When I was little, I used to write letters to an elderly couple who were missionaries in Mexico. When the couple retired and moved back to San Antonio, she became my Sunday School teacher. I saw her every Sunday, but I still wrote letters to her. Even then, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Sometimes I am afraid that perhaps I write to spill my guts with some distance from those upon whom I am spilling, but I don’t fear face time. I’m not afraid to let you see me cry. That moment of not knowing what to say, that energy I have to put into really thinking about the weight of your presence, the times when the wrong words catch in my throat before they escape… those times are profound. I’m not afraid of silence. I do want you to know the side of me who writes and writes and writes like if I stopped I might run out of gas, or the gears that produce the random thoughts might rust over. Words on a page, words on a screen, from a pencil, from a pen… they are a power that keeps me from slumping over like an unwound wind-up toy.
A groggy prayer I said this morning reminded me of this Sunday School teacher. “I hope today can be good,” I said. And suddenly, I was six again and opening one eye to ask God the same question that I asked her, “Is that how to pray?” Back then, she nodded and smiled, closing her eyes and folding her hands again to resume the prayer. Somewhere along the line, I learned to preface my hopes with the phrase, “Lord, I pray that if it’s in your will that you would [fill in the blank with a request one step lower than what I really want].” Somewhere along the line, I learned to use those words to be safe with my hope.
When Steven and I first got married, I went through a season of learning to ask for what I actually wanted. I begged God for weeks for enough money for a vacuum cleaner (ours had literally exploded). Finally, one Friday morning, I slumped in the hallway, crying way too hard over how filthy the carpet was, and asked, “Please, can’t you just give me a vacuum cleaner?” The next morning, I discovered a vacuum in perfect working order in the laundry room. I’m not even making this up. It was displayed in the corner, cord wound up, like it was waiting for me, like God had been waiting for me to ask. We called everyone in the building. We called the landlord. It had to belong to a resident who had a key to the laundry room. No one had a clue about where it came from. So it became mine.
There is something that happens in my heart when I say to God, “I hope…” It’s akin to how I felt when I asked God for a vacuum cleaner. I’m direct, I’m human and so aware of it, I’m finally being honest about what’s important to me, and I’m aware that by surrendering this request, you may change what’s important to me. I acknowledge that you’re God and I am not, and I am tired of playing guessing games as to how you’re going to get me from this point to where I hope you’ll get me. Lord, I hope you’ll get me there.
But then sometimes I ask for things, and I am so direct, and so human, and so honest, but God says “no.” Ultimately, we send our hopes to a God who is better than our best. This is truth, but the times when The Best puts me somewhere painful are frightening because the only One you could trust suddenly doesn’t seem very trustworthy. I wish I could run to someone else, but He’s it. He’s sovereign. I am terrified.
When I learned that I would lose Sam, those who love me heard me say I couldn’t believe that God had done this to me. “God didn’t do this to you,” they assured me. “God has nothing to do with this evil thing.” I cannot find this Biblically. This is where the rubber meets the road, where all of our theories about God burn, and I can assure you that God had everything to do with this. God didn’t peer down from heaven and say, “Whoopsie! Satan had sovereignty on that extra set of chromosomes.” God is sovereign over everything. God oversees every conception, every division of cells, every birth, and not just the healthy ones… He is there for all of them, including Sam’s. He was there when Sam was allotted 69 chromosomes. He was there for Sam’s first heartbeat. He was there when Sam died. God has everything to do with this.
I often hear that God “uses” evil for good, as though he comes along, picks up a venomous snake and turns it into a puppy. This belief crumbles when the weight of brokenness rests on one’s shoulders. Seeking a stronger and truer theology puts me in an uncomfortable state, but I am confident that God doesn’t just “use” pain, He is sovereign over it. He is so much more sovereign over our pain than simply causing it to happen or using it later on down the road when it has the potential for good. I know, I do not feel it, but I know that God didn’t just cause this. He was sovereign over this.
When Joseph endured the pain of slavery, after years of probably asking the same questions I am today, his offending brothers came before him begging for mercy. Joseph takes the opportunity to forgive rather than repay their offenses, and says, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” God meant it. He oversaw it. He had everything to do with it. And now, here we are, years later, after countless days of feeling overlooked by God, and I see that God meant it. God meant it for good. Evil sold me into slavery. Goodness saw that I would be provided for in famine. Evil accused me when innocent. Goodness forgave me when guilty.
It comes down to God’s goodness. His goodness is not my goodness. And, in this time, His goodness terrifies me. His goodness reaches every corner of my life, as He is sovereign over every corner of my life. I don’t know how this will be good, and I don’t feel like this can ever be made good, but I know because truth tells me that one day this will be good. There is something bigger happening than what I can see today, so I preface my prayers with a phrase that acknowledges that God is God and I am not, and His goodness is bigger than mine. I hope… I hope… I hope…