Friday, August 19, 2011
The Happy Ending Starts in the Middle
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was beautiful, sweet, and kind. She grew up in a wonderful, loving family. She went to college and met a wonderful, kind, handsome man while at school. They both obtained degrees, and then had a wonderful wedding. They bought a picturesque home and always kept it clean. Not too long after they had beautiful, sweet, obedient children together and lived to a ripe, old age.
Doesn't that just sound like the perfect story? It is the, for many, the representation of what the "perfect" life would look like. I, personally, wouldn't know for sure-having never come close to anyone's ideal of perfection. However, even though it seems to have all the elements required for Utopia, it is a little boring.
It certainly isn't a story that I would want to read again and again. There is no climax, no action, no "hold-your-breath" moments. There is no angst, no cliff-hanger, nothing that leaves you yearning to find out how it all ends.
Because you don't really care. You are in no way invested in the characters, or the story. You can't identify with them-who lives such an idyllic life? You wouldn't really want to know them, or be friends with them-it would just make you jealous and insecure.
But why is this always what most of us claim to desire? Maybe this is what we really want, but somehow, I have reason to doubt the veracity of that.
And where is God in all of this anyway?
We serve an amazing God: author of wonders and miracles beyond our comprehension, the jaw-dropping, nail-biting kind. The Red Sea dividing, time-changing, food-multiplying kind. The climatic kind. The story-changing kind. If there is no antagonist, there can be no hero.
The stories that we really admire the most aren't the "perfect" kind. They are the ones of courage, faith, hope in the face of certain defeat. We devour tales of Ruth, Esther, Rahab, Corrie Ten Boom, Beth Moore. We delight in their success against the odds. We love the stories that shake us to tears, biting our lips until the conflict is resolved.
We love these heroines for the trials they have faced, for the imperfections they have, and for the faith that they cultivate. They, and so many others, have confronted seemingly insurmountable odds, and still they have persevered and arrived triumphant on the other side.
But we claim to not want that in our own lives. We want the fairytale; but we don't want to face any dragons. No evil stepmothers, or wicked witches, please. We want the ball gowns, and the palace, and of course, the handsome prince; but we would prefer to never deal with frogs, or poverty or -heaven forbid- any cleaning!
We want to be counted with the women of Hebrews 11, but we don't want to deal with barrenness, or death, or war, or famine.
We want the dream without the drama, the glamour without the gore. In essence, we want to skip the parts that make the story so meaningful.
What if we realized it is the hard parts that cause us to be drawn to these tales? What if our hard parts are what draw people to us? What if-just consider- it is my imperfections, my hard times, my trials, that allow the light of Christ to shine most brightly in my life?
"If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."
2 Corinthians 11:30
"He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. " 2 Corinthians 12:9
Why do we want to skip the hard parts? Because we are selfish, and human and discontented. Because we are fearful and lack faith. I don't want to desire to go through life without trial or hardship. That is the illuminating part of the story-you really discover a character's motivation, their true worth, and what they are really made of, when they have to persevere through trials.
No one asks for hard times. But we need to recognize that the "testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2). And to live a life that says:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. "
There isn't really a happy ending if there hasn't been been some hard times in the interim between the beginning and the finish. It is that stark contrast that makes us appreciate the satisfaction of hard-won contentment. It is the comparison of dark to light that really helps us see that the happy ending is really only happy if there was a little sadness, a little hardship, a little unforeseeable obstacle, to make it all worthwhile. Really the happy ending starts before we can even see where this is all going...