Tag Archives: Hope

Complications

Fear Has Big Eyes--Wikipedia

Recently I received  notification congratulating me for six years with WordPress. It’s difficult to believe it has been that long since I timidly began this little adventure. And while the posts have been a bit sparse lately due to some major life changes, thoughts of this blog are rarely far away.

Several days ago, I was checking my “stats” and noticed the following post had received some attention. I went back to re-read it and realized how much I needed to hear my daughter’s wisdom that day, my life having acquired a few of those “complications.”

It is my hope that you too will find encouragement as you read, and be reminded as I was, that God really does have all things under His control. No matter what the mess, He is well able to see us through.

Don’t Send a Boy To Do A Man’s Work

Below is an essay from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” When she first sent me the rough draft to look over, I was moved by what she wrote. Now, I will be the first to admit that I have never read Wendell Berry; had not even heard of him before my daughter told me that he was the focus of this semester’s Honors College at Belhaven University. I know, this admission shows me to be a severely under-educated individual; there is clearly no limit to the number of things I do not know.

My daughter’s life has, like the rest of ours, had its share of “complications.” It has been part of my job as her mother to help her navigate some of the rough rapids on the river of her life. Occasionally, she has been summarily dumped out of the boat and into the water, leaving her hurt and floundering. Each time though, she has climbed back into the boat and kept on paddling.

It has been a privilege to watch my daughter grow in her faith. She has met the complications in her life by doing what we all should do: turn to the Lord first. She truly believes that life has a “happy ending,” not because she has a false “Pollyanna-like” attitude, but because she has chosen to place her faith in the surety of God and His Word to her. She knows that no matter what this life brings, her Father continues to uphold her; her goal is Heaven. She has learned she doesn’t have to fear the future, she can trust God to use the events in her life which have left her bruised, for His purposes and the maturing of her faith. And, while her life has had no shortage of “bumps in the road,” she has learned, as her father and I have, that there is only one place we can go to find help.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68 (ESV)

It is easy to get bogged down in the trials and tribulations of our lives. We lose our focus; we forget God is Sovereign; we begin to fear we are on a path that has no good end. Just as in the Wendell Berry story referenced below, our Father comes and straightens out the mess we make of our lives and He does so with a deft and gentle Hand. His mercy, His grace, His love always ready to lift us out of the quagmire, setting our feet on solid ground.

It’s Complicated

This was my first honors essay of the semester. The short story referenced is from Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land, a collection of his short stories.

In his short story, “Don’t Send a Boy to Do a Man’s Work,” Wendell Berry describes the consequences of complications. The main character in the story, a twelve-year-old boy named Athey Keith, has been left in charge of overseeing a hog-killing while his father, Carter Keith, is out-of-town. Carter Keith has laid specific plans and enlisted the help of knowledgeable men to make sure the work gets done efficiently and well. However, several complications arise during the hog-killing, which turn the Keiths’ well-laid plans upside down and cause the story to turn in an unexpected direction. The rest of the story hinges on how Athey and the other men deal with the complications.

Complications are hardly an uncommon event in our day-to-day lives. The dictionary built into my computer defines “complicate” as such: “[to] make (something) more difficult or confusing by causing it to be more complex.” Complications, or problems, as we more often call them, seem to arise with impeccable timing whenever we least desire them. Yet it seems that although complications may be sometimes unwelcome and turn our story in unexpected directions, our stories, once finished, become clearer and more illuminating as we reach the end of the book.

The plot’s driving force in Berry’s short story is the three complications and how Athey and the other men handle them. While Athey would certainly have had a much more productive hog-killing and a less harrowing day without any such complications, such a plot (or lack thereof) would not have made much of a story. Stories are driven by conflict.

