Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My "No", His "Yes"

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."  (Mark 8:33-35, NIV)

Although I absolutely despise it, I have come to realize that suffering is helpful.  It's hard to put into words, but years of unrelenting challenges have taught me precious lessons.  Ultimately, hardship helps me to say "no" to self and "yes" to God:

Trials teach me to say "no" to who I expect involved in things in life.  For instance, I have strong expectations from my husband, my parents, my siblings, my friends.  However, those expectations may be totally unreasonable or impossible for those individuals to fulfill.  When I go through the trials of being hurt or disappointed by someone close to me, God shows me that He can meet my needs through people that I never would have expected to rise to the occasion.  I've had the opportunity to see this in situations where unexpected saints have risen to the occasion providing friendship, compassion, meals, child care and support of various kinds.  As a result, I've made some absolutely cherished friends and seen the hand of God in a very real way.

Trials teach me to say "no" to what I expect in life.  My expectation would be to have healthy, well adjusted children.  While things aren't as we expected them, we still enjoy a wonderful life.  Our kids are amazing in ways that I never could've foreseen!  First, they make me laugh every day just by being themselves.  But also, the challenges that make them wise beyond their years have made them intelligent students, poised community advocates and compassionate companions.

Trials teach me to say "no" to when I expect things to happen in my life.  Perhaps this is the area that proves me the greatest fool in my expectations.  I thought I would get married, earn good money, live life large for 3 years and then start a family.  I did all of those things, but the family building resulted in miscarriage and infertility.  God decided, wisely, to make me a parent after He had grown me up more and separated me from the deepest roots of my selfishness.  And so it goes with the timing of other things in life.  I expect my disabled kids to get better...  soon!  But God decides when things will improve, and that improvement may remain only for a brief season.  Regardless, some of the stories of Lord's timing in our lives are almost unbelievable, and would take more space than I have here today to tell.  We've seen in our family the impeccable timing of one who writes a symphony when God does things on His schedule!

Trials teach me to say "no" to where I expect to go in my life.  If you would have told me 20 years ago that I would've ended up where I am today, I would've told you that you were nuts!  I had a vision of where I was going and what I was doing, but God had other plans.  And in all honesty, I like where I am today much better than where I had planned.  I've also, quite literally, ended up in places I never anticipated.  I couldn't have imagined I'd find myself in Washington, DC talking to lawmakers or becoming friends with people of great influence within my own state.  I never would've thought I'd end up giving talks in various locations or ended up in operating rooms either.  God amazes me!

Trials teach me to say "no" to how I expect things.  I expected God to provide for my family through the typical route of employment.  Yet, it was through joblessness and mountains of medical bills, that provision came.  I could never explain to you how our needs were always met but by Him.  I expected to be a servant of God, but never in the way or magnitude He has done so.  I wouldn't have anticipated that my greatest use would come from living out loud for him in the midst of my suffering.

Had I never learned to say "no" to myself in these situations, how could I ever learn to say "yes" to God?  In a culture where we are so obsessed with avoiding pain at all costs, this whole idea seems radical, even insane.  Nevertheless, there are no shortcuts to shaping our character in such ways.  And this is the difference Jesus makes:  Only He can recycle our bad for something outstandingly good!  Lest we become complete hedonists, we had better improve at the idea of saying "no" to ourselves and realizing that our "yes" to God results in an outcome that is better beyond our wildest imaginations!

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