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CHRONICLES OF A RECOVERING IDIOT
By KURT W. BUBNA
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Kurt W. Bubna
All rights reserved.
THE LAST TWO MILES
I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!
Job 1:21, NLT
SOMETIMES LIFE IS HARD. I don't mean "having a bad hair day" hard. I mean the kind of hard that knocks you down and kicks you in the teeth without any mercy. Though I've had plenty of high points in my life, I've discovered that life's most valuable and lasting lessons are often learned in the dark valleys of defeat and despair. Believe me, I wish it were not so.
I'll be honest: Perseverance is not one of my favorite words. Nobody likes to hear, "Suck it up, Buttercup." To persevere means to carry on, regardless of hardship. It's like the ant I once saw carrying a captured Frito five times its size from under a picnic table to its nest. Perseverance means you just keep going, no matter how hard or how big the challenge.
Unfortunately, we can't talk about perseverance without coming face-to-face with suffering. And who likes to suffer? There are so many different types of suffering. There is emotional and psychological suffering, like being verbally abused by your spouse. There is spiritual suffering, like what you experience when you're tempted to do something really bad or when you're persecuted for your faith. And there is physical suffering, such as when you struggle with a disability or an illness. All suffering brings some kind of pain.
Before we go any further, let me address something you might already be wondering: "What do suffering and perseverance have to do with grace?"
The short answer? Everything.
Typically, when we hear the word grace, we immediately connect it to sin. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me...." And that's good, because—without question—we all need the kind of grace that covers all our sin. But we also need God's grace to sustain us in the midst of our struggles. In fact, much of the grace we experience happens in the context of suffering.
God's gentle grace comforts us when we are deeply wounded.
His larger-than-life grace covers us when we are wrestling with hardship.
His empowering grace helps us to stay the course when the going gets tough.
And God's epic grace shows us how to rise above our pain and circumstances with enduring hope and faith in him.
So what does God tell us to do in the midst of suffering? He urges us to persevere—which is only possible by his grace. Look at these rather challenging Scripture verses:
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 TIMOTHY 2:3
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. HEBREWS 10:36
If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 1 PETER 2:20
Endure. Stick with it. Hang in there. Persevere. I'd really rather not, thank you. I'd much rather quit. I'd rather complain like a cranky baby with a dirty diaper. I'd rather blame somebody—anybody—else. Sometimes, I would rather just take a nap or numb my pain through excessive amounts of TV or violent movies; but God says that enduring hardship and suffering is commendable.
So let me say it again: To survive and even thrive in the midst of our suffering takes grace—often in epic proportions.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the account of Job. Job had it all—a great family, a great job, and a great home. Then one day he found himself with a great loss. In fact, he lost everything except his complaining wife. I encourage you to read the full story of Job in the Old Testament, but for now let's focus on the tidal wave of suffering and loss that hit him on one horrible, unbelievably bad day:
One day ... a messenger arrived at Job's home with this news: "Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: "The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: "Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: "Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother's home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you."
Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. JOB 1:13-20, NLT (EMPHASIS ADDED)
What? He fell to the ground to worship? Am I the only one who's thinking that worship is probably the last thing I would have on my mind at a time like this? Grief ... anguish ... suffering, yes. But worship? This can't be right. Job was a righteous man. He was a good guy who lived a good life without any cause for this kind of trouble, but trouble came calling nonetheless. And it didn't stop there.
In the next chapter of Job's story, God allows Satan to attack Job's health with a terrible case of boils from head to foot. Then three of Job's friends show up and add insult to injury by implying that Job's problems are a result of his sin.
What absolutely amazes me about this man is that he never blamed God. Instead, he said, "I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21, NLT). Later, he added, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him" (Job 13:15). In other words, even if this struggle—or God himself—kills me, I still choose to trust in him.
I don't know about you, but I think I would blame God. And yet somehow, Job kept going. He persevered. And not only did he keep moving forward, he found it in his heart to worship. Somewhere along the way in his lifelong journey, Job figured out that persevering through life's struggles is better than quitting—and cursing God in the process. That's grace.
