Anyone else look around at other people’s lives then compare your own and feel like you got the short end of the stick? In this era of social media, I think we have all been there. It’s easy to scroll through feeds and see the lives of friends and family that seem to have it all, and be left confused at what God is allowing to happen in your life. I have certainly been there. I am there. This month marks 4 years since the beautiful marriage I thought I had broke into a million little pieces and my entire life got flipped upside down. It has been four years of the deepest heartache that I have ever experienced. I remember in the very early stages people encouraged me that our marriage could survive this, and as much as I wanted to believe them, it didn’t. Within 48 hours of hearing my husband confess a series of lies he had been entangled in, he was gone and I was left alone, broken and betrayed without any answers. There wasn’t time to process feelings or fight it out. There wasn’t really time to struggle through the mess. It was just over.
I have spent the last four years watching friends struggle through marriage and difficult circumstances. I have prayed and pleaded God for their marriages to survive and guess what, they usually do. These friends of mine have fought for their marriage and some have experienced sweet reconciliation. Of course I rejoice with them, but honestly deep down I can feel that tug of unfairness and resentment. I often find myself in prayer asking God how I got dealt this hand, when it is no secret that He can save marriages and stop bad things from happening all the time. Of course, then I can spiral and pull out every hard thing that has happened in my life and wonder why. Why does my story have to look so tragic and hard compared to everyone else’s? Why can’t I just be a recipient of a rescue and miracle for once?
I know I am not alone in these feelings. Maybe you are feeling this today? As I was reading through the gospels this month, I was really drawn to the story of John the Baptist for the first time. John spends his life as a prophet preaching and preparing the way for the Messiah to arrive. Jesus chooses John to be the one who will baptize him to initiate the beginning of his ministry. John witnesses God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit all together in perfect harmony. John was given great favor as the forerunner to Jesus. . Yet as the story continues and Jesus goes from place to place doing unbelievable miracles, it takes us nearly eleven more chapters (in the gospel of Matthew) to learn how John’s story gets played out. We shockingly discover that he had been locked up in prison by King Herod for speaking the truth. Matthew 11 reveals the humanity of John when he asks for confirmation if Jesus was really the Messiah he was waiting for. He is undoubtedly confused and in despair. His circumstances do not match the expectations he had for the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus replies with a message saying ” “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind are recovering their sight, cripples are walking again, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, dead men are being brought to life again, and the good news is being given to those in need.” Jesus tells John about all the people he is rescuing and delivering, and then makes it quite clear that John will not be one of those people. Jesus leaves out one small part of the messianic prophecy where he will ‘free the captives’. Johns knowledge of scriptures would surely be able to figure out that although he could, Jesus has chosen not to bring John freedom. He has chosen not to perform the miracle that John so desperately needed.
Even though I have heard this story my whole life, It wasn’t until now that I stopped to think about why Jesus allowed it to be this way. Honestly over the last several weeks, I have wrestled with God about it. Doesn’t it feel downright cruel of Jesus to abandon John in prison? He was healing complete “strangers” from places all over. He was raising people from dead and pouring out compassion on all who needed it. However, his own blood relative, the one who spent his entire life preparing the way for Him, He allows to be beheaded in an unjust act for royalty entertainment. I can only imagine the heartache and angst that John must have had. If I were John, I would be lost in my anger and heartache. Why would Jesus seem to save everyone BUT him?
I am by no means John the Baptist, but I couldn’t help but see myself in his story. How many of us feel like we are abandoned by God sometimes? Why does it often feel like God is showing up for everyone but us? We scroll through social media, and see how others are being healed from disease, marriages are being restored, job promotions are being attained, or children are growing and succeeding when our’s aren’t. We see people giving God the glory for the way He has delivered them from the same trials that we are faced with today, yet our trial is going nowhere. How is this fair? I am spent years asking these questions and pleading with God for these answers. When I get those thoughts in my head, and I battle with comparison of trials here is what I remind myself.
- Comparing trials gets me nowhere and distracts me from my own calling. If I look at other people and judge that they are not suffering as badly as I am, it only encourages me to go deeper into self pity. It takes my eyes off what I am called to do. A great example in scripture is when Jesus is talking to Peter after the resurrection and before he ascends into heaven. Jesus tells Peter he has great suffering ahead of him, and Peter’s very first response is to point to his friend John and say “what about him?” I can resonate deeply with Peter here. Misery loves company right? How does Jesus respond? He says ” If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This feels unfair to our human nature, but actually is an uplifting message that takes the weight of comparison off our shoulders. Don’t worry about anyone else, but yourself. Jesus is telling us all to keep our eyes forward on him and his plans for us, and to stop looking to the side. My suffering and your lack of suffering doesn’t have anything to do with each other. I think I need the reminder that God has allowed this path for me, and I must respond with obedience and humility trusting Him as I go.
- Acknowledging that it isn’t all about me helps give me a bigger picture. If you grew up around church you probably heard a lot of Bible stories as a kid. Often times Bible stories were taught with YOU as the main character. Whether it was about David, Daniel or Esther, the Sunday school teacher drew some sort of parallel that put us right in the middle. Many church kids like me grew up missing the gospel completely. I grew up thinking the Bible was about me, not Jesus. This kind of thinking can flare up in dangerous ways when trials come our direction. If we don’t have the bigger eternal picture of everything being for God’s glory, trials will knock us off our feet and land us in those feelings of hurt proclaiming God is unfair. Scripture tells us that our suffering produces endurance, character and hope. ( Romans 5:3-4) He is always at work and uses all of our pain and heartache for good. There is an eternal glory that outweighs everything we experience here on earth.
- Trusting in God’s character brings peace. It is easy to only look at the circumstances in front of us and if they don’t look good come out with a judgement call against God and his character. We might declare that He is unfair and unkind. We are often left shaken and broken wondering what happened to this God who promised he would never leave us? For me, this is when I must go back and remember who God has shown himself to be over the course of my entire life and all through scripture. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of God the Father. When we read through the gospels there is no denying that Jesus is full of compassion, kindness and empathy. Truth be told, when I seriously look at my life, with all of it’s trauma and heartbreak, I can see God’s goodness all over it. Even in the darkest times, I can look and find that Jesus cares for me and is always there with an unfailing love. I do not understand why he doesn’t choose to step into my story, yet he chooses to intervene with others, but that doesn’t change WHO he is. I must trust that I follow a God who knows all things and sees what I cannot. I trust that it is in his kindness that He is walking with me through the deepest valleys.
John the Baptist was a holy man, who although he had some doubts in his despair, knew the bigger picture of the grand story of redemption. He was focused on his mission that He was given to prepare the way of the Lord.He wasn’t delivered from an unjust death, but I imagine in his final moments that God spoke great peace over Him and showed Him his goodness as he walked into eternal glory.
As I walk through the memories that surround me on this anniversary of loss, I hope to keep my mind and heart on Jesus. I want to soak in the truths that He cares for and loves me deeply, even if my story has turned out to be one of significant loss. I pray for you if you are reading this and the holidays bring up painful memories of loss. Whatever your situation may be, whatever you are grieving, whatever your story may be, my prayer is that you will know that God has not abandoned you or left you alone in your troubles. It is okay to be discouraged when things turn out differently than you expected. Like John, it is okay to check in with Jesus to make sure He is who He says He is. Although he doesn’t always deliver us from the trial, he knows about it, he cares about it, and He is working it all out for your good and His glory.