Tuesday, February 26, 2008

And All I Got Was This Lousy Tee Shirt

I chatted with a friend yesterday about something I have been thinking about, and I figured I might just as well write a blog post about it. I have been reflecting. One doesn't just face a stack of a dozen or so journals and several dozen poems all written ages ago without some reflection, you know. And on what have I been reflecting? It's complicated. And messy.

I looked back over some of the struggles I had in high school and college- difficult friendships, family dysfunction, broken relationships, etc. and I saw that I had so much hope as I dealt with those sorts of things. I had so much hope for redemption, or at least for my own personal maturation and sanctification. Now, my friend says (and George says) that we see our sin more as we grow. But I just have to say, I feel like I have not grown at all. I know, if we are seeing our sin more, it will just seem like we have not grown. But seriously, I feel like a thirteen year old, just as immature, just as frustrated and foolish, only without a lot of the hope. And as far as redemption goes, it seems like most of the things I hoped for, for friends or for family or whatever, were never put to rights.

I was trying to write a note to a friend recently, just a sort of encouragement to say, "Hey, I sort of know what you are going through and that it must be really hard. I'm so sorry for your sufferings, but I know it will get better." You know, something like that. But the "I know it will get better" part was a little puzzling. Because in a lot of instances, I just feel like I have just survived. I survived my parents' divorce. But do I really know how to encourage someone in a similar situation and say "I'm sure God has something for you in this; look what I learned?" Nope. The only thing I can say with any certainty is, "It won't kill you." Or what about our experience in Birmingham with George's unemployment? I suppose that drove us to seminary. And I guess we don't know the rest of that story and one day I could be praising the day BellSouth decided to let hundreds of guys go. But not so much today. I can't really tell you what I learned from that experience, only that I survived it. Hear me rightly, I am not angry about these things. I just kind of don't get it. I don't yet see the good that came from them, neither circumstantially nor internally. I feel pretty defeated not to have a positive spin on things that happened in the past, not to be able to gratefully (even excitedly) look back and see that hand of God in it, though I am sure it was there.

Our pastor preached a sermon yesterday about Jesus' sufferings and how even he had to suffer to mature (Heb. 5:8-9). And I have heard that all my life. I mean that's the first chapter of James. I guess I am just looking at myself going "Where's the maturity? Where's the wisdom?" What is the point of our various sufferings if we cannot link them to some sort of personal growth? You want to be able to put a hash mark on the side of God- "God taught me x" or "God's justice prevailed." I can put that hash mark there by faith, but it would be less confusing to really comprehend the victory. For example, I talked to a friend today about a particular recipe and she explained why a seemingly laborious step is required. I told her I always appreciate the reason behind a step. I have a cookbook which always explains the "why" and I always follow the instructions exactly. Without a "why," I am much more likely to, as in definitely will, take shortcuts. Not that we can take shortcuts in our lives, but the point is that it is really hard to do something when you have no idea why, and just as some steps in recipes seem superfluous and like they have absolutely no bearing on the outcome, there are portions of my life that seem about as profitable. I'm not saying that is the case, certainly God knows what he's doing; I just wish I knew what he had been doing all this time.

Anyway, I think I knew the answer to all of this at one point. Or what I thought I knew isn't enough to shut me up now. But I haven't posted these past few days because I have been mulling these things over, and then I thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be so very vulnerably awesome of me to share this with anyone and everyone?" So I am. I keep thinking of the lyrics to that dreadful Edwin McCain "I'll Be" song (which I confess, I actually used to like before the radio got a hold of it), "I'll be better when I'm older." Lame, I know. But it gets me thinking, maybe I am actually only in the middle of all of this right now and when I am seventy I can write a whole book about how everything in my life came to rights and I am so wise and mature and spiritual. Then I don't actually have to deal with this question until I'm seventy. Nice! Any other thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Song suggestions for my iPod?


Jessie said...

no suggestions - just enjoyed this post - thanks for sharing and I'm right there with ya.

Wrights said...

I can relate completely. Thanks for your honesty.

sara said...


Wilson Benton (who has been so amazing to have at CPC--and Pam too!)has been talking about James and trials the last few weeks. I have learned that trials produce perserverance, and perserverance leads to maturity, but maybe not the kind of perfection we look for. He talks about maturuty as being whole and complete, as God designed us. It sounds like your "surviving" these things is perserverance. And maybe the sum of these trial are completing you, even if you don't feel like you have the spiritually correct reaction to them. Does that make any sense? Just trying to say, you are perservering, and that is making you mature, whether you feel it or not.

lauren said...

hey girl-i hear ya. it's hard to pan out and see why all this suffering is necessary for our sanctification. or whether it's really working! but i bet if you sat down and had a conversation with Abby from 5 or 10 years ago, you'd see it. at least that is what i think about myself. i may not feel very mature, but i know how immature i was years ago. does that make sense?

