Bitter Strength

You know, sometimes it’s really hard following God. Oh, wait — never mind. Scrap that “sometimes” nonsense. It’s pretty much ALWAYS really hard following God. And by “following” here I don’t mean believing in Him or committing to His ways, etc. No, I mean something far plainer — or at least what one would imagine to be plainer. I’m talking about keeping up with Him and His plans; being able to follow the action play-by-play, being able to sense a clear path, keeping up with the action so you understand what’s going on. I mean plain old being able to get what He’s up to in our lives and how it’ll all work out to be awesome in the end.

Nothing so complex as walking in His ways yet.

Fortunately (and sometimes extremely unfortunately, we’re convinced) we don’t get a copy of God’s playbook. We just get to take our positions on the field and make the best of what we do see and do understand in trying to navigate this ginormous game called “Life”, with just a liiiiiiiiittle bit of (perceptible) help from Outside. It’s fortunate because, were we to ever be gifted a copy of God’s aforementioned “playbook”, the vast majority of the world’s greatest achievements would never have even drifted near the pages of history — the journey required to get there is just too hard and too scary! We’d straight up tell Him, “No, God! You’re not getting me to go through all that even if it is to get to a point as awesome as that! Forget it! I’m quitting while I’m behind!” It’s unfortunate because, come on, we all generally feel (very strongly, too) that we should at least understand why we have to go through this — it’d make it all more bearable, we tell ourselves.

Cases in point: Joseph on his way to becoming Pharaoh’s almost-double; David on his way to becoming King of all Israel; Thomas Edison on his way to the light bulb; Henry Ford on his way to automotive success; Gandhi on his way to a free India; Beethoven on his way to classical mastery; Charlie Parker on his way to jazz lord status. Walt Disney on his way to Disney World. If these guys and millions of others throughout history had been given an inkling as to what awaited them on their journey, it would be interesting to see just how many of them would have gone on to make the history books, and for what!

Once upon a time I had a dream. I nursed the dream for months. Years. I agonized over it. The dream finally started to come true. And I dreamed some more. Time was drawing me ever closer to a moment of truth upon which all of my dreaming hung and around which all of my deepest desires revolved. I did everything I knew how to do. It was hard. It was a whole lot of uncertainty. It was nights of fervent prayer, days of existing on a razor’s edge. And then the moment came and was gone. And I? I stood staring blankly out into the distance, stunned. Shell-shocked. Incredulous.  Embarrassed. Powerless.

True story — that moment happened this morning.

And now here I am, feeling like Joseph in prison, or David in exile when God promised him the throne, or Edison wondering what on earth he could have got wrong this time… The not-so-cliche-at-all feelings of watching a dream — THE dream — slip away just as it seemed within reach…

It’s moment like these you most want an answer. Moments like these you most feel the need to be able to follow the play. Moments like these you positively ache to understand where He’s going with all this.

Especially when it all seemed set up so perfectly! Prayers were being answered. Circumstances were changing around. Even some fine details were lining up to the tee. Spirits were running high. Anticipation! Excitement! Hopes! The countdown to blast-off! And then…disappointment. Hopes dashed. Rocket explodes. Spirit cast down.

It’s like poor Tantalus — doomed, at least for the moment, to grasp at something precious only just beyond his reach…

This was supposed to be it! Why, God? Oh, please, why? What went wrong? Where did I go wrong? Did I mess up? This was what I wanted above anything else… And so the questions buzz around in your head, begging for expression, begging for release. But you hold them in, you restrain yourself. For the sake of not seeming weak when you break down. Or for the sake of not getting up into God’s face.

  • The wind and the waves shall obey My will
    Peace, be still. Peace, be still…

What God? Was that You? What are you saying? Peace? Be still? You’re still in control? Even though I can’t see what You could possibly be up to? Even though it hurts so much?

