“Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing…” -Joel 2:14
It’s sometimes hard for me to remember, when I’m in the midst of suffering, that God loves me and wants what’s best for me. Instead it feels like whatever pain or heartache I’m enduring has been ordered by God as a punishment for me and that he gets great pleasure from watching me suffer.
The prophet Joel’s words echo this sentiment for me today. While many years ago, I may have believed that God seeks to punish us; today, I know better. Still, when suffering comes, this can sometimes be my first gut reaction: that God is getting pleasure from punishing me. It takes a bit of actively recalling on my part all the many things that are good and have gone right in my life for me to remember God’s endless love for me. Some people call this active recall “counting your blessings.” And while that is certainly true and helpful –because when we begin to do that we start to realize that the good in our life outweighs the bad — “counting blessings” for me usually gets watered down to listing out people and things in my life I’m grateful for. And this sometimes leaves me feeling a bit guilty, because in that moment I may be experiencing heartache over the actions of a person that I know I should be counting as a blessing in my life!
A few years ago, when I was out for a walk and fuming over a particularly difficult situation that left me both extremely angry and deeply saddened, a neighbor was out gardening and came over to chat with me. (Little did she know the mood I was in!) But as we chatted, I found myself pouring out all my woes to her. She paused when I finished and said, “When I feel defeated and begin to lose hope, I find great strength in rehearsing my victories.”
Then she said simply, “Rehearse your victories!” and she walked back to her gardening.
As I continued my walk, I began to do just that. How many times in my life had I thought a situation hopeless, doomed, or defeated only to have become a better person for it, or to have been able to turn my heartache into a blessing for someone else? More times than I’d realized, it seemed.
As I viewed my life through this new lens, I was able to count the “blessings” of my life not just as people and things, but also as triumphs over tragedies, and healings that came from heartache. These were my victories! These were “blessings” from God, that had previously gone uncounted! Suddenly God was no longer a punishing God, but a loving Father who suffered greatly with me through each trial, in order that I might come out better and stronger in the end. I could also relate better to Jesus who asked God to “let this cup pass” if God willed it, because I would never actively seek to endure the “blessings” of suffering in my life. But each victory? I could now see that like a mother enduring long labor, each victory was definitely worth it!
As we enter this season of Lent–a season of active sacrifice and suffering in small ways,– I don’t really want to give up even the smallest of things, and a part of me even resents having to do so. But when I remember Jesus’ own triumphant Victory, and all of my many small ones…it helps.
Reflection: What are the victories in your life? What trials have you overcome and what blessings came from overcoming them? If you are suffering now, how might you envision the victory that awaits you?
Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for the many blessings and all the victories in my life! Help me to see the trials in my life as mountains You climb with me, rather than tests You are waiting for me to fail. Open my eyes to see you working in both the joys and the sufferings of my life. Amen.