i do have suggestions for your ipod (no obnoxious high school music this time-promise). my new fav is a christian artist that has been opening for Shane & Shane and Bebo Norman. reminds me of natalie merchant, sandra mcckraken, etc. you can listen to her here: http://www.myspace.com/allirogers

Abby said...

thanks y'all. at least i am not c-razy for thinking these things. or if i am, you are too :)

and sara, i would think you of all people could accurately gauge my lack of maturity! ha ha! but i also kind of wonder about the perseverance thing. because what other choice do we have? if your parents are the problem, well, they're your parents so what else can you do? or if you lose your job, well, they're not paying you anymore, so what else can you do? i guess i could "refuse to receive that" as my mom says, but that doesn't make it not true to life. i suppose in its bare bones form it has something to do with continuing to obediently do the actions of faith, going to worship, participating in the sacraments,etc. and to trust on a base level that God is sovereign and good (the good thing is hard though). do you think that is what it means?

jessie and i talked about some of this and one thing that really spoke to my frustration was that things probably aren't always going to tie up in little packages. loose ends drive me crazy. but there probably just will be loose ends, unresolved situations, whatever. maybe that is what is really bothering me. it just seems arbitrary.

also, george said that some things may just be plot and we don't even know how they work into it all. i think his example was that if i hadn't had a miserable (heartbreaking, really) experience in my first job, i may have just stayed where i was and we wouldn't have gotten married. and that changes my story hugely doesn't it? so even though that first job situation is, in hindsight, a big mess that has never been reconciled or resolved (but I really have eventually gotten used to it being there and am not being driven crazy by it -anymore), it was sort of a step that placed me where I am now. I guess a lot of things are that way. Coulda used a happier step to do the same thing!

any other thoughts?

sara said...

Back to the whole perserverance thing--I see your point about not having any other choice. But you do receive these trials, and continue to put one foot in front of the other on the course where God has you. Today, I want to lay on the floor and pitch a tantrum because we are missing yet ANOTHER day of school in this house!!! THAT may not be perservering :).

Keep tracking...Sara

the good, the bad & the ugly said...

This may be way off...but I see the perseverance as a sort of act of worship. A way of trusting God in faith (the essence of things hoped for, evidence of things unseen). Through the really painful times in my life, deaths, miscarriage, marital problems, I felt truly like I was walking in the shadow of the Almighty. Painful, unexplainable, but worshipful situations. I can look back and see God's grace and my growth and be thankful. And also, I think these trials that are unresolved or unexplainable lift our eyes towards heaven. CS Lewis says, "“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
Maybe these ideas are just more frustrating for you, I don't know. But I guess I am saying, the point of them may be to look more to Christ and who He is and what He has done, and less to yourself (inward). What do you think?

Abby said...

Sara, you know as well as anyone, I've had my fair share of tantrums! I hope y'all are back at school soon! Are you all sick?

Good, I guess I have been trying to think about what I think. And maybe one thing I think is that I am just having a hard time connecting what Christ has done with what is going on or has gone on in my life or in the lives of people I know. I don't really like the idea of the Christian life being chalked up to, "I can't wait to die. I just want to go to heaven." I am sure that is not what you or CS Lewis means, but I am just not sure what he does mean. We were put here to do God's work, to be his Kingdom on earth. And I guess I am saying that the things I have toiled over seem very insignificant to mine or anyone else's growth. I fail to see how it contributes to the Body. It's what I said about wanting to put a point on the scoreboard for God, but not really understanding how a point comes out of it at all.

You said "I can look back and see God's grace and my growth and be thankful," and that is exactly what I am saying I can't do in certain situations. I never felt that God showed me anything, just that I eventually got over it- my own miscarriage, my parents, losing my job and George's job, etc. I do want to say I am not trying to be a whiner and say I've had a horrible life or anything. I am just looking back over it, the very small part of it that has already happened, kind of wondering "why?" and "to what end?" I am not having some sort of faith crisis like I don't believe God has a purpose or design, I just am realizing I don't see that design in some things that would appear to be finished. And that bugs me.

the good, the bad & the ugly said...

It is wonderful how honest you are. I think you are right that the quote by CS Lewis is not one of giving up this side of heaven. I think it means being more rooted in what Christ has done and will do, the great mysterious love He has for us, than what we are currently in the midst of. Remember that hymn, "and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace"? That sortof thing. Of course, no one can do that perfectly or all the time, but we are striving towards it. And when, by God's grace, we take our eyes off of ourselves and our present circumstances and put them on Him and His promises we find peace and spiritual maturity and sometimes He even answers the why questions. That's just my opinion and experience. Unfortunately, I spend half my time in disobedience so I am talking partially from experience and partially from theory.

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