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.
Becky’s bottom was very well padded with that thick diaper, and the smack wasn’t 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 isn’t angry –– she’s SORRY.” And she ran to her mother and held up her arms to be picked up. And I thought, “She wants to be forgiven. She’s reaching out for love and forgiveness to the very hand that disciplined her.” I felt as if it were a “God moment” –– something that’s true for all of us, no matter if we’re in diapers or not.
So … 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 we’ve done wrong, or to “teach us a lesson.” I don’t 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, I’ll send Louise some colon cancer, and put Jerry in a car accident, and, maybe, some money problems for Jim … that’ll teach them!”
The truth is, we don’t need God to send us misfortune. The world takes plenty good care of that, all by itself. It’s a fallen world and we’re part of it, which means we’re not immune to illness, or accident, or problems of every kind. But there’s one crucial difference.
We’re God’s children, and we’ve 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 we’re sinful –– as Becky’s 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, we’re not going to learn any other way.
God doesn’t send difficult things to us. But he knows what we need to learn and he’ll teach us through every single thing that happens to us, if we just pay attention and allow his Spirit to work.
When we’re 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 it’s to GOD that we need to turn for comfort, and reassurance, and, often, forgiveness.
Because, you know, there’s 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” doesn’t 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 we’re 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 didn’t 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 doesn’t send hard times, but he sure will use them for our good. Our job? As soon as we’re 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.