The other day a dear friend of mine said something that made me think.
Over the past year, this friend has experienced significant loss in her life. She has been forced to accept some long-term limitations, come to terms with some deep disappointment, and adjust her expectations in several areas. It's been a difficult year for her and has left some lasting scars.
We were talking about this recently and she said, "This is the first time in my life I've really suffered. It's the first time I've had to deal with heavy loss and accept things I cannot change."
Although I know that is only partly true (because all of us have suffered at one point or another to varying degrees. I could tell you about some other hard times in her life.), it was what she said next that caught my ear:
"And when facing my first real trial(s), I FAILED. I failed my Heavenly Father."
She looked down and tears welled up in her eyes as she felt the grief of disappointment in herself. Shame that she hadn't withstood her suffering the way she felt she ought to have. Regret that she wasn't as strong as she thought she should be.
Children rushed in and our brief time to talk was whisked away, but in the days and weeks after our conversation, I haven't been able to shake her words or forget the look of failure on her face as she said them.
And it has shown me a new glimpse into how much my Father loves you and me.
Folks, if ANYONE could say that they have failed the first real season of suffering in their lives, it's yours truly. Oh my. You don't know the thoughts I've had. You haven't seen the moments of literally laying down on the bathroom floor and weeping with anger and bitterness. You don't know how many times I've wanted to walk away and throw out everything I believe because it hasn't worked out the way I planned. You haven't seen the times I've faltered, distracted by the allure of things that promise to give me the security and relationship I sometimes long for.
No, none of you have seen those moments. But my Father has.
And though I'm not for a moment proud of some of the ways I've responded to the hard in my life, I'm absolutely convinced that He does NOT see me as having failed. He doesn't look upon me and see all the mistakes and bad responses and hypocritical behaviors. He doesn't have my weaknesses set on instant replay.
He doesn't see me as a failure because He doesn't see ME.
When my Father looks upon me, He sees the beauty and value that is in me BECAUSE OF His Son.
In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the parable of two different homes built on very different foundations. One was built on rock, and it was able to endure thru every storm that came its way. The other was built on a foundation of sand. The first time this foundation was tested, the house was washed away because it was not on solid ground.
This is what I would tell my friend if we could replay that conversation. She didn't "fail". The windows and doors of her life might have been rattling and maybe things were falling off shelves and shattering as they hit the floor. There may be ruined furniture and the place might be a mess. She may need to call in FEMA to help get things cleaned up.
But her house is still standing. I can still clearly see her house like a city on a hill. The light is on at the front porch, welcoming those around her into the presence of the One Who built her home.
Isn't that what Jesus does? Not only is He the Master Builder, He's also the clean up crew after the storms pass. And He doesn't expect to find our hearts in pristine condition after we are battered and tossed about in deep waters of suffering. He expects to find us bruised. Hurting. Baffled and discouraged.
All He expects to find is that the aroma of His presence is still in that place. And the best part is, HE makes sure of that by holding us up thru the storm. He sustains. He intercedes on our behalf. He helps hold the little houses of our faith together.
I've learned in very real ways that REAL faith, the kind that sustains us thru the worst times, is not pretty. It is not the nice, Sunday School kind of faith which looks great and sounds nice. Real faith is gnashing of teeth and throwing up your hands and an ongoing battle for control between you and Jesus. But at the end of the day, real faith is what keeps us close to Him even though we can't for the life of us figure out what's going on.
In that gentle, amazing way that only Jesus has, He beckons us back to Himself. He sits with us in our mess and invites us to rest our heads on His shoulder. He whispers truth to our hurting hearts about what He sees in us. He tells us how precious we are to Him, even more precious because in our dirty, tear-stained moments of failure, we've responded to His call to fix our eyes upon Him, the Author and Finisher of our Faith.
There is no sigh of impatience. No rolling of His eyes at our mistakes and no comments of, "I knew it," at our bad responses to pain in life. There is only the continual embrace of the One Who tells us He longs to gather us under His wings and be our shelter and refuge.
No, my friend, Jesus does not see you as having failed your season of hard. He sees you as even more precious because You have heard His voice calling you unto Himself.
Romans 8:37-39 says, "