Sometimes the things that you don’t see coming change you the most. I guess it only makes sense, if you saw them coming you’d probably be more ready for them or something. I’d made kind of a habit of making sure I saw things coming. My whole life I’d played things safe, not gotten too far outside of my comfort zone, made sure that if life was happening it was happening on my terms. Looking back at it I’m actually pretty shocked I was able to keep it up as long as I did. I mean my parents got divorced when I was six, there were definitely some issues there, but for the most part I was pretty much in control of things. Funny how one word can change everything. Cancer. How many lives have been changed forever by that one little word? It’s only six letters, you wouldn’t think it would have that much power, but it does. For me it was those six letters that rocked my world. Six letters that made me more aware than I had ever been that everything is not how it is supposed to be. This wasn’t how life was supposed to go. Fresh off our honeymoon and my mother in law was telling us that the cancer was back, and ten short months later she was gone.
My heart was broken. Not only from the loss of a family member but for the first time I understood what it meant to feel let down by God. Don’t get me wrong, its not as though every prayer up until that point in my life had been answered, but here I stood in a room with my wife and her father and I felt like there were no answers. As a pastor, I should have answers. I should’ve known what to say or how to act – something to make their pain lessen, something to make it go away. But I had nothing. In fact I think at times I actually made it worse, and I felt alone. I never thought I’d be the kind of person who got angry with God for letting bad things happen. After all I knew God wasn’t in the business of keeping all those who follow him free from pain. I’ve counseled students, I’ve spoken at funerals, and I’ve read the Bible. But there I was, angry and reeling because the person I loved more than anyone in the world was devastated, and there was nothing I could do. And for the first time I felt that God had abandoned me. And it broke my heart.
I felt ashamed. I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. I knew better, whatever that meant, and I was somehow supposed to make this into something good, something to learn from, and move on. That’s what a good pastor would do, what a good Christian would do, what a good husband should do. Like I said, I was used to being in control. And so for a long time I didn’t do anything. I just stayed that way. Confused, angry, and hurt and waited for something to change.
It wasn’t until a few years (and a lot more heartbreak) later that I came to the startling and humbling revelation that I was giving myself far too much credit. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t make things all better; it was that I somehow thought I could in the first place. It wasn’t wrong to be angry with God, it was sad that up until this point in my life I hadn’t been real enough with him to feel most any emotion towards him at all.
Let me put it this way – there’s a line from a Switchfoot song that claims, “If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love.” When I first heard it, I immediately attributed it to the love between two people, and it made sense. But the more I thought about it, I believe God used it to show me why my anger with Him wasn’t a bad thing. For the first time in our relationship I had let my guard down and was being totally myself. I was hurt, but the fact that I was capable of feeling hurt in some way demonstrated the value I placed in our relationship. He meant so much to me that when I felt like He wasn’t there, it broke me.
I’m not saying that this is theologically sound or that everyone should go be mad at God. Looking back with my trained mind, I know God never left me; it’s just how I was feeling. But it did teach me something. I have to be authentic in my relationship with God. If I’m not, it’s not really a very good relationship now is it? God can handle our true emotion. In fact I believe he values it. He’d rather have us be genuinely angry with him than fake happiness just for the sake of being religious and proper. And honestly I think that makes me love Him more. A God big enough to handle the real me and all my issues, and one who loves me enough to see past them when He needs to. That is a God worth trusting in, a God worth serving, and one our world is in desperate need of. Lucky for us, He’s been here all along.