I was driving down the road the other day and I heard a new song by Maroon 5. The lead singer is Adam Levine, a judge on The Voice, and so the band is getting a lot of airtime. The song is catchy as all get out, but the thing that really stood out to me were these lines, “if happy ever afters did exist, I would still be holding you like this, all those fairy tales are full of s#@%.” Oh Adam, I know how you feel.
Life rarely turns out the way we plan. It rarely turns out the way we think it should. As a Christian, I’ve heard often and emphatically that God is in control of everything, even my life, but I’ve usually tended to file that away in the “yeah, that’s nice” category. I mean, of course God is in control of the big stuff, the fate of nations and natural disasters and historic events. He’s definitely in charge of keeping the earth rotating and the universe humming and all that. He’s probably in control of who wins the lottery, even. But, let’s be honest, I’M the one in control of MY life. Or at least I should be. God can be in control of everything else.
Oddly enough, though, that’s not really the way the idea of CONTROL works. You either have it or you don’t. And God does, or so I was taught to believe. And he’s really not taking suggestions. Which is a shame because, when it comes to my life, I’ve got a long list of them.
The thing is, I don’t necessarily want a “fairy tale” life. I just want life the way I want it. And the part that usually pains me, the part where I usually struggle, is when it doesn’t go that way. And the last few months have been textbook NOT going that way.
I, like the rest of the world, tend to fall into some kind of belief that, if God really is in control, and I do the things God is generally supposed to be in favor of, like being kind to others or not cheating on my taxes or not strangling that smart-alec kid in second period, God will repay this with a life that is pretty much how I want it to be. And, of course, if you do the things God doesn’t want people doing, say cheating on your spouse or treating other people like crap, life isn’t going to be so hot for you. So when I first got the phone call from my primary care doc and she broke the news of my results, I remember feeling cheated. Feeling tricked. Telling my hubby in a moment of rage that God didn’t make any sense at all because I, the humble, perfect person that I am, had spent my whole life trying to live reasonably responsibly and mostly by the rules, being pretty nice and all golden rule-ish, while a co-worker of mine, who is generally disliked, is rotten to people and stole another woman’s husband but SHE get’s to have two beautiful children and a postcard life while I get MS and very likely will never have a baby. And God is in control? The same one who made these rules we’re playing by? Clearly, God needed my suggestions on how to run things.
But oh, the things I’ve learned in a few short months. Things I could have never described to you beforehand. Things that may not even make sense to you now, unless you know them to be true yourself. Things that could sound ridiculous. Things that I KNOW to be true. And the first of these is that God is good.
What God does may not always FEEL good, but He is good. Odd, huh? I’d be hard pressed to explain how I know this in intimate detail, but I surely do. In awful moments, when my life spread out before me and looked to me like a wasteland, where I was scared and overwhelmed and felt alone, I clung to this. I repeated it again and again. God is good. I know this is true. This situation sucks and it feels like a cross I can’t bear, shouldn’t even have to bear. And God is good. I have to stick myself every day with a needle just to stay healthy. And I hate needles. And there is no guarantee I’ll stay well. And God is good. I may one day lose the ability to work at my job. I may one day lose the ability to walk. I may lose other valuable things, memories, motor skills. And God is good. It goes like this again and again. Every dark situation, every horrible “what if” and yet, God is good.
Better yet, God loves me. This part is a stumper because, honestly, I can think of at least half a dozen pretty big reasons right off the bat why He shouldn’t. I can think of things I’ve done, things I never talk about doing because the weight is too great. There have even been moments where I wondered if I didn’t get MS as a big payback for all my mistakes along the way. Like maybe MS was the price I was going to pay for the sins of my youth. A lot of moments. But I know this is NOT true because God loves me. And I know Christians always point to the cross as the ultimate evidence that God loves us, but that all seems so abstract to me, so distant. Yet, somehow, here and now, in the concrete day to day or living with a disease that can’t be cured and knowing that some of my dreams may be sacrificed because of it, I am confident that God loves me. And that makes his goodness personal.
All that is honkey-dorey and peachy keen but pretty insignificant though if God is not in control. I mean, it’s great that he’s good and that he loves me, but if he’s not powerful then it just makes him more like a super-duper cheerleader than the Lord of the universe. It just makes him the nicest of the nice, but not really God. Ultimately though, this experience has made me believe that he is in control. He knows what he is doing. He isn’t looking for a suggestion box full of my good ideas because he’s got it covered, he’s got a plan, and he’s powerful enough to put his plans into action. He isn’t ignoring me, because he loves me and he’s good. He isn’t letting this happen to me because he isn’t powerful enough to stop it. He is in control.
And that means that this disease I can’t cure IS an example of Him loving me. And his goodness. And his power. He didn’t give me MS in spite of his love for me, he gave it to me BECAUSE of his love for me. Somehow, in all of this, my disease is the highest good for me, for my husband, for my family and my friends and my church. Somehow it is intimately tied to his plan for my life, to the things that I will accomplish on my time on earth. I know I sound a lot like Voltaire’s Pangloss and that my impossible stumping of “the best of all possible worlds” must sound a little like desperation to some. How can I say this? How could I claim that this disease is actually ON PURPOSE? Because I know this God that is good and loving and in control. I know him better now than I did 6 months ago, when I was diagnosed. Than I did a year ago, before I could ever dream of any of this. I know he began preparing me, my heart, for this before I was diagnosed. I know he will use this to accomplish something very different than the plan I had laid out, but somehow better.
That doesn’t mean that there still aren’t tearful times. Three weeks ago I broke into tears in the arms of close friend at work, just minutes before my students came filing in asking if I was OK. A week or two before that I had one of those evenings where everything is so bad, so rotten, no-good, terribly awfully bad, that the only cure was a pint of ice cream for dinner and early to bed. OK, I’ve had more than one of those. But each morning, I awake with new strength, new grace to face the day. The book of Lamentations isn’t kidding when it says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” In my mind, it’s easy to think that “happy ever after” looks one way, one specific way that I have laid out. That in order for my life to be “fairy tale” perfect, it should just so. But the reality is that God knows the desires of my heart, he knows EXACTLY what I want. He also knows what is best for me. And he is powerful enough to do any of it, all of it. I won’t have a child or not have a child because of the situations that I’m in, but because God, who loves me and is good, made it so. I won’t walk or not walk, work or not work, be healthy or not healthy, because of the things I do or don’t do. It will be because God, who loves me and is good, made it so. Of course, I still need to be responsible, show up to doctors visits, take my inconvenient medicine, exercise, eat right, rest, take my vitamins… but ultimately, the God who loves me and is good is in control of my future. I might not know what that future is, it might not look like a fairy tale to me, but I am confident that it is for my good because I believe him.
The song that I’m loving the most right now, that I’ve got on repeat in the car every chance I get, is “He Loves Us” by the David Crowder Band. Overall, awesome lyrics, but the part the really hits me, that I can really relate to are the lines “He loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy. When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me.” At the end of the day, I guess I would rather dwell in the truth of that than focus on the fairy tales.