I don’t complain to God as much as I used to.
That’s not to say I’ve got it perfect and that I always rejoice in God’s choices for my life. Rather, I’m finally old enough to have some perspective. (There has to be some benefit to getting old!) I’ve learned that what I might not like at the moment may be critical to my well-being later.
It’s sort of like getting a tetanus shot. No one enjoys being stabbed by the needle, and suffering the sore arm afterwards, but we’re willing to put up with the discomfort because tetanus is much worse.
One example happened just two days ago. Pete and I were heading out to the plains so I could take photos. I was anxious to get going, fretting as I watched the gorgeous morning light slowly lose its golden glow. When we finally pulled out of the driveway, two hours later than planned, I was not in the best mood—until we emerged from the trees where we live, and I could look across an expanse of short-grass prairie.
There was a herd of pronghorn right by the road! I yelled “Stop!!!” Pete swerved to the shoulder while I grabbed the camera and started shooting. As you can see, I got results. I admire my husband’s self-restraint. He just calmly pointed out that if we had left on time, I would have missed the photo op I’ve been praying for. Yes, I was aware of that.
My friend, Linda, works at a rehab facility. Calling it “rehabilitation” can be somewhat of a euphemism—while many people do go there to get well, others are clearly at the end of their lives. Recently she found herself consoling a 94-year-old wife who’s husband was getting weaker instead of stronger. Between her sobs, the lady explained that she had lived at her parents’ home before getting married, and she’d been married for over seventy years. Their only child lived out of state, and could just come for a relatively short visit. “I’ve never been alone before!”
While Pete and I anticipate many more years of marriage, it’s likely a time will come when one of us is left behind. As I listened to my friend’s story, and I put myself in the distraught wife’s place, I realized that God has prepared me for that possibility.
I didn’t move directly from my childhood home into our first apartment. Instead, I first lived 500 miles away at the college I attended, and then on my own (both with and without a roommate) for several more years. Yes, I was lonely at times, but I learned those life skills. I know how to live as a single person.
Being married didn’t ensure constant togetherness either. Throughout the more than thirty years we’ve been together, Pete has traveled a great deal. At times I, or our entire family, was able to go with him, but most of the time I stayed home, especially when our kids were young. Now that we’re officially empty-nesters, I’m often the one who leaves for a week or more while Pete stays here to work.
Sure, we’d rather go together all the time. We enjoy one another’s company now as much as, if not more than, we did when we were just getting started. But circumstances don’t always work out the way we’d like.
Each of us has had ample opportunity to deal with life’s inevitable hassles on our own. One of our best examples is when Pete was asked to go to Korea to help set up for, and participate in, a global conference on world evangelization. He was gone six long weeks. (I realize that’s nothing compared to military personnel, who are deployed for months or years at a time!)
He left on a Tuesday afternoon. Thursday, my email stopped working. A friend diagnosed the problem as a bad sector on my hard disk. Email was the only way I knew to contact Pete (we didn’t know what the phone numbers there would be—he was to email me and let me know). Being clueless when it comes to hardware, I’m grateful for some techie friends who eventually cobbled something together that worked until Pete got home. Meanwhile, I’d heard nothing from Pete.
Then, on Friday evening, I went downstairs to the laundry room and found raw sewage oozing up from the drain in the floor. About an inch of putrid sludge already extended under the heavy washer and dryer. Ewwwww, gross!
Some experimenting with the other drains in the house revealed that the problem was likely a clogged pipe coupled with a full septic tank. OK. Now what? I’d always lived where there were sewer hook-ups. We’d only been in this house two years, and I had no idea how to solve a septic tank problem. I didn’t even know where the tank was buried! The kids were instructed not to run any water, and to use the trees outside instead of the toilets. (They found this hilarious. Thank God we live on five acres, and had some privacy!) I went to call the plumber and a septic service.
Of course, it being a weekend cost me extra. A rereading of our home purchase paperwork indicated that the septic tank was 45 feet from the house—I just didn’t know where they’d measured from. Happily, for an additional fee, the very nice gentleman used a metal detector and found the tank, buried under our gravel driveway. For another fee, he dug it out.
Then the plumber found his snake was too short to reach the suspected clog, and had to set up again at another access point. Yup, you guessed. There was an additional fee.
Finally, the overflowing tank was empty, and the source of the clog—a popsicle stick that “somehow” (must have been “Not Me”) got into the system—was removed. All sinks and toilets were draining nicely. So was my checking account.
When the car started making funny noises on Sunday, I was past the point of coping. “God! What in the world are You doing? Don’t You know that Pete is on another continent, for heaven’s sake? In fact, that trip was Your idea! I’m just trying to survive here. I didn’t ask for this. Come on, give me a break!”
Realizing that I was at the end of my rope, I called some friends to come pray for me. Of course, I’d been praying all along, but they’d been prayers of desperation and complaint. My loving friends redirected me to a place of submission and gratitude. That made such a difference!
Yes, the computer had broken, but it had been repaired. There was just enough money in our account to cover the unexpected plumbing bills, extra fees and all. And while the car was making funny noises, it was still running. I finally heard from Pete. He had arrived safely and immediately been put to work solving some problem that had everyone else stumped. He’s really good at things like that.
I wasn’t so overwhelmed anymore by the fact that I had five more weeks to go and had already spent all the money meant for food. God was still God. He was still in control. I could focus on the moment and let Him do the worrying. When an acquaintance in our Sunday school class handed me a check for several hundred dollars to cover the unexpected expenses, I was overwhelmed at both their generosity and God’s provision.
So, no, I don’t like it when Pete and I have to be apart. But as I thought about all the lessons I’ve learned from those times, I have to appreciate that God really does know what He’s doing. Each of us is much more capable than we’d be otherwise. We don’t worry about what the future may bring. We know God will be there with us.
Now I look at other situations I would have previously complained about, and wonder what God is preparing me for. This helps me obey one of God’s commands that I struggle most with: “… give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).