In light of those hardships, his writings regarding suffering and perseverance carry heavy weight.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 English Standard Version (ESV)
Every day I am reminded that my story and your story were written before we were even born, as the Psalmist wrote: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalm 136:16, NLT).
I don’t understand everything that happens – why some go through great hardship and others seem to coast through life. But how we live the life we have is in our hands. We can live, without heart, in a cesspool of cynicism and unanswerable questions about God, society, others. If we choose to live there, we stop seeing and enjoying the good things we do have in this life.
After my son Chase died, Suzanne wanted a constant reminder to be present to this life – fully awake to the momentary and transient – because it’s gone before we know it – so she had the words “Be Present” tattooed on her forearm.
One of my prayers is that God would help me be more awake to the life I have. Thomas Kelly called it “the eternal now.” For the church fathers there were only two days: today – the present day – and that day, the day Jesus returns and we meet Him face to face.
I love J.R.R. Tolkein’s poem from The Fellowship of the Ring:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
I don’t think I’m done with suffering, but I’m not going to wait with some pessimistic anticipation for a painful and disappointing future. Rather, I’ll stay awake to the good around me, being present with the ones I love, and living this life to the full.