It feels great to come out on the other side of hard times. But a check of the view behind us may reveal some shattered images.
Some of you are saying, “Yeah…so?” Others are saying, as we did, “Our long national nightmare is over!”
Many of you have followed my unfortunate fall from the “graces” of the church and demise into Worst Pastor mode. Family and friends from all over the country have reached out to us, including those that we have not seen in years. People sent us money, some from churches we left years ago. You have prayed and given so much to us over the last three months, more than we could ever imagine. We want you to know that it is so appreciated as we enter a new phase of life and ministry.
Three months is not an incredibly long time to go without a job, compared to what many people endure. But it feels like three years. Our days since April 22 have been an emotional roller coaster of anger, shock, despair, hope, and encouragement (often from outside sources). Now, it seems we can finally put it all in the rear-view mirror.
We are taking a huge sigh of relief and renewing our hope as we look towards the future. However, this does not eliminate the rear-view mirror or the scattered images that we can still see in it. And while those images will get further and further behind us, the view is always going to be cracked.
People hold a wide range of perspectives on the way that painful events shape our lives. Some hold that all of these are a part of God’s will, and God even directs them to us (or us to them) to teach us lessons. Others think that these events are just a part of life, perhaps part of a terribly flawed, imperfect, and sinful world. We seek faith to fight through these horrible battles and learn from them.
I’ve thought and meditated and preached through this issue for decades. The best that I can do is Forrest Gump philosophy. Maybe it’s both.
**By the way, Forrest Gump as a movie is a brilliant study in practical theology and the nature of humanity. Watch it again through those lenses.
In my 25 years as a minister, educator, and theologian (kind of), I cannot come up with a better answer than this. My tendency is to lean towards the latter argument that our own decisions and free will lead to a great deal of suffering in the world. Likewise, the free will and decisions of others have a tremendous impact on our lives.
Yet, this does not mean such suffering is pointless, and invaluable lessons can accompany it.
Nothing indicates to me that it was “God’s will” for me to leave the ministry or the church. But it happened. Now that the cracks are ever-present, it is definitively God’s will for us to see how to navigate those cracks as we move forward. Looking ahead should become more enjoyable and more challenging than looking in the rear view as we head down this new path.
Yet, we shouldn’t forget what is behind, or the lessons learned. It’s not about eliminating the cracks, but about learning how to see clearly through them.
There is great truth in the old saying that “Hindsight is always 20/20 vision.” Unfortunately, that clarity of vision often pulls us to focus on the mistakes we made, the wrongs that we suffered, and perhaps wish that we made wiser choices in the past.
I am the worst “Shoulda/Coulda/Woulda” guy in the world. I constantly beat myself up for errors in judgment, or mistakes of word or deed. Even if I start off angry at what someone else did, my self-reflection brings me to my own faults. And I get stuck in the circle of regret.
If we are talking about God’s will, we can easily see that this is NOT what God wants from us in life. Whatever the reasons that hardships fall on us, it is always God’s intent for us to find our way forward in life. Learning to see through the cracks can help us do that, as long as we don’t spend all of our time wishing they weren’t there.
The funny thing is that our hindsight is not 20/20 because we have absolute clarity. It’s 20/20 because of the cracks in the rear-view mirror. When we look back, it is clear how we might have navigated or avoided them.
Those cracks empower us to avoid that nostalgic tendency to either glorify the past or dwell on how it could have been better. Better yet, they offer a clarified vision of what is ahead, and how we might at least minimize the damage of cracks and breaks in our lives.
It is a struggle for me to get on board with a vision of a loving God who intentionally puts pitfalls and obstacles in front of us in order to teach us a “lesson.” Life in a flawed and fallen world has all the hardships that we need, and then some. If the Lord is heaping more hot coals on us just to see how we react, I have some serious questions about why we need any more battles than we already have.
But I absolutely believe that every pitfall and obstacle and pile of hot coals is another opportunity to grow into a better person moving forward. This life is filled with plenty of pain, and our view of the cracks in our rear view mirror enable us to see the love and joy that get us through/over/around them.
God does not need to throw any extra stones to teach us about love and grace. Additional pain is not required. Love and grace are required to get us through the pain and looking forward with a clear and hopeful view of the future.
My rear-view mirror is going to have some permanent cracks that we have overcome, with lots of love and guidance and support. I’m neither expecting nor wanting those cracks to disappear. Instead, I’m looking forward to watching the damage get smaller and smaller.
Those cracks that I see behind me are making the road ahead look all the better. And I am genuinely excited and hopeful to see where that road goes, and how love and grace will guide us through/over/around the cracks that we will surely find in the future.