When I was part of a fiction-writing group in high school, my teacher (a fiction author) had to remind me over and over again that I needed more conflict in my story. What I was writing would have been nice to live, but it was boring to read. There was no impetus to drive the plot forward. I resented her correction, because I wanted to write stories like I wanted to live, sweet, delightful, and all with happy endings. That’s still how I would like to live my life. But I am old enough now to begin to realize that my life is not going to go in a carefully plotted way to reach its happy ending. It’s going to take its twists and turns, and complications (whether small or large) are going to arise.

If I believe the promises of Scripture, that God works in all things for the good of those that are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), then I can navigate the bumps in the road with confidence. But questions still remain, and I am sure that I am not the first person to raise questions such as, “Is there any way to avoid complications? If I can, should I? Do all complications arise from sin? Even if they do, can they still turn out all right in the end (and preferably before the end too)?”

Athey could not have avoided the particular problems that came his way, all of which began with other people. He could not foresee them, nor could he escape them. The only thing he could do was be prepared for them, in the sense that he could be ready to deal with any problems that might occur. But when the complications came, he was not ready. The somewhat cocky young boy that he was, his pride and fear caused him to react in a way that allowed the originally small problems to become big ones.

I don’t think there were any complications in the Garden of Eden. Life there must have been like the story I tried to write—boring to read, but wonderful to live. Like in Berry’s story, the first Biblical complication came from another person. The complications Athey had to deal with all began with other people, but his fear caused him to react in a way that exacerbated the problem instead of solving it. Neither did Adam and Eve begin the first complication in this world, but they chose to yield to it instead of standing up and resisting. This first complication resulted in the fall of man from perfection, and now the human story is, well, complicated. At times it’s positively messy.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid complications altogether. If there were, someone surely would have found a way by now! We can’t force others into our perfectly molded stories for ourselves—they’re going to bring complications, and sometimes we aren’t going to like the results. But neither our stories nor Berry’s story ends with failures to handle problems correctly. Fortunately for young Athey, his father came back—to a mess, it’s true, but he was quite up to handling the challenge and soon put things back to rights.

The human story doesn’t end with failure either. Although Adam and Eve didn’t have the power to put to right the wrong that they had done—that took someone with the proper authority—our Father sent His Son to earth to handle the challenge and put things back to rights. Unlike Carter Keith, He never has to go on a business trip, leaving us in charge. If Keith had been present at the hog-killing, the complications that arose would have been handled differently, and the resulting problems avoided. Likewise, because the Lord is present, we have the ability to handle the complications that come our way correctly. Not that we always will (in fact, many times we won’t), but we can, through His power. What is more, we have the guarantee that our stories will have happy endings. There might be cliffhangers after some chapters, and plot twists, and some pages might have tears on them. But in the end, we will close the book with a sigh of relief and meet our Author, the finisher of our faith.

Author: My Soul Found Rest (Used with permission)

Original Content: Copyright © 2016 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Letting Go

Candle-65814_640--Pixaby

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

For the little over a year since my husband’s unexpected death, life has taken some rather interesting and unexpected twists and turns. Some of these changes have been joyous (like my daughter’s marriage to a wonderful young man), while others have stretched me to capacity.

I have had to let go of much: a husband dearly loved, a job I would never have left had circumstances been different, a daughter whose focus is now a husband (as it should be); said good-bye to family, dear friends, a beloved church, a beautiful home, and all the hopes and dreams for a life which can no longer be. Doors I thought God was opening, have been clearly shut, leaving me with a life I never wanted.

And yet, I am filled with hope for the future.

Looking over this past year, I am overwhelmed with God’s incredible love, grace, and mercy. He has protected me more times than I can count. I see how each one of these closed doors has been an expression of His great love for me. And while life often seemed like shifting sand, an Anchor held me through it all.

When I am tempted to let self-pity sneak in, I remind myself of all Jesus Christ let go of in order that we should be reconciled to the Father. How could I give much importance to my losses in comparison?

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 (NKJV)

This is the season when we easily become distracted by so many things: shopping, Christmas parties, family get-togethers, plus a thousand non-essentials. The pressure to fit everything in becomes overwhelming and exhausting.

