by Joanie Butman
Once again, this week found the northeast digging out from yet another snowstorm. My son and I avoided my husband’s “All hands on deck!” rally as long as possible before he recruited us for snow removal. You can only hide for so long until you have to face the inevitable. It just prolongs the agony. The snow was not the light, fluffy kind. It was of the heavy, dense variety making progress slow and laborious. Our yard looked like a scene out of the movie, Frozen, which brought to mind a recent blog post from a young mom who lost her husband this fall.
Dana’s 6-yr-old daughter was traumatized by Disney’s Frozen – particularly when the parents die. When is Disney going to come up with a new storyline? Isn’t that the same way Bambi opens? I’m still traumatized. Regardless, what moved me about her post was how Dana handled the situation. She didn’t gloss over the subject that was all too real for this little girl. As painful as it must have been for her, she used the opportunity as a valuable teaching moment to help her daughter face her fears. Not by shielding her, but by walking through them alongside her, which meant sitting through the movie three times because her daughter didn’t want to miss the birthday parties at which it was being shown.
I think that is exactly what God does for us during every storm we face. Many people refer to these times as periods of testing – which always rankles me. Why? Because it seems to me they are times of learning more than anything else. Learning about the character of God and learning about our own character. During a lengthy conversation yesterday, my friend chipped away at my misconceptions of testing in much the same way my husband was breaking up ice dams on our roof this week, though she was much gentler.
Perhaps having recently gone through the college application process twice, I am particularly sensitive to the term ‘testing’ because anything our children have done is weighed, measured and either found lacking or not. It’s all about testing and performance – proving their worthiness to the admissions office. In our world, where everything we do is evaluated, the focus is on individual performance. In fact, my son and I were keeping a close eye on the mailbox yesterday waiting for his results. So much for the postal service slogan, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Mailman never showed.
God, on the other hand, always shows up – maybe not in the way we want, but He is there alongside us. I’ve always felt that periods of testing are more about God’s performance than ours. I suppose that’s why I prefer the term teaching because it shifts the focus off of us and onto God, which is exactly where it belongs. He knows everything about us – including what we’re going to do in every situation – but we don’t. We don’t need to prove anything to Him, but to ourselves. As Billy Graham says, “God doesn’t test us because He doesn’t know how strong we are, He tests us because we don’t know how strong we are.” Yes, God uses the opportunity to prove to us what He can do, but more importantly, what we can do through Him when we rely on His strength.
In the cancer world, contrary to what you might think, gratitude is a common reaction – not for the pain but for what it taught us. I’ve always learned more through difficulties – about God and myself. And it had nothing to do with my performance but His. In fact, it was only when I couldn’t perform at all and had to totally rely on God that my faith grew exponentially. If I never had such an experience, how would I know the true nature of my faith? Without having to exercise it, how could I trust its veracity? How could I move it from theology to reality so I could continue to build upon it? Simply put, I couldn’t. We can’t advance to the next level of anything until we master the skills of the one we’re on.
Do you know what every spiritual giant has in common? Pain. It teaches us valuable lessons we can’t absorb any other way. It brings us to a deeper level of faith and intimacy with God. I will let one of those spiritual giants explain. This is part of Dana’s post regarding their third viewing of Frozen.
The days leading up to the movie, I prepared Audrey. I let her know I would simply be there to talk her through the parts that scared her. We talked about breathing through the difficult moments.I figured lately this has been my main stress reliever, why wouldn’t it work for a six year old?So I went and I sat there anticipating what was to come. The movie started and right away Audrey clinched her teeth, held her knees to her chin and said, “it’s coming mommy. Elsa is going to hurt Anna. Hold my hand mommy. Hold my hand!” I whispered, “I am not here to hold your hand. I am here to tell you it will be OK. She will be OK. Breathe Audrey.” And she did. She took the three largest breaths I have ever heard a child take and she made it. She didn’t cry and she was OK. And then the next part, the parents dying…..eekkk. I even hate this part. She looked at me, “it’s coming. Can I sit on your lap?” “No, you can’t,” I told her. “Anna and Elsa will be OK. It will be OK.” And without telling her, she took three large breaths and it was done. She didn’t cry and never said a word about it to me. The rest of the movie – perfect. She sang the songs with the other girls. She munched on her popcorn, asked to go potty every five minutes…she was normal. Just like the rest. Despite what her little heart has suffered.
We as parents, friends, and a community all want to shield those we love from ever experiencing any harm. We have fear and know too well what could come. We have seen suffering, but we have seen hope and faith too. When we experience loss, sadness, and heartache – whether it is from death, job loss, relationships, disaster, it is natural to want to run away from it. It is natural to keep ourselves busy, shield our eyes from it happening, clinch our teeth, close our eyes and ask “when it will be over?” Instead, the pain and fear can prepare us, build us and encourage us for the next time. Because there will always be a next time before our happy ending of eternity. Facing our suffering, facing our fear will only build us, strengthen us and make us what many strive to be.
I lost my husband. I acknowledge that there will always be suffering. I will always miss him. I can clinch my teeth, close my eyes, run out of the theater, but what does that do? I need to face it. We all need to face our trials. We need to embrace, learn, and understand because there will be more on this earth and in this life. But, we are stronger for it. We are more loving because of it. And while we all may experience are own Frozen movie from time to time, there is always this little voice right inside us saying, “I am here, you will be OK, there will be a happy ending. Open your eyes, I’ve got you.”It is God not shielding us, allowing it to happen, helping us through because he knows we will be stronger for it and with Him we will get through it.
Taking Steps of Faith,
Even with the myriad examples of this kind of testimony, the concept of testing is a tough pill to swallow. During any conversation on the subject the story of Job is inevitably brought up. I think God picked Job specifically because He already knew how Job would react. Even so, God used this opportunity to deepen Job’s faith and bring him to a new level of intimacy with Him. Remember, God didn’t cause Job’s suffering. Satan did. God didn’t need proof of Job’s faith. Satan did. God didn’t stop Job’s suffering, and He won’t necessarily stop ours either. That’s not the point. What did Job learn? God is trustworthy. He learned that God keeps His promises of restoration. He learned that faith doesn’t prevent suffering, it just makes going through it more bearable. He learned our circumstances aren’t “the measure of healing, peace is the measure."
My friend’s final comment on testing sums up the story of Job perfectly. “We can’t ‘ace’ a God-test by good performance as the world judges these things; quite the contrary. We ace it by relying on Him, and He can then shine as He shows us, and the world, His faithfulness.” Pretty heady stuff for a snow day. Between that conversation and the ice dams, my lazy day by the fire with a good book proved elusive. Tonight another storm is predicted: a few more inches of snow and my son’s 18th birthday party! Somehow, I don’t think a relaxing night by the fire is in the cards for tonight either.
Just as Dana points out, we’ve all experienced, and will continue to experience, our own Frozen periods when our world is torn apart, when the weight of our pain or loss seems insurmountable. How you choose to respond in those situations depends a lot on where you choose to focus. Do you choose to tough it out on your own, or do you choose to rely on God’s presence and promises? I don’t know what kind of storm you may be digging out from under, but I do know whatever it is, the burden is lighter when it’s shared with the One who’s walking alongside you.