If only….


Keep walking….don’t go back

If only….

Those two words can capture much regret, disappointment, and sadness.  If only I had said something else.  If only I had not acted on that impulse.  If only I was able to go back and change that moment.  Scenes get replayed and wounds get opened again and again.

Isn’t it interesting how the human heart works?  One moment God is clearly leading you and you are rejoicing, but the moment a challenge comes, you wonder where He is.  Have we really gotten so weak that resistance of any kind makes us retreat?  I guess it really isn’t new, though, is it? In Exodus 16 Moses had just freed the people from slavery.  This was no vacation in the Caribbean; they were slaves.  But the minute it got hard, they complained.  The grumbled.  They criticized their leader.  I mean, really?  Listen to yourselves!   They even fantasized about going back!  They remembered the food they ate there forgetting that it cost them their freedom. (and probably wasn’t as good as they claimed)  They longed for their chains because at least they knew what was next.

But this is not the journey that Jesus Christ calls us to.  The Christian life is not one of ease and luxury.  It is a life of sacrifice and trial.  There will be pain.  There will be challenges.  Your character will be attacked for no reason.  What do we do?  We do not go back to the chains.  The freedom that He bought for us broke those.  Instead, we keep walking hand-in-hand with our Savior.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Do not go back to slavery again.


Well, that didn’t go as planned.

Well, that didn't go quite as planned

There must be a logical explanation for it, or so I thought.  Yet, after hours of work the same problem remained.  It is unclear if the issue will ever get resolved, although there are only a few things it could be.  Am I missing something obvious?

Before you think that I have become a deep thinker, let me assure you that what I am talking about is an issue with someone’s car.  The many hours of work, while helpful, didn’t prove to solve the issue the car was facing.  This is perplexing, but not life or death.  I expected to fix the problem and found the problem still remained.

I don’t know how many times I have found myself puzzled and thinking, “well, that didn’t go as I planned.” This has happened so often in my life that all of the experiences just run together in my mind.  Each day comes with certain expectations.  Thinking about how to handle potential situations is a part of daily life.  We think through positive and negative experiences in order to come up with a response for them and consider our options with opportunities that may come.  But, even with the best plans, things don’t always work the way we plan them.  We don’t always have the right answer for everything.

As a parent, I am often puzzled at how I am to respond to something one of my children does.  I know that it will only get more confusing as they get older.   As a youth pastor, it can be a significant challenge to speak into a situation someone is facing that is unusual and quite difficult.  There are things in life that don’t fit into that perfect little box that many of the popular books teach.

I once got a phone call from a student who told me they were suicidal.  In the conversation, I realized that all they really wanted was someone to listen to them.  In other words, they did not have a plan, method or really desire to actually commit suicide. At the time, I really never knew when the phone calls would come and what condition the caller would be in when they called.  Each time I would listen and attempt, by God’s grace, to speak to the situation and pray with the person.  In all of it, my goal was to get the person the help they needed, which they eventually did get.  These things cannot be simulated.  It is the real world and it happens in real-time.

I have had those phone calls or visits from students who I thought were really following God, only to find out they have gotten themselves into some serious trap of sin.  It is not expected and makes me rely on the Holy Spirit for words.  Retreats are another time the unexpected happens because students are out of their normal element and often God does something dramatic in them.  I love this, but it is hard to know what to expect.

The other day I wrote about disappointments.  Disappointments are a part of life, but the funny thing is that most of the disappointments don’t need to be there.  Why?  The Bible tells us that God directs our steps.  This means that I need to trust Him for it all, even in what is unexpected to me.  The unexpected to me is never the unexpected to God.

“A man’s steps are direct by the LORD.  How then can anyone understand his own way.”  Proverbs 20: 24

This is a valuable lesson for all of us.  It is not that we need to know it all, but we need to know the One who does.  It is in Him we trust, even when things don’t go as we planned.  We can’t understand the plan anyway, so let’s just get close to the One who does and trust Him for the results.

Expect the unexpected because you will never expect what will actually happen. 

Disappointments are always close, but never as close as God.

There is a point when a baby’s cry is no longer cute.   If you are not a parent, it is likely that your threshold for babies crying is much lower than mine.  Although, I have been on an airplane with a crying baby and it lost its novelty long before we got to an altitude where electronic devices could be used.  When our first child was born, we did everything we could to keep the little guy from crying.  To us, crying meant that there was something horribly wrong and it needed to be fixed.  I remember one night our son woke up and cried for no apparent reason, although there was probably a reason. This is enough to send new parents over the edge, especially when dad needs to get up for work at 5:30 a.m.  These nights were a rare occurrence, although I do recall a few other times when he would refuse to sleep.  One time in particular, I sat in the chair at 3 a.m. with him just starting at me with wide eyes.  Of course, when the morning came I went to work and he took a nap.  Such is life.

As we got more accustomed to parenting, we also started to figure out when the cries actually meant something and when our little ‘bundle of joy’ was just playing mind games with us. The good news is that the more children you have, the more you gain a tolerance for noise and sleep deprivation.  This is a real bonus since both would be there whether I could deal with them or not.  You also start to figure out the real cause for the tears. When there is illness or pain, we want to figure that out and alleviate it.  In fact, this last week our daughter was not feeling well and was up several times a night just to cry. This was not a little, cute, baby cry.  It was a scream, thrash your body and wake up everyone in the house, kind of cry. (she is 6 months old) I think all parents would do whatever they could to help their child sleep comfortably.  But, when there is nothing wrong and the kids is crying, well that is just annoying.

Then, as the kids get older, the tears become more sophisticated.  They no longer just need a diaper or food, but now they deal with disappointments.  Children with such innocence look forward to events or to a certain way they see things happening.  Then when it doesn’t happen the way they think, I just feel bad for them.  A few years back the two older ones wanted to get Buzz Lightyear action figures.  They talked about it for a few weeks until we could get to the store to buy them their toy.  In their mind, these things were going to do so many awesome things.  Imagine their disappointment when they saw that the toys were not what they had hope they would be.  This is not a huge disappointment, but it still made me feel bad for them.

This last week we had planned on going to someone’s house for Easter.  In fact, we had been looking forward to this for several weeks.  Several of the kids got sick, though, and we were then not able to go.  Once again, an event they were looking forward to was not as they had hoped.  Disappointment is a part of life, but still it is hard to handle sometimes.

The Bible describes God as our Father who lavishes love on us.  I can’t help but think about all the times I thought I had it all figured out, only to have things go counter to what I had hoped.  God, as Father, doesn’t just watch from a distance.   He loves us through it.  When we have pain in our lives and are crying, God, as the perfect Father, holds us close.  When we are just having a pity party, or a temper tantrum and are feeling sorry for ourselves, it is God who is right there lavishing us with His love.  Unlike us, this is not emotionally and physically exhausting for Him, but something He enjoys as our Father.

God was not content just to be there for us in, but He wanted for us to be with Him forever. Can you imagine what God must have experienced when people chose to do their own thing?

God had plans for them that were for their own good and yet they made gods out of gold and worshipped them.  How must it have felt to see His people ignore His warnings and see the harm that came upon them for their actions?  God’s love for them remained and He was merciful to them.  It did not cease, even as He watched His only Son die a sinner’s death to save the very people who chose to rebel. In all of our pettiness, struggles and sin God remains faithful; lavishing love on us, even when we don’t think we need it.  Even when we are just playing the game and going through the motions, His love remains.

I know that my love for my children is not perfect. I know that I can’t even comprehend all that God has done for me in Jesus Christ.  Yet, I can’t help but think, as I look into the eyes of my children, how much God loves us and longs for us to be near Him.