Maybe it’s time to let go of what we have come to expect of ourselves and others and focus on what is most important.

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:14-15 (NKJV)

Copyright© 2014 by Susan E. Johnson
All Rights Reserved

May also be found at Gospel Blog by FEBC
http://blog.febc.org/letting-go-focusing-on-whats-most-important/

 

Risk Averse

Trust--Photobucket

“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:15-19 (NKJV)

Like many, I grew up singing “Jesus Loves Me.”  I used to sing, “Jesus loves you, this I know,” to Hannah every night as part of her bedtime routine. I have always known that Jesus loved me, but until recently, I did not really KNOW. Let me explain.

Those of us who know Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior have, at least, an intellectual understanding we are loved, that God came to earth robed in flesh, lived a sinless life, paid the ultimate price to redeem us back to Himself–all because of His great love for us. In order to be born again into His Kingdom, we must accept that in faith, repent, turn from our sin, receive His Spirit, and begin to live for Him.

For decades I have known this, but had no real revelation of it. I lived my life, practically speaking, like Jesus Christ died for others and I somehow slid in the back door by grabbing someone else’s “coat tails;” my sins far worse than anyone else’s. Pretty arrogant that.

In the past, I have prayed and even begged God for a revelation of His love, without any success. About a month and a half ago, this all changed. For a few brief seconds, God allowed me to see into the eternal, giving me a glimpse of His great love. It was enough to change me forever.

Like many others, I have lived my life “risk averse.” I learned early on to distrust people, initially the result of bullying and humiliation at the hands of my peers (and, sadly, a couple of teachers). Mixed into that a few failed relationships, betrayal by some close friends, and internalizing the stoicism from my Scandinavian and Germanic up-bringing, keeping part my heart locked up, has been a way of life for me. Much safer that way–less risk, less potential pain.

In addition, we live in a “risk averse” culture which quietly seeps into our thinking and teaches that if we place our trust in those with authority, they will, through government intervention (or a myriad of other ways), “help us” achieve a risk-free life of peace, safety, and security. Of course, this won’t ever work, no matter what they legislate or how many police they provide. Only placing our trust in Jesus Christ can ever give us that kind of peace and security.

Having been given a revelation of God’s love, I find I am beginning to love others more freely and extravagantly; less afraid of being hurt, more willing to take the risk and trust.

The cartoon below came to my attention from my daughter and son-in-law. The quote of C.S. Lewis’ is one of my favorites. Like many of us, Hannah and Matt went through deep heartache. Having made the decision to risk their hearts again, God has given them great joy.  Four weeks ago today, God knit their lives together in marriage.

So while dealing with my “trust issues” is clearly a work in progress, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek, this new-found revelation of God’s love is helping me to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”

And that gives me hope and a future.

acd6bf8cc8ce170157270dca3647314fdfe90b379f4bc1558f8edff14b81a19c

Not For Cream Puffs

Covered Wagon-Ox Team--PhotobucketNow may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (NKJV)

Sometimes weekends just don’t turn out as you expect. God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, occasionally drops a bombshell in your general vicinity and jerks the slack out of your rope, leaving you dangling desperately over the edge of a cliff searching for a toehold.

I was blessed with an e-mail on Saturday from a fellow blogger about a recent decision I had made. He paid me what I considered to be a compliment of the highest order with a description that still has me laughing. Here is what he said:

Like Charles tells you, “Susan, we’re gonna blow this pop stand and head west in this here covered wagon with all our stuff and I need you to help me out with a few things, you know, like crossing the Great Divide and fighting Indians and stuff and taking care of the kid and some other work, and ride shotgun, fight blizzards… Think you can handle it?”

And Susan says, “Hey no problem cream puff. Is that all you got? I’ll have my work done before sun-up. Wake me when it gets interesting okay?

Knowing that for the first two-thirds of my almost sixty years, I have been afraid of my shadow (and everyone else’s), having someone I respect write this, was a huge confidence builder. His example of a pioneering woman heading west, tickled me. This is the kind of woman I always hoped I could become.

