I don't know about you, but I'm a planner. My actual paper planner is an essential for me. I liken it to my brain outside my body and I would be fairly lost without it. Plans are good. Plans are necessary. Plans can be so misleading, though, because, if we're not careful, they can give us a false sense of being in control. Plans can lure us into complacency and the illusion that we have all the time in the world to, well…
"How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?
Your life is like the morning fog—
it’s here a little while, then it’s gone."
And then there's a phone call…a phone call with a sobbing friend on the other line. She tells you there has been a tragedy and time seems to hover in a holding pattern while you gather your thoughts that have just suddenly spun out of control. You move through the physical motions of arranging care for your children, calling a friend to accompany you to the hospital and changing out of your Sunday napping clothes. Outwardly you seem capable and composed, but inwardly every fiber of your being is on high alert and your mind is screaming that you're not qualified to deal with such deep despair and you wish you could ask Him to send someone else.
"Then I heard the Lord asking,
“Whom should I send as a messenger to this people?
Who will go for us?”
I said, 'Here I am. Send me.'"
So you go to the hospital and you hold your sobbing friend. You listen to the wails of the only family member who physically survived the tragedy, but sustained emotional wounds that may never fully heal. You watch a husband grieve the loss of his new wife AND his mother. You witness a dad suddenly envisioning living out his final years alone and a son as he has the realization wash over him that he can't ever pick up the phone to call his mom again. You comfort, you pray, you rub a back and you wonder desperately how to answer the question that your friend has just rolled up in front of you on the nurses chair and asked…
"God knew this was going to happen, right?
He knew that today my mom and sister-in-law would die, right?"
You know there is no simple answer because really, who can even truly begin to comprehend how it all works? But your friend is looking at you pleadingly to help him understand and you recognize that in and of yourself you have nothing to offer as you utter a silent plea for help...
"If you need wisdom, ask our generous God,
and he will give it to you."
So you find yourself opening your mouth and hoping the words that tumble out are not yours. You hope that what you're sharing is from God's mouth to your friend's ears and that they help, for the moment, to settle the real question that's being asked…
Is He really a good God and can He truly be trusted?
And, of course, there are no verbal bandaids that will satisfy so you don't pretend to have all the answers. It's not a time for reminding them that all things work together for good because the grief is too raw and the future so murky that the idea of good is unfathomable. Christian cliches that speak to His faithfulness would be ill-placed there in that hospital hallway full of pain so tangible that it hangs like a heaviness about our shoulders.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
You encourage your friend that God is not offended by his questions. You let him know that He can handle whatever emotions the pain causes to wash over him and out his mouth. You remind him that even Mary and Martha were mad at Jesus, their friend and frequent houseguest, because they thought their trust in Him had been ill-placed. And you assure him that you and many others will walk beside him as he navigates the rocky and uncertain road of grief because…
that's what LOVE does.
"We love each other because He loved us first."
1 John 4:19
Later that night you find yourself in bed, wondering how long sleep will elude you. You contemplate how we can all plan and dream and imagine what our future will look like, but ultimately we must each come to the place where we wave the white flag of surrender and acknowledge that the One who first breathed life into us can call for that breath back at any moment.
"We can make our plans,
but the Lord determines our steps."
So you make those plans and dream those dreams. You try to keep short accounts of wrongs done to you and treat others as you really would want to be treated yourself. You love fiercely and seek to forgive quickly. You realize that earthly treasures are just that and will one day be all that's left here. You surrender to Him and at the start of each day you reach for His hand and you…
"I cling to You; Your strong right hand upholds me."