Becky, the daughter of an old friend, is grown up now and has a child of her own, but I remember a day many years ago when Becky needed a little discipline.
My friend had reprimanded her repeatedly, with no good results. Becky was a toddler, still in diapers, but plenty old enough to understand, No! and to know when she was being disobedient.
On this particular day, my friend had already told Becky, No! many times about the same thing, and when Becky did it AGAIN, her mom said, No! and added a little smack to her bottom.
Beckys bottom was very well padded with that thick diaper, and the smack wasnt much, anyway but Becky burst into tears as if her world was coming to an end.
What struck me was what Becky did next. She was really crying, and I watched her and thought, She isnt angry shes SORRY. And she ran to her mother and held up her arms to be picked up. And I thought, She wants to be forgiven. Shes reaching out for love and forgiveness to the very hand that disciplined her. I felt as if it were a God moment something thats true for all of us, no matter if were in diapers or not.
Becky disobeyed repeatedly and got punished for it. Is that how it is with us and God, too? Many folks believe that God actually SENDS us illness, misfortune, or whatever, as punishment for what weve done wrong, or to teach us a lesson. I dont believe that, myself. That kind of thinking makes me picture a God who sits in heaven with a supply of lightning bolts in his hand: OK, Ill send Louise some colon cancer, and put Jerry in a car accident, and, maybe, some money problems for Jim
thatll teach them!
The truth is, we dont need God to send us misfortune. The world takes plenty good care of that, all by itself. Its a fallen world and were part of it, which means were not immune to illness, or accident, or problems of every kind. But theres one crucial difference.
Were Gods children, and weve committed to be his disciples. And he promises to transform us into the image of his Son. So God uses every single one of these hard situations, whatever they are, to help us see where were sinful as Beckys mom did with her or help us learn gratitude or patience, or help us keep loving others even when they seem unlovable, or any number of important things that, sadly, were not going to learn any other way.
God doesnt send difficult things to us. But he knows what we need to learn and hell teach us through every single thing that happens to us, if we just pay attention and allow his Spirit to work.
When were in the middle of it, we sometimes do what Becky did we cry really hard! Or we ask why, or complain, or grow frustrated and weary. But I hope we also do the next thing Becky did: reach out for the loving arms that are reaching out for us. Yes, God did allow this hard thing to come into our lives. But its to GOD that we need to turn for comfort, and reassurance, and, often, forgiveness.
Because, you know, theres only one reason why my friend disciplined her daughter: she loved Becky very, very much. And Becky
just like us
needed to learn and grow.
All the way back in Genesis, we meet some pretty colorful people: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, and Rachel. In fact, colorful doesnt really cover it! They were big-time sinners, and their stories amaze us. The times were ancient, yet most of what we study in Genesis is directly applicable to our lives today
because although lots of outward things change, people do NOT change. The same temptations, heart attitudes, sins they just go on and on. We understand these folks on a pretty deep level, because were so much the same.
Jesus was tempted just as Abraham was, just as we are, and yet, he never sinned. But he felt the same pain, disillusionment, and disappointment we all sometimes feel. And what Jesus suffered, he suffered as a man his divinity didnt make things less painful for him. This means he understands OUR sufferings completely.
He wants us to come to him the same way Becky came to her mother hands raised high, looking for forgiveness and comfort. Jesus wants us to receive his mercy, and to find grace in times of need.
I guess there really are some people who can learn from others mistakes. However, most of us are the others we learn through our OWN mistakes, our own disobedience and stubbornness. God doesnt send hard times, but he sure will use them for our good. Our job? As soon as were able, look for the lesson, and run to our Savior for help and understanding. He is faithful.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.