There are those who believe that all fear is based in the fear of death and dying. Even Christians with hope of Heaven have this fear and I was no different. I wasn’t afraid of the end result; mostly afraid of the process itself. Having spent my entire nursing career watching people die, sometimes by inches, it was the process and pain of dying which terrified me.

Well, at least it did until Charles died. He certainly wasn’t the first person I saw die and he likely won’t be the last. It would probably surprise no one that in the months since Charles has been gone, there have been moments when death seemed preferable to continuing life: the pain, the practical challenges and logistics, the work of holding on to faith and hope, often proved exhausting.

Yesterday morning, I was contemplating an article my daughter, Hannah, had posted on Facebook about determining the call of God on your life. I pretty much know what God’s call on my life is. It hasn’t changed any since Charles died, I just haven’t been able to figure out how to continue to walk in it without him since he was an integral part of that call.

So, I am sitting in the quiet of my corporate apartment in St. Louis, thinking about that call when God said to me: “You aren’t afraid of dying. . . you’re afraid of living.”

Well, thank you very much, Sir!

Of course, this isn’t an entirely new concept. Fear has kept me from doing a great many things over the years. It would seem that God is trying to tell me this no longer cuts it as an excuse (never really did though, did it?).

The 100% “sold-out-to-Jesus” Christian life, isn’t for cream puffs. If we are whole-heartedly committed to walking into, and completing, the call of God on our lives, we can’t let fear dictate our decisions or our actions. We don’t decide the call on our lives anymore than we are required to complete it in our own strength. God’s grace is the rebar and concrete in our foundation. What He builds will stand, even if we stumble in the process. Or, as I said to one friend recently: even when life throws us a curve ball, we know God is holding the catcher’s mitt.

So, while I have come a long way, it would seem I have a ways yet to go.

Westward, ho!

 

Copyright © 2014 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

 

 

 

Tried, Tested, Transformed

In Hawaii“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

It has now been four months since Charles went home to be with the Lord. God’s grace and mercy have been my constant companions.

For the past five years, my husband and I have had the habit of watching DVD series each evening from pastors and teachers who helped us grow in our faith. In fact, it was that daily “feeding on the Word” which helped carry us through many dark and difficult days (of which I have previously written).

We both believed (quite definitively) the next series we needed to listen to was one called “Transformed.” That particular Saturday evening was to be the first DVD in the series. In fact, we were only about six minutes into the message when my husband began to feel unwell. In an hour’s time, he was gone–quite literally transformed from this life into eternity.

Last year, about mid-year, I had sensed strongly in my spirit that big changes were in the wind. I assumed we had another move coming. At that point, I had moved twenty-eight times in thirty-five years of married life–what was one more? I had packing and un-packing pretty much down to a science. This would be no different, I figured. I was even a bit excited about the coming changes.

Of course, it is always dangerous to “assume” you understand what the Lord has in mind when He gives you a bit of insight into what He is about to do. My husband and I were tried, tested, and transformed that day–both of us in ways we never anticipated.

So, for those who have prayed for me, helped me, and walked with me through these past four months, I will never be able to thank you for all you have done. My gratitude knows no bounds.

For those who know me personally, you know at least I got one part right–I did move. I moved to Jackson, Mississippi, closer to my daughter, who is in graduate school at Belhaven University, and have taken a job with weekly travel to St. Louis, Missouri.

Even though God’s process of transformation continues, I can boldly declare these words penned in 1873 by Horatio G. Spafford:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot,
Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Original Content: Copyright © 2014 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

It’s Complicated

Below is an essay from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” When she first sent me the rough draft to look over, I was emotionally moved by what she wrote. Now, I will be the first to admit that I have never read Wendell Berry; had not even heard of him before my daughter told me that he was the focus of that semester’s Honors College at Belhaven University. I know, this admission shows me to be a severely under-educated individual; there is clearly no limit to the number of things I do not know.