But, see, that’s just it! In my bitterness I find strength! Even when I’d rather not, I find it. God gives it. And I mean He GIVES IT, whether I like it or not. What do I mean? Only this: for all my questions and for all my desire to rail and let loose my turbulent emotions I find myself thoroughly rebutted and held in check by one simple idea. Is He not God? Did His eyes suddenly become blind so that He can’t see? His hands shortened so that their power is diminished? His ears heavy so that He can’t hear so well anymore? I build up arguments in my head. Arguments of emotion and expectation and hurt and disappointment and confusion. And He simply says, “Peace, be still. Sit back and watch Me work.” I want to say, “But I don’t understand!” But I cut myself off in the middle of the thought. Hasn’t He proven Himself infinitely wiser than me? I want to protest, “But this is what You told me would be mine!” And again I’m cut across by the response in my own head. And don’t you think He knows that? Don’t you think He sees? I want to throw a tantrum — and I find I can’t. It’s that bitter strength. That infuriating, annoying, sanguine, blessed bitter strength.

Because that’s precisely what it is — BITTER. I’d much rather be fragile and feeble. I’d much rather be left to my sense of hopelessness. I’d much rather feel sorry for myself. That would add some sweetness to the situation for a while. But I can’t. I’m not allowed. I have to be “adult” about it. Ever been comforted by your mom, your dad, your sibling, your best friend, your lover when you’d much rather be left to wallow in the sadness? You want to be left alone but noooooooo, there they are hugging you and putting your head on their shoulder and patting you and reassuring you and being all loving and gentle and kind and understanding and sensible — blecch! Well, like I said, that’s just what this is. That’s what God is doing. And that loving and gentle part makes it that much more bitter. Shout at me! Please! Let’s argue about nothing and everything! Let me be a spoilt brat! But He won’t let it happen. You feel the strength and the peace seeping back into you, and you hate it and love it all at the same time. Hmm… Maybe I should have called this “bittersweet strength”.

For all the pain, here’s the reality: God is God. God is good. God’s plan is superior. God’s timing is superior. God does what He does (and doesn’t do) out of love. You can trust Him to have your back. You can be sure He’ll turn this around for you, and make it several times bigger, better and more secure. Hasn’t He done it before? Hasn’t He been doing it every day since Man first breathed breath? So why doubt Him? Why fear? Why worry that He won’t work it out and won’t turn it around and won’t rescue you from this pain and embarrassment and anguish and fear? Yes, I know (TRUST ME!), it’s hard to keep sight of all that. But if you’ll only allow yourself, you’ll see it’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. God doesn’t make promises and fail to keep them.

David had his period of tears and constant danger and unrest. It didn’t last. God brought him to the throne. Joseph was pretty sure God had abandoned him a few times back in that pit and in that prison. Later his own mouth confessed God had had a reason to stage all that elaborate series of events. And he sure reaped more than his fair share of the benefits! Edison most certainly told himself scores of times that that last time was it; no more trying. God gave him the satisfaction of seeing the dream come to brilliant life. Gandhi had too many uncertain moments to count, going up against a superpower virtually on his own, and unarmed at that. God granted his passive resistance more firepower than Britain’s most formidable weapons of warfare. Beethoven had a rough time of it in so many ways. And those rough times birthed within him a sound he could have gotten in no other way and that still holds the world in awe a few hundred years later. Charlie Parker knew what it meant to be down and out. And that gave him a drive and a soul that boggled the minds of his contemporaries and subsequent generations. Henry Ford must have felt like the world’s biggest failure when he went bankrupt, and that more than once. One day his cars were being bought and sold almost everywhere and he reaped the benefits. Walt Disney had a vision and when he shared it he was told it could never work. Hundreds of rejections must have left him feeling drained and depressed. Look at Disney World now!

If God could use their down-times to do something on that scale, can’t He do the same for me? Won’t He? “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever.” That’s a very telling statement.

As for me, I want a testimony. In fact, I’m waiting for it. Delay is not denial. God loves to show up, and show up BIG! He promised me double for my embarrassment in Isaiah 61:7. He promised that if I keep on believing His Word, even when it seems silly to, I would come out on top. So I’m going to wait on God and watch the Master at work. I’m bustin’ out the popcorn, sitting down on the comfiest couch and getting a front row seat to the action. God is working — I don’t want to miss a thing!

Shhh! Keep it down! God’s on!

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About walkabwoy

Young. Intellectual. Spiritual. Pragmatic. Talented. Seeker of Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding. Musician. Writer. Human. Ordinary. Extraordinary. Passionate. Friend. Humble. These are a few words I would use to describe myself. I'm simply a young man in search of something bigger and better in life; not merely in the socio-economic sphere, but in the holistic sense. Life is not simply the biological process of living or the social process of existing.
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