When I got married at 26 I believed it was for life. I believed I was choosing the person I would have children with and grow old with. I was not meant to end up in an emotionally abusive relationship, a shadow of my former self with a one-year-old baby as a single parent! This was not part of the plan. This was not how my life was meant to be.
I became a Christian at the age of 14 and truly believed that nothing bad would ever happen to me again. I thought I was safe from all pain, disappointment, fear and rejection. I was overwhelmed by the fact that Jesus died for me personally, that I could be forgiven for all I’d done wrong – past, present and future – and be given the opportunity to experience “life to the full”, as it says in John 10:10, which ever since has been my favourite Bible verse.
The first time I found out that someone in my church had had an affair I was absolutely devastated but, more than that, I was confused – I thought this stuff didn’t happen to Christians. And when my mum was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I was really rocked. It seemed that Christians weren’t exempt from suffering after all. These incidences and inevitable knock-backs along my life journey caused me to renegotiate my faith, but it was only when some rubbish stuff happened to me personally that I really saw what my faith was made of and it was then that it was made authentic.
I didn’t blame God when my marriage ended but I did blame myself: had I not prayed enough? Did I choose so unwisely? Was I so ‘out of God’s will’ for my life? And then I suddenly realised that God didn’t blame me, so why should I? It was something bad that happened to me, in my life. Something really bad and really hard but you know, God is still God.
As I read the Bible properly, not just the happy, fluffy bits, I realised that Jesus pretty much said problems were a given: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). So what is the point of being a Christian? What is the difference if we have to face and deal with the same rubbish that those who don’t know him do? Jesus says in the rest of this verse: “But take heart! I have overcome the world!” This basically means he is bigger than any trouble you could ever face and you don’t have to face it alone – herein lies all the difference in the world.
Suffering is inevitable and here’s the crazy part – it can be good for us! I used to get really stuck on those Bible verses in the book of James that say: “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds” – yeah right! Who in their right mind enjoys suffering? I have certainly not enjoyed these last few years! But the passage in James goes on to qualify this by saying what suffering can produce in us; perseverance, maturity and completeness, so that we lack nothing (James 1:2-4). Now I can genuinely say that the journey through my divorce and becoming a single parent has produced these things in me in abundance, or rather painfully extracted them.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on that favourite verse of mine John 10:10. What did Jesus mean when he said he came to give life in all abundance, life to the full? I had for years automatically interpreted ‘abundance’ as ‘happiness’. But he doesn’t say he came to give us happiness, he says he came to give us a full life. His purpose is that we would experience the full depth of what it means to be alive, to be a human being, his most precious creation. That means not just the good stuff or we’d just live mediocre, flimsy, one-dimensional ‘nice’ existences. It means all the crap stuff too; the painful and challenging stuff.
You see, I love the childlike faith I had as a young Christian but my faith lacked substance. Having gone through the most difficult period of my life so far, I have not lost my faith but it has certainly changed. It is now far more authentic than it has ever been. Suffering, pain and trouble – even that which you create for yourself – means you don’t judge others like you used to, you find out who your real friends are, you grow stronger (eventually), you let go of things that really don’t matter. It also makes you grateful: so, so grateful for the love of God and determined to enjoy the good things and good times in life when they come. The Christian life is not a ticket to an easy ride but it is a ticket to the ride of your life.
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(Photo via Creation Swap)