Frowns And Sorrow
Not a burden we bear,
Not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief nor a loss,
Not a frown nor a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.
These are great, and true lyrics. However, “But our toil he doth richly repay” sounds like a Shakespeare quote to me. Like something your English professor would say, and five kids in the class would smile and nod, while the rest of you look at each other going “what does that mean?” Let me put the song lyrics in words that might be easier to understand:
God rewards our hard work and struggle with blessings every time we bear a burden or have sorrow.
When we trust and obey, all our grief, losses, frowns, and crosses are blessed by God.
See! Much clearer. Much less poetic, too. Here’s where the rubber meets the road in this whole “trust and obey” business. What happens when it all goes sideways? When it’s just a hot mess? The song says that God rewards us with blessing! That seems too good to be true. But also, kind of lame. Like, does God let stuff happen so He can bless us? Does God cause the bad stuff? Nope.
Imagine, for a second, my refrigerator in the summer of 1995. I lived in a Marlette single-wide trailer in Kentucky with my friends John and Todd. We decided to share meals that summer with two of our ex-girlfriends. (Todd was much smarter than John or I.) So, all five of us drove to Sam’s club, and bought food. Several carts full of food. We had high hopes! But of course, we got distracted by “The Real World” and Alanis Morrisette videos. And we didn’t cook nearly as much as we planned. So, the fridge became a huge mess of leftovers, old lettuce, take out containers, maybe some chicken… or pork? Not sure.
Now imagine if Gordon Ramsay showed up to make us dinner. He would rummage through the fridge, chopping and dicing; sautéing and simmering, and end up with a feast. He could take our failures and make them into something beautiful. That’s how God is with our life. We mess things up. Sometimes we buy too much, or we don’t do what we should. Sometimes someone else leaves old Chinese food in our heart. God takes that mess and makes something amazing.
Does that mean God caused the mess? No. That was a combination of our bad choices, someone else’s bad choices and random luck. God meets us where we are and makes something blessed. When we have bad things happen, like death, or failing a class, or our parents getting a divorce, or even a worldwide plague keeping us inside for 18 months, God uses that.
God’s blessing are usually things like:
One of the worst things about catastrophe is the uncertainty. Have you ever sat in a hospital waiting room, not knowing what would happen to a loved one? Often, the waiting is the hardest part, because of the uncertainty. God gives us an assurance that while things may not be “all right” now, they will be all right in the long run. We know the ending! We also know that God will be with us through out.
Along with assurance, comes calm and peace. We know that bad things are happening around us, but we can be peaceful. I’m sure you know people like this at your corps. Something happens that would throw anyone else into a fit, and they just act like normal. They are sad, but not crazy about it. It’s not about the emotion of things. We can, and should, have strong emotional reactions. It’s about how we can harness and translate those emotions into action instead of wasted energy. It’s like we become super-efficient LED lightbulbs instead of old fashioned, hot burning, energy wasting tungsten bulbs. We can shine without burning those around us.
The ability to function
Another blessing that comes is the ability to keep going. Sometimes courage is defined as “being afraid but doing it anyway”. That’s the idea here. God gives us the ability to function, even as we are mourning, or hurting, or both. We can lean on God and keep going, while we are still in crisis.
I know you’ve seen this. People who are in crisis often make terrible decisions. They are not thinking straight. Literally unable to focus enough. God’s blessing in times of crisis is often the wisdom to make good decisions when we’d otherwise be spiraling downward.
People who can step in for us
God often blesses us in crisis by surrounding us with people who can be there for us. They can come around and comfort, or quietly pray, or support in material ways. Like that aunt who shows up, no matter what the crisis is, with a big tray of lumpia. Or the cousin who knows how to fix just about anything. We can depend on God working through those people!
One more way God can bless us is by giving us new directions. We may think our life has been ruined by not getting into nursing school, or by a parent dying. But God comes along and gives our lives new meaning. New goals and new plans are part of His overall plan for our lives. God’s plan for our lives, contrary to what we often think, is more about how we behave and the quality of our spiritual life. It isn’t so much about being called to be a nurse, or a plumber, or an officer. It is more about being called to minister to those around us, to bring the Holy Spirit into the lives of our community, and to be a blessing to others. As it says in the familiar verse from Jeremiah 29:11, “…to give you a future filled with hope.”
Do you have hope for the future? Maybe terrible things have already happened in your life. Maybe the terrible things are in the future. Either way, God will shower you with blessings when the time comes. Take some time and reflect on how God has blessed you when things have gone badly. Or maybe think about how you’ve seen God bless friends, or family members who have had bad stuff. Pray, and thank God that you can have hope!