Today’s article from Phil Callaway isn’t specifically about marriage, but it absolutely applies there too. We hope you connect with this honest, all-too-relatable story and that it encourages you like it did us. For more from Phil, check out the links at the end.
This past year I’ve learned a few things the hard way: Never light the barbecue before opening the lid. You can safely ignore the warning labels on everything but crazy glue. Don’t fry bacon with your shirt off. And laughter is not the best medicine for cracked ribs.
Apart from stories I can relate from the first three incidents, I haven’t done enough laughing this year. Rib and knee injuries sidelined my golf game. That was easy. My daughter moved overseas. That was a cakewalk. But when a friend’s wife betrayed him, it knocked the stuffing out of me. Then my wife’s mother died. Then her step dad. Next her sister Cynthia passed away after two decades with Huntington’s disease. Another sister Miriam was down to forty-seven pounds with this dreadful disease before succumbing a few weeks ago. Both left behind faithful husbands, kids and grandbabies who loved them. Add to that the death of my traveling companion and closest friend Lauren (pictured with Phil below) and it was like someone was pinching my oxygen tube.
They don’t have a class in high school that prepares you for this. Or seminary, for that matter.
I know many are dealing with far greater pain and I have much to be thankful for, but don’t tell me that right now; you may not appreciate my response. Some redneck said, “If the world didn’t suck we’d all fall off.” I think he’s right. At some point life hurts for all of us. Maybe today your oxygen supply is dwindling too, and you wonder if the joy will ever return. May I be real honest? I’ve been asking God, “Why? Why all at once? Why not spread it out a little? Why not step in and rid the world of these horrid diseases? Why not make it right?”
Asking these questions is okay, you know. God doesn’t say, “Uh oh! That Callaway guy is asking questions again. Whatever will we do?” God is big enough. And even if we never hear the answers down here, the questions are asked because we care, because we hurt, because we have the courage to ask them. And any father knows that when a child asks, it sure beats silence.
I’ve asked God another question: “Why do some comforters only make it worse?” I wasn’t comparing myself to Job, but when one of these would-be comforters said, “I guess God needed them more than you did,” I had nothing to say. I have no idea how to relate to such a thought, much less respond to it. I didn’t smite this guy between the shoulder-blades, but I wanted to. Still do. If he’s reading this, I hope he’ll forgive me.
Here are a few other bumper sticker clichés offered us: “It was their time.” Can you please tell me how that helps? They’re gone. I miss them. Twice I went to the phone to call my friend Lauren, then hung up. I believe I will see him again one day, but right now I miss his laugh, his encouragement, the way he knew when to speak and when to listen.
Someone else said, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Really? Sorry, that may look good on a bumper sticker, but it’s not in the Bible. I’ve looked. 1 Corinthians 10:13 assures us that God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we’re able to bear. He’ll provide a way of escape. Paul was talking about temptation, not suffering. We can flee temptation. We can’t flee suffering.
I think we get more than we can handle sometimes. I think it causes us to turn to the only One big enough to help us carry it. In 2 Corinthians 1:8,9 Paul admitted that he was so utterly burdened that he despaired of life itself. That’s when he learned to rely not on himself, but on God. We can’t run from suffering but we can turn to God in it.
One night I talked with long-time friends Conrad and Marylynne. They said they were sorry. They listened. I thought I saw tears in their eyes. We got laughing about great memories. Crazy stuff we’d done. The laughter was so good. So good that my ribs started to hurt again.
I have on my desk a hand-made card they gave me. It’s more meaningful than any you can buy in a store. Written on the front by friends who have hurt too are these life-giving words from Psalm 91: “This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.” That trust is slowly turning the questions into thanksgiving, which always leads to joy. Today I’m thankful for the memories of five faithful people who looked back with gratitude, looked around with grace, and looked forward with hope. With God’s help, I’m beginning to do so too.