My daughter’s life has, like the rest of ours, had its share of “complications.” It has been part of my job as her mother to help her navigate some of the rough rapids on the river of her life. Occasionally, she has been summarily dumped out of the boat and into the water, leaving her hurt and floundering. Each time though, she has climbed back into the boat and kept on paddling.

It has been a privilege to watch my daughter grow in her faith.  She has met the complications in her life by doing what we all should do: turn to the Lord first.  She truly believes that life has a “happy ending,” not because she has a false ”Pollyanna-like” attitude, but because she has chosen to place her faith in the surety of her God and His Word to her. She knows that no matter what this life brings, her Father continues to uphold her in His Righteous Right Hand; her goal is Heaven. She has been learning that she doesn’t have to fear the future, she can trust God to use those events in her life that have left her bruised, for His purposes and the maturing of her faith.  And, while her life has had no shortage of “bumps in the road,” she has learned, as have I, that there is only one place we can go to find help.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68 (ESV)

I trust that you will be encouraged by this essay. It is easy to get bogged down in the trials and tribulations of our lives. We lose our focus; we forget that God is Sovereign; we begin to fear that we are on a path that has no good end. Just as in the Wendell Berry story referenced below, our Father comes and straightens out the mess we make of our lives and He does so with a deft and gentle Hand. His mercy, His grace, His love are always ready to lift us out of the quagmire, setting our feet on solid ground.

It’s Complicated

This was my first honors essay of the semester. The short story referenced is from Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land, a collection of his short stories.

In his short story, “Don’t Send a Boy to Do a Man’s Work,” Wendell Berry describes the consequences of complications. The main character in the story, a twelve-year-old boy named Athey Keith, has been left in charge of overseeing a hog-killing while his father, Carter Keith, is out-of-town. Carter Keith has laid specific plans and enlisted the help of knowledgeable men to make sure the work gets done efficiently and well. However, several complications arise during the hog-killing, which turn the Keiths’ well-laid plans upside down and cause the story to turn in an unexpected direction. The rest of the story hinges on how Athey and the other men deal with the complications.

Complications are hardly an uncommon event in our day-to-day lives. The dictionary built into my computer defines “complicate” as such: “[to] make (something) more difficult or confusing by causing it to be more complex.” Complications, or problems, as we more often call them, seem to arise with impeccable timing whenever we least desire them. Yet it seems that although complications may be sometimes unwelcome and turn our story in unexpected directions, our stories, once finished, become clearer and more illuminating as we reach the end of the book.

The plot’s driving force in Berry’s short story is the three complications and how Athey and the other men handle them. While Athey would certainly have had a much more productive hog-killing and a less harrowing day without any such complications, such a plot (or lack thereof) would not have made much of a story. Stories are driven by conflict.

When I was part of a fiction-writing group in high school, my teacher (a fiction author) had to remind me over and over again that I needed more conflict in my story. What I was writing would have been nice to live, but it was boring to read. There was no impetus to drive the plot forward. I resented her correction, because I wanted to write stories like I wanted to live, sweet, delightful, and all with happy endings. That’s still how I would like to live my life. But I am old enough now to begin to realize that my life is not going to go in a carefully plotted way to reach its happy ending. It’s going to take its twists and turns, and complications (whether small or large) are going to arise.

If I believe the promises of Scripture, that God works in all things for the good of those that are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), then I can navigate the bumps in the road with confidence. But questions still remain, and I am sure that I am not the first person to raise questions such as, “Is there any way to avoid complications? If I can, should I? Do all complications arise from sin? Even if they do, can they still turn out all right in the end (and preferably before the end too)?”

Athey could not have avoided the particular problems that came his way, all of which began with other people. He could not foresee them, nor could he escape them. The only thing he could do was be prepared for them, in the sense that he could be ready to deal with any problems that might occur. But when the complications came, he was not ready. The somewhat cocky young boy that he was, his pride and fear caused him to react in a way that allowed the originally small problems to become big ones.

