This post was supposed to be a smarty-pants book review of Eric Metaxas’s If You Can Keep It, but I got about halfway through and got annoyed by what I was writing, so I’m taking a break on that particular ramble.
Instead, here are two sort-of poems. They’re lazy poems, rough poems, slapped-down-on-paper poems which I really should heavily edit before putting them anywhere people can read them. The second one isn’t even finished yet. But since when do I edit things I write? I’ll get to them in a minute.
Last semester, I read a lot of Flannery O’Connor’s works, both fiction and non-fiction. I even wrote a smarty-pants paper about disability in her life and in her short stories. It’s a topic I probably had no business writing about, but it got me thinking a lot about the Christian response to suffering. Long story short, O’Connor seemed to agree with this guy named Pere Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher/priest who wrote about what he called “passive dimishments,” or suffering that cannot be avoided or escaped, but must be endured. This sort of suffering, for the Christian, is to be accepted (Flannery wrote that she hoped to accept suffering in her own life “if possible, with joy”).
Important note: when a miserable situation occurs and a person can mitigate his suffering, he should do whatever he can not to suffer–just in case you were thinking this was starting to sound like grim fatalism. Passive diminishments are different in that they are instances where there is not really an option for improvement, so the options are either to accept reality or to be doubly miserable, refusing to learn and grow from the (perhaps undeserved) “diminishment.”
Anyway, I started thinking about my own life, and how I haven’t suffered at all to speak of, but other people have, and I may someday soon. In another post on here I wrote about the future in terms of a Story, in which the characters may not know the impending plot twist, but the Author does and, if he is a good author, will write the story so that even surprising events are somehow right and meaningful in the end. [Click here for that ramble: On Wanting to Know]
In that frame, as you might expect, I was thinking of how God as the Author of creation knows his plans for his people–Psalm 139 uses similarly literary language, saying “…in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” It’s a comforting thought if you know God as a merciful, mighty Father whose plans are perfectly right and good.
And yet it’s kind of scary at the same time. I can say til my face turns blue that I trust that what the future holds will be meaningful and worth-while, but when something actually arises that is too hard for me to handle, how am I going to respond? Last week I was sick off and on for several days and I was so impatient to be well and up and around–doing something useful–finally realizing in the middle of the last round of sickness that I hadn’t done a dandy job of honoring God in the middle of feeling crummy.
And other people have ailments far more serious than the stomach bug.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking of–that episodes of the stomach bug and even the persistent, eternal common cold can prepare us for some harder thing in the future, if we’re willing to accept those things we cannot avoid as being given by a good God for a good purpose in the future. I’m not saying the bad things that happen are good in themselves, just that nothing God gives is, or ever can be, pointless.
I’d like to hear your thoughts if you want to share them. Here’s the poem:
I want my works to justify;
I wish my words expressed me.
In suffering I’d like to rise
And rejoice in times that test me.
But I can hardly keep the faith
Through little trials that come.
Complaint and doubt bestrew the way:
I choose the hard road home.
I haven’t suffered much, and still
I tend to worry and despair
That some thing waits unseen, unknown
For which the present should prepare.
And since I have not suffered well,
But struggle to accept
The daily, inconvenient Given—
God’s promise made and kept—
How can I, then, expect to be
A martyr or a saint
When daunting grace draws near to me
And my weak soul grows faint?
I curse this inability
To say with grace some worthwhile thing:
Moses-like, I have a tongue
Unfit to praise my God, my King.
My rhymes are forced, as are my works,
And dead: they have no power
To justify or plead my case
When comes the darkling hour.
Then bless, my soul, this living hope
Which cannot be defeated:
My Intercessor, Savior, Friend
Who, long ago, entreated
Me to come to Him, when I
Was sick with fear
And, casting doubt aside, has granted
Love and cheer.
Cheer that stays through charcoal dusk
And crows aloud at morning;
Love that wonders at all things
And gives herself, an offering.
An offering of praise and thanks—
A quiet, glad assurance
That all is grace, that God is good—
I learn from this forbearance.
And here’s the prosey excerpt thing:
The man of acts says he is pierced by a great thorn—
I believe it. Scholars consider what Paul meant
And what shape the thorn might have taken.
I think it is enough to know there was a thorn,
Even in the side of one so earnestly following his Lord.
Enough to wonder at the curious way God governs,
Giving weaknesses as if they are gifts, and planning
For His children paths utterly unpredictable to human hearts.
Blessings that do not look like blessings
Til seen with new eyes.
Thanks for reading.