I can go back to the wood slat pews of Sunday School and repeat a song all about putting on the armor of God. At middle school church camp, we sang a revamped version that ended in, “I’m ready for the battle” and because we were rad 90s preteens, we played up an echo…”ready for the battle…ready for the battle”. It seemed as easy as throwing on your clothes in the morning, and I thought I WAS ready…until I wasn’t!
We spend our fair share of time planning the battles we will enter in our own lives. We create a little model battlefield in our head and strategize. We pray for strength, and wisdom, and bravery. But we also make many prideful assumptions. We ignore chinks in our own armor, or evidence of the enemy, or we pretend to know what battles God may allow us to endure. And suddenly, we are ambushed by a sneak attack- an unexpected disease or death, a personal affront or unbearable relational pain. And instantly, we are bereft. Our well-laid plans are scattered. Our faith is shaken. Our enemy gains ground in our mind and in our heart. We are overtaken with Whys?
I was talking to a friend about marriage and this thought came to me. We write our “for better or for worse” and then are shocked when our marriage goes off-script. Not only do we dream about what For Better will look like, but we define what For Worse we will face. I could handle A, B, C, but I could never survive: an addiction, infidelity, loss of a child. So when one of those never-could-imagine evils shakes us, we are overcome.
I have watched plenty of these scenarios play out in my life and those around me, and I feel helpless to answer the well-worn question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” All I can come to in my limited understanding is that our world is full of pain, but our God is full of healing. And because I can’t answer why He doesn’t protect us from all pain, and I avoid most theological debates, I will focus on the healing. I will consider what the Worse moments in my marriage have taught me, and I will be happy that “I’m not there anymore”, waiting for my husband to get home safely from the bar, for example. I will allow myself to feel pain, and to question its allowance in my life, but I will turn that pain to God’s glory. I will focus on redemption not only as a one-time salvation from sin, but a constant redeeming of situations beyond my control or imagination. I will chant in good times and whisper in bad, that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I will tell the Enemy, like Joseph told his conniving brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Genesis 50:20).
I have been walking alongside many friends and family carrying unbearable burdens lately, and I feel so lost in it all. I flounder in questions, I withhold advice, and my unflappable optimism feels, well, flapped. I go back to my own moments of pain, and I try to think what I needed in those moments, and I try to just be THAT…empathy in action. And I lay at the feet of Jesus and fight the urge to question and force myself to believe that God intends it all for good, and I just stay there, soaking in the love and promises until I am ready to face it all again. And I suppose that over all that spiritual armor is a cloak of God’s redeeming love that takes us through all those battles and ambushes and attacks. For now, I’ll cling to that.