I don’t think there were any complications in the Garden of Eden. Life there must have been like the story I tried to write—boring to read, but wonderful to live. Like in Berry’s story, the first Biblical complication came from another person. The complications Athey had to deal with all began with other people, but his fear caused him to react in a way that exacerbated the problem instead of solving it. Neither did Adam and Eve begin the first complication in this world, but they chose to yield to it instead of standing up and resisting. This first complication resulted in the fall of man from perfection, and now the human story is, well, complicated. At times it’s positively messy.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid complications altogether. If there were, someone surely would have found a way by now! We can’t force others into our perfectly molded stories for ourselves—they’re going to bring complications, and sometimes we aren’t going to like the results. But neither our stories nor Berry’s story ends with failures to handle problems correctly. Fortunately for young Athey, his father came back—to a mess, it’s true, but he was quite up to handling the challenge and soon put things back to rights.

The human story doesn’t end with failure either. Although Adam and Eve didn’t have the power to put to right the wrong that they had done—that took someone with the proper authority—our Father sent His Son to earth to handle the challenge and put things back to rights. Unlike Carter Keith, He never has to go on a business trip, leaving us in charge. If Keith had been present at the hog-killing, the complications that arose would have been handled differently, and the resulting problems avoided. Likewise, because the Lord is present, we have the ability to handle the complications that come our way correctly. Not that we always will (in fact, many times we won’t), but we can, through His power. What is more, we have the guarantee that our stories will have happy endings. There might be cliffhangers after some chapters, and plot twists, and some pages might have tears on them. But in the end, we will close the book with a sigh of relief and meet our Author, the finisher of our faith.

Author: My Soul Found Rest (Used with permission)

Original Content: Copyright © 2013 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Don’t Send A Boy To Do A Man’s Work

Below is an essay from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” When she first sent me the rough draft to look over, I was emotionally moved by what she wrote. Now, I will be the first to admit that I have never read Wendell Berry; had not even heard of him before my daughter told me that he was the focus of this semester’s Honors College at Belhaven University. I know, this admission shows me to be a severely under-educated individual; there is clearly no limit to the number of things I do not know.

My daughter’s life has, like the rest of ours, had its share of “complications.”  It has been part of my job as her mother to help her navigate some of the rough rapids on the river of her life. Occasionally, she has been summarily dumped out of the boat and into the water, leaving her hurt and floundering. Each time though, she has climbed back into the boat and kept on paddling.

It has been a privilege to watch our daughter grow in her faith.  She has met the complications in her life by doing what we all should do: turn to the Lord first.  She truly believes that life has a “happy ending,” not because she has a false “Pollyanna-like” attitude, but because she has chosen to place her faith in the surety of her God and His Word to her. She knows that no matter what this life brings, her Father continues to uphold her in His Righteous Right Hand; her ultimate goal is Heaven. She has been learning that she doesn’t have to fear the future, she can trust God to use those events in her life that have left her bruised, for His purposes and the maturing of her faith.  And, while her life has had no shortage of “bumps in the road,” she has learned, as have her father and I, that there is only one place we can go to find help.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of
eternal life.” John 6:68 (ESV)

I trust that you will be as encouraged by this essay as I was.  It is easy to get bogged down in the trials and tribulations of our lives. We lose our focus; we forget that God is Sovereign; we begin to fear that we are on a path that has no good end.  Just as in the Wendell Berry story referenced below, our Father comes and straightens out the mess we make of our lives and He does so with a deft and gentle Hand. His mercy, His grace, His love are always ready to lift us out of the quagmire, setting our feet on solid ground.

It’s Complicated

This was my first honors essay of the semester. The short story referenced is from Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land, a collection of his short stories.

