Years ago, before either of us were having children, I was talking with a friend about whether or not we would find out their gender before our future babies made their debut. I commented that it would be nice to be surprised, to which she retorted “Are you kidding me? All of life is a surprise; this is one thing you can find out ahead of time.” The logic was unassailable. Much of life is a surprise. Usually we don’t know what to anticipate. Hence when I found out I was expecting, I knew that at twenty weeks I would plan on finding out whether a little boy or little girl was joining our family. I have no regrets about that decision.
The fact that much of life can’t be anticipated was brought home in whole new ways during this past week and a half. Last week started with taking my mom to urgent doctor visits and medical tests and ended with me being invited for a two-day stay in our local hospital. Both situations came on suddenly. Both were completely unexpected. Yet I’ve learned that in the unexpected moments of life, great lessons can be taught or re-learned. Here are a few of mine from the past week:
- There is always reason to be thankful. – Much of the world believes that the time to give thanks is on a day in November or when things seem to be going well for them. However, the Christian knows that temporal circumstances don’t determine whether our expressions of gratitude are warranted. Even in the midst of a crazy and at times scary week, there were expressions of God’s love that were evident. He arranged timelines and schedules to allow us to get the tests my mom needed and to quickly provide at least a temporary solution. He provided friends that rallied around us to offer help in very practical ways as well as to lift us up in prayer. Things may not have been going well, but God was still good. And if nothing else, that alone was a reason for our hearts to be filled with thanks.
- Peace is not circumstantial. – When chaos seems to erupt in one’s life, there are moments when one wonders what is happening. One of the joys of trusting Christ is having confidence that even if we never understand what God is doing, we can trust in the work of His hands. Peace, then, is not dependent upon our circumstances but on Him. He has promised to give His children peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), which means that not only may others not understand the reasons for our contentedness, but that our understanding is not requisite for Him to provide His peace. The unexpected moments in life remind us that things of this world were never intended to satisfy us. May instead our satisfaction be found solely in Him – who, despite whatever trials we are currently experiencing, is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
- The unexpected reveals our priorities. – If you want to know what’s important to someone, watch what they focus on when things aren’t going according to their plans. It’s in the moments where things seem out of control that you can discover what controls them. For the Christian, this demonstrates the importance of focusing on the things of God when things are going well, to help ensure that they remain focus on Him when things are bad. Too often we are tempted to think that we will turn to God “when we need to,” neglecting to remember that even during “good times” our next breath is dependent upon Him. We must practice dependence upon God during the seasons of joy, so that our dependence is forged for the times of trial. When things don’t go as planned, may our reliance on our Savior be revealed.
- The unexpected provides an unique opportunity to witness. – People pay attention to how you behave when they know your circumstances aren’t ideal. Perhaps it is because they know that our priorities are often revealed in our trials and they want to see whether what we profess when the sun is shining is the same as when dark clouds cover our horizon. Regardless of the reasons, we would do well not to realize that when we are in pain, our witness is often louder and more clearly heard. In my mom’s case, someone who was working at her house was able to see her respond to difficult times with joy and wanted to know why this would be. A conversation that may not have otherwise happened was able to unfold. In our difficult moments it is easy to be focused on what is happening to us and not to be aware of the impact on those that God has placed in our lives. May we instead pay attention to whom God has surrounded us with in those moments, and pay we purposefully look for how our pain can be used to testify to His grace.
It’s hard to relish the unexpected moments in life when we know that they are often tinged with sorrow and grief. Yet the Christian can know that regards of what happens next, there will be reasons to give thanks. We can have confidence that His peace is waiting to flood our hearts in the midst of uncertainty, and that He can use the times of trial to bring Himself glory and praise. While this may not cause us to eagerly anticipate the difficult days that are to come, it can at least remind us of His goodness when they do.