A Taste of Job's Sorrow
I wish I could tell you that I have no idea how Job must have felt. I really wish I could, but I can't. I know the agony and grief that pierces the soul and plunges it into a deep and dark emotional fog. I know how heartbroken Job was over the loss of his precious children.
On Saturday, March 15, 2008, my wife and I found out that our daughter-in-law was in premature labor—just seven months along—and that an ultrasound had indicated complications with the baby. We quickly packed, jumped in the truck, and drove as fast as we could from Spokane to Portland, where our kids live. It was dark and raining most of the way. Laura and I talked very little during those five hours. We simply prayed. A lot.
About an hour outside of Portland, the cell phone rang. It was my son, Nathan. He could barely speak as he told us through his tears that his newborn son, Phineas, was gone. The little guy had survived the delivery, and he was beautiful; but due to complications beyond anyone's control, and because his lungs were underdeveloped, he lived for only about an hour.
Laura and I pulled off the highway and just wept, more deeply than we had ever wept before. I wept for my son and his dear wife. I wept for Laura and myself. I wept for Phineas. I had never known that kind of pain before. It was like a Mack truck was crushing my chest and I couldn't breathe. It was unbearable.
When we walked into the hospital room, Nathan was holding his lifeless son, and the pain in his eyes broke my heart anew. At that moment, I would have done anything to change what had happened. Without hesitation, I would have exchanged my own life for that of Phineas, if only I could have. I grabbed my son, and for one brief moment father, son, and grandson embraced.
I kept thinking, This isn't the way it's supposed to be. This isn't right. God, how could this be happening? No grandfather should outlive his grandson.
For a long time, I agonized over this tragic loss to our family. God and I had some very long talks through tidal waves of tears. By God's grace, our family survived, but it took a while for me to come to the place where I could fall on my face and worship.
In the weeks that followed Phineas's death, I learned that God can handle my pain and anger. He drew me very close and held me tight, even when I was furious with him and confused. The depths of his grace sustained and carried me when all I wanted to do was crawl into a deep hole and hide.
I discovered that he really is "the God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3). He knows how hard it is to lose a Son, so he knows how best to encourage us through the agony of death and loss.
During this season, I also experienced the power of true friendship. Many dear friends stood by us during those dark days. Unlike Job's friends, who offered little more than spiritual platitudes, our friends embraced us with a love that said, We're going to stick with you, no matter what.
I also rediscovered the power of fixing my eyes on Jesus in the midst of great struggle. What I can never do, he has already done. What is impossible for me in my own strength and wisdom is HIMpossible through God's grace.
Years before the loss of my grandson, Nathan and a friend had joined me at mile twenty-two in my first marathon. I had hit the wall and was ready to quit. My mind and body were screaming at me to give it up and call it a day. Nathan could see the defeat in my face. He knew his dad pretty well.
What he did next will forever stand as one of the greatest father-son moments in my life. He said, "Dad, you can finish; just fix your eyes on me and we'll get through this together."
Before I could even respond—and a few choice words did come to mind—Nathan pulled right in front of me and paced me to the end. I don't even remember that last couple of miles, but I do remember locking my eyes on Nathan's feet and literally taking it one step at a time.
When we want to quit and everything in us is D-O-N-E, fixing our eyes on the "author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2, NKJV) will get us to the finish line. We are not running alone.
Margaret, My Hero!
I have a friend named Margaret. We actually haven't been in contact for many years, but I still consider her my friend and I will never forget her. Margaret has cerebral palsy, and she has suffered more than any other person I've ever known.
Getting out of bed in the morning is a struggle for Margaret. Getting dressed is hard. Brushing her teeth is difficult. She needs help getting into her wheelchair. She needs help in the bathroom. Getting food from the plate to her mouth is an unbelievable battle. She is extremely bright and has amazing insights into life, but talking is hard too. And at the end of the day, she needs help getting ready for bed and getting into bed—only to start the whole struggle over the next morning. Over the course of my life, I've gone through my share of struggles—both miniscule and mammoth. But I have never been through as much as Margaret goes through every day of her life. I thought the last two miles of a marathon were tough, but they are nothing compared to her struggles.