In his short story, “Don’t Send a Boy to Do a Man’s Work,” Wendell Berry describes the consequences of complications. The main character in the story, a twelve-year-old boy named Athey Keith, has been left in charge of overseeing a hog-killing while his father, Carter Keith, is out of town. Carter Keith has laid specific plans and enlisted the help of knowledgeable men to make sure the work gets done efficiently and well. However, several complications arise during the hog-killing, which turn the Keiths’ well-laid plans upside down and cause the story to turn in an unexpected direction. The rest of the story hinges on how Athey and the other men deal with the complications.

Complications are hardly an uncommon event in our day-to-day lives. The dictionary built into my computer defines “complicate” as such: “[to] make (something) more difficult or confusing by causing it to be more complex.” Complications, or problems, as we more often call them, seem to arise with impeccable timing whenever we least desire them. Yet it seems that although complications may be sometimes unwelcome and turn our story in unexpected directions, our stories, once finished, become clearer and more illuminating as we reach the end of the book.

The plot’s driving force in Berry’s short story is the three complications and how Athey and the other men handle them. While Athey would certainly have had a much more productive hog-killing and a less harrowing day without any such complications, such a plot (or lack thereof) would not have made much of a story. Stories are driven by conflict.

When I was part of a fiction-writing group in high school, my teacher (a fiction author) had to remind me over and over again that I needed more conflict in my story. What I was writing would have been nice to live, but it was boring to read. There was no impetus to drive the plot forward. I resented her correction, because I wanted to write stories like I wanted to live, sweet, delightful, and all with happy endings. That’s still how I would like to live my life. But I am old enough now to begin to realize that my life is not going to go in a carefully plotted way to reach its happy ending. It’s going to take its twists and turns, and complications (whether small or large) are going to arise.

If I believe the promises of Scripture, that God works in all things for the good of those that are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), then I can navigate the bumps in the road with confidence. But questions still remain, and I am sure that I am not the first person to raise questions such as, “Is there any way to avoid complications? If I can, should I? Do all complications arise from sin? Even if they do, can they still turn out all right in the end (and preferably before the end too)?”

Athey could not have avoided the particular problems that came his way, all of which began with other people. He could not foresee them, nor could he escape them. The only thing he could do was be prepared for them, in the sense that he could be ready to deal with any problems that might occur. But when the complications came, he was not ready. The somewhat cocky young boy that he was, his pride and fear caused him to react in a way that allowed the originally small problems to become big ones.

I don’t think there were any complications in the Garden of Eden. Life there must have been like the story I tried to write—boring to read, but wonderful to live. Like in Berry’s story, the first Biblical complication came from another person. The complications Athey had to deal with all began with other people, but his fear caused him to react in a way that exacerbated the problem instead of solving it. Neither did Adam and Eve begin the first complication in this world, but they chose to yield to it instead of standing up and resisting. This first complication resulted in the fall of man from perfection, and now the human story is, well, complicated. At times it’s positively messy.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid complications altogether. If there were, someone surely would have found a way by now! We can’t force others into our perfectly molded stories for ourselves—they’re going to bring complications, and sometimes we aren’t going to like the results. But neither our stories nor Berry’s story ends with failures to handle problems correctly. Fortunately for young Athey, his father came back—to a mess, it’s true, but he was quite up to handling the challenge and soon put things back to rights.

The human story doesn’t end with failure either. Although Adam and Eve didn’t have the power to put to right the wrong that they had done—that took someone with the proper authority—our Father sent His Son to earth to handle the challenge and put things back to rights. Unlike Carter Keith, He never has to go on a business trip, leaving us in charge. If Keith had been present at the hog-killing, the complications that arose would have been handled differently, and the resulting problems avoided. Likewise, because the Lord is present, we have the ability to handle the complications that come our way correctly. Not that we always will (in fact, many times we won’t), but we can, through His power. What is more, we have the guarantee that our stories will have happy endings. There might be cliffhangers after some chapters, and plot twists, and some pages might have tears on them. But in the end, we will close the book with a sigh of relief and meet our Author, the finisher of our faith.

Author: My Soul Found Rest (Used with permission)

Original Content: Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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