I have a radio as my alarm clock. Currently it is set to a Christian station, and most of the songs help start the day in a gentle way. This morning, the refrain “You’re the reason for every good thing” was pumping out of that tiny box, and something about it annoyed me.
I think it can cause problems to think of God as just the provider of “every good thing”. Sometimes very hard things come from God. Sometimes God tests us and works us in ways that don’t seem very good to us at all. In the book of Job we hear these words “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10). In other books we are told that God is hard on his people because He loves them, in the same way a father is hard on a favored child. He challenges his child with tests because he wants her to grow up strong. When these tests come from God, the tests are the various adversities that we face in our lives.
During adversity, we humans have a tendency to call on God. This reaching out to God not only makes us stronger, but makes our connection with God stronger. It also makes our connection with each other stronger. Empathy doesn’t work if you haven’t been there. Sometimes you really do have to walk a mile in another person’s shoes to really understand the pain she is going through. Sometimes she doesn’t even have shoes. Sometimes she doesn’t even have legs. It is important to get outside of yourself and your own understanding of the world to see that your “reality” isn’t the only reality, and sometimes it isn’t even real. I think this is part of the appeal of the “Post Secret” series of books.
Buddhism teaches us that simply defining what is “good” or “bad” can cause us problems. That need to define causes pain – we feel that we are missing out when we feel that “bad” things are happening. Then we miss what is actually happening in the moment. One phrase that speaks to that is “every moment is the guru.” The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi reminds us that the only way to make bread is to first grind up grain. To the grain, that is a terrible experience. But because the grain is broken up, it can be transformed into something nourishing. The grain, by itself, has no use. What if we too were like that? What if sometimes we need to be broken to be useful?
Left on our own, we’d be perfectly happy to live our lives in a small way, safe, secure, and simple. There are some people who challenge themselves and set tasks for themselves. They work really hard to make themselves stronger mentally and physically. Every day is a new adventure and chance to grow for these people. And the world benefits from their struggles. Vaccines are found. Textbooks are written. New creations are invented. Just their energy is inspiring and can motivate others to similar levels of activity. But most of us need a push, and often that push comes from outside of us. We lose a job. We get a diagnosis of a chronic disease. We get divorced. We lose our homes in a fire or earthquake or flood. Something outside of ourselves causes us to get dislodged from our safe ground. But what if that ground isn’t safe – but quicksand? What if we are slowly sinking into oblivion by staying still? That push means we have to reach outside of our comfort zones and stretch and grow.
From my readings, I feel that God sometimes breaks us in order to free us. Sometimes the paths we put ourselves on only lead to more pain. God, in God’s very nature, can see further than we can. God wants what is best for us, and changes our paths so that we become the people we were born to be.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t the “prosperity gospel” here. Yes, God wants us to do well. God wants the Kingdom of heaven to be here on earth. But I sincerely doubt that God’s master plan is for us to pay off our mortgage in half the time or have a house on the beach and three cars. Material things just weigh us down. And our idea of “the good life” is often very self-centered. I believe that our Creator calls us to be self-less, rather than self-ish. I believe that the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva speaks to this. A bodhisattva is, in part, someone who is very close to attaining a level of enlightenment that she can transcend the normal human state of existence of repeating life. You can take this to mean reincarnation, or simply repeating the same old predictable ways of being. Every day that you are stuck doing the same old mistakes, you are trapped in the wheel. Through hard work and grace you might get free of this. You can then go on to a new way of being, or you can stay behind and help others to escape their similar fate. Basically, you are paying it back.
It is like trying to cross a turbulent river. You pick your way across the slippery stones and navigate the rapids. You’ve found a safe way across. Instead of hanging out on the other side, safe and dry, you go back into the river and point out a safe path to others who are in the river with you. I believe this is what Christ calls us to do. I believe that we are to be helpful and loving and kind.
Those rocks in the river are like all the stumbling blocks we encounter in our lives. We can use them as obstacles, or stepping stones. They can get in our way, or we can use them as a way up and out of our unfortunate situation. Sometimes “bad” things are really blessings in disguise. Sometimes it is helpful to think that everything, “good” and “bad” comes from God, and it is up to us to make something out of it. In Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul tells us that “all things work together for the good of those who love God.” Trust the process.
I leave you with a quote from Rumi. “Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are.”