For the sake of appearances, I might say that the troubles and hardships of life don’t really matter. You might have heard me say, “this too shall pass” or that our true rest and refuge isn’t to be found in this life, anyway. Those may be true statements in a certain context, but they are essentially dishonest in the context of how I actually feel.
People are quick to say something is wrong or bad when it is not what we are expecting or hoping for. Disappointments of all kinds are casually referred to as “bad," even when it may really be the best thing that could happen.
Consider the rain that falls on a summer weekend when the kids are out of school and everyone wants to go to the beach or for a picnic and a hike. “This too shall pass” is very unlikely to be my first thought. No, my sentiment is likely to be something very different, and what I say will not even be what I think.
Someone else whose crops were drying out and who had prayed every day for rain will probably be filled with joy and thanksgiving. Could I feel joy and be truly thankful when my fondest wish is disappointed, the same as I feel when my most fervent prayer is answered, just as I hoped?
What about the time my younger brother died at the tender age of 37? How is it possible to thank God for that?
It may not be possible to feel thankful or joyful about such sorrowful things. It may take some time to even think of something positive to say about my brother, so deep is the sorrow of loss. It’s been almost thirty years, and I still grieve, but now I think back to the days of our youth, and I remember him. The love has grown.
Maybe you pray every day. How do you pray? In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Ask, and you shall receive.” Do you ask?
My habit of prayer was to order God to do this or that. “Give us a sunny day tomorrow while we’re at the beach.” “Heal my brother of his disease.” “Make me a better man.” These may all be things we want or think we need, but they are not requests. They are more like directions or orders, and they imply an expectation of obedience. When it rained instead, I’d be disappointed, maybe even angry at God. But my own prayer set me up for disappointment.
I did not ask, did I? When you ask me a question, I will be far more likely to answer than I will if you tell me what you want from me. It will be even better if you ask in such a way that my answer can be “Yes” or “No."
I am certainly imperfect as an image of God, but in this way, we are alike. I do not love to be ordered or commanded, but I do love to be asked.
You may not like to hear my answer when it is “No," but aren’t you happier when I answer than when I don’t? You say thank you when I say “Yes." How do you feel when I say “No?" Maybe you don’t like my answer, but you probably want it even if it’s “No." Be thankful for the answer that leaves you in no doubt. Be thankful as much for God’s No as for his Yes.