Margaret will never be famous. Her pool of friends is actually quite small. She will never win any athletic awards or trophies. Nevertheless, to me she is a hero. She is, without a doubt, one of the greatest and bravest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
We were part of the same church for several years when I was younger. She always sat in the back left-hand side of the auditorium in her wheelchair.
One day I came in late, as the congregation was singing the old chorus that goes, "I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice to worship you, O my soul, rejoice!" and here's what I saw—it is an image burned into my soul for all eternity: Margaret was in her usual spot, but she had her crippled and shaking hands as high in the air as she could lift them. She had a stream of saliva flowing from her lips (which was a normal part of her condition) and tears pouring down her face, which bore a crooked smile. Her eyes were closed, and she was singing with all her heart.
Everything Margaret tried to do was a struggle. But she knew how to persevere, and nothing was going to get in the way of her love for God. Nothing was going to keep her from giving him everything she had.
As I stood in the back and watched her, I wept. In fact, even now, just thinking about it, tears are coming to my eyes. I was amazed by her magnificence. No model on a runway could ever compare with her beauty. No queen on earth could ever measure up to her grandeur. I was blown away by her love for God. I was humbled by her ability to press through all the physical issues as she worshiped. I was awestruck by this wheelchair-bound woman walking in the fullness of the grace of God.
After church one day, I stopped Margaret on her way out. I got down to eye level with her and said, "Margaret, how do you do it? How do you deal with what you deal with and keep on going?"
She smiled her crooked smile, looked me in the eye, and said (struggling with every word), "Every day is another day to show my Jesus how much I love him."
She didn't get bogged down in the struggle.
She didn't focus on the hardships.
She wouldn't allow herself to grovel in self-pity.
She refused to be defined by her loss.
Instead, she saw every day as another day to show her Jesus how much she loved him.
Now, for someone whose body more or less works the way it's supposed to, Margaret's response might seem unfathomable. But it's a perspective wrought on the anvil of a daily commitment to draw close—and stay close—to God. Margaret was well-acquainted with suffering, but more than that, she knew God's grace. She lived it, breathed it, and radiated it to everyone she encountered.
Joy, Patience, and Faith
There are many things I still don't understand. But I refuse to be one of those guys who says, "Just grin and bear it!" I've had enough times when I didn't want to grin and I really didn't want to bear it, because it hurt too much.
I struggle from time to time with the canned Christian clichés about "a greater purpose" and the sovereignty of God. I know God can bring good out of any evil, but when you're in the middle of the evil, the darkness can seem pretty overwhelming.
I know we live in a broken world with broken people, and we can't blame God for the consequences of evil or our sinful choices. I know what the Bible teaches about suffering, but my heart still aches with the all-too-often real downside of life on this planet.
Why did my grandson die?
Why didn't God answer my prayer the way I wanted it answered?
How could a good God let a good man like Job suffer so horribly?
Why was Margaret born with cerebral palsy?
Why is there so much suffering and despair in the world?
I don't know the answers to these questions. And this side of eternity, I may never know.
But here's what I do know; here's what I hold on to; here's what keeps me going and persevering: It is the simple truth from a children's song I learned in Sunday school a long time ago: Jesus loves me.
Maybe that sounds like a pat answer or just another Christian cliché, but let's go a little deeper: Who is this Jesus who loves me—and loves you? The Bible says he's "a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.... Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.... He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed" (Isaiah 53:3-5, NLT). This Jesus who loves you and me knows what it means to suffer—and he carries our sorrows. That's why we want to stay right on his heels and close to him; that's where we can know and experience his epic grace in a way that is beyond our ability to fully fathom.
Some time ago, my son and daughter-in-law took my granddaughter Adelle to the doctor for her very first set of immunization shots. She cried. It hurt. Mom and Dad cried. It hurt them to see her in pain. I cried just hearing the story. Our love for Adelle is so strong, so deep, and so compassionate that her pain caused us pain.
Excerpted from EPIC GRACE by KURT W. BUBNA. Copyright © 2013 Kurt W. Bubna. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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