Friday, September 16, 2011

The Necessity of Adversity

If you’re in a happy stage right now, you’re probably not going to want to read this.

If you’ve got adorable little kids that mind you perfectly…  if you have a stimulating career… a fabulous marriage… an exciting social life… if you have plans for exotic travels… if your house is a decorator’s dream…

If everyone in your family is happy and healthy and high-functioning…

and you’re all involved in a gazillion interesting activities…

you might want to save this one for later.

But if your dreams have been shattered, your plans destroyed, and your heart torn by grief…

Come sit by me.

And let’s talk about something hard.

When I first heard the title of this post in a sermon years ago, I thought it was strange.

Why in the world would adversity ever be necessary?

1.       adverse fortune or fate; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress.

Who wants that?

Not me. I’m not going to go around courting calamity if I can help it. I did enough of that in my misspent youth.

But in spite of every effort to prevent it, adversity does come into each life eventually. (If I’m wrong on this, please contact me and identify yourself as someone who has never faced adverse circumstances of any kind at any time. I will then amend the above statement to most lives.)

Frequently, adversity comes suddenly and unexpectedly. Out of the blue.

You could be having just the most average, normal, decent day in the world… and the phone rings, shattering life as you’ve known it.

Or adversity might develop slowly, like water gradually heated in a pot. So slowly that you don’t recognize the warning signs until the scalding water splashes over the rim, giving you third-degree burns.

However it comes, there is a choice involved. Will you allow the experience to make you bitter, or make you better? Harder or softer?  More rebellious or more yielded to God and His purposes?

Will you allow it to grow you up, or put you back in diapers?

Will you choose to be brave enough to explore the gifts that adversity brings?

Will you search for the hidden “treasures of darkness?” (Isaiah 45:3)

Or will you cower in a cave?

I don’t believe that God causes adversity or hardship in the lives of His children. But the God-given gift of Man’s free will, combined with immutable natural and spiritual laws, causes them to be a part of life on earth. Things haven’t been perfect down here since the Garden.

Adversity actually appears to be part of a natural cycle. A necessary component of spiritual growth.

Why do we need it?

We are prone to wander.

Personally, I echo the words of the wonderful 18th Century hymn:

“O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart. O take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above.”
(Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson, 1757.)

I think it’s interesting that the author was only 22 when he wrote it. There are an infinite number of ways in which to wander when you’re that age. But even later, at more settled phases of life, wandering away from God is still a virulent temptation.

When we become too comfortable, it’s easy to forget.

I am the first to admit that this principle is true in my own life. I love to be comfortable. My natural inclination is to avoid unpleasantness, aggravation, inconvenience or discomfort of any kind… much less actual pain.

But here’s what always happens to me during a comfortable phase: The necessity of God as a vital, ever-present force in my daily life gets back-burnered while I run around doing my own thing, trying to be happy in my own way. Prayer becomes perfunctory and peripheral, rather than passionate and central to existence. I flit around worshipping whatever pretty little idols I can find, forgetting that God is the only true source of joy.

In writing about this, I’ve noticed something: My idols are always things that make me feel good in some way. Emotional anesthesia.

That’s not real life, folks.

Real life is raw and dangerous and terrifying and poignant and beautiful and sublime. Real life exalts you to the heavenlies, and brings you to your knees.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”*

In seeking our own comfort, we miss the grandeur. Ignoring the creator of the glory and grandeur, we forget all that He’s done for us in the past. In living for ourselves, our gaze becomes clouded and earthbound. We become accustomed to our blessings instead of maintaining a humble sense of gratitude for them.

Perhaps subconsciously we start believing the lie that we’re in charge. We’re responsible for our own blessings. We earned them, and we deserve them. WE ARE ENTITLED.

If this attitude develops, a sad irony occurs: The more God blesses us, the further away we drift from Him. Prosperity produces pride, which causes distance to develop in our relationship with God. We begin to worship created things, rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:25)

This is not a new story. It has gone on for millennia. It is the story of the Old Testament.

I want to share a rather long passage with you. (Please bear with me, and remember all the ‘filler’ posts we had over the summer!)

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills… It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful...” (from Deuteronomy 8)
David Guzik describes the cyclical nature of God’s relationship with the Israelites: “This cycle would be repeated through the history of Israel, especially in the time of the Judges. God would bless an obedient Israel, and they would prosper; they would begin to set their heart on the blessings instead of the LORD who blessed them; God would allow chastisement to turn Israel’s focus back upon Him; Israel would repent and obey again, and God would again bless Israel and they would prosper.”

When everything’s going great, it is easy to forget our intense need of God. I’m doing just fine, thanks. Things are good. See you Christmas and Easter.
We may even begin to rationalize away miraculous interventions of the past. Well, that probably would have happened anyway, even if I hadn’t prayed.
Because we are the way we are, it seems that adversity is a harsh, but necessary, implement of spiritual growth. Periodically, we must be brought to our knees… to the end of our ropes… to the bottom of the pit. We must come to the end of our self-sufficiency. Pride has to be emptied out so that Grace may come in.

Adversity came knocking at my door again this week. Bad news. Some fresh hell to deal with. It knocked me out for a day. In the bed.
But then, something amazing happened.
I felt this sweet little sense of peace sneak up on me. It has wavered; wafted in and out. But it keeps coming back like one of those trick matches you can’t put out.
Because, this time, I am not despairing. I have fondled the memorial stones in my pocket for courage. I am remembering this:
It is through the worst adversities in my life that I have come to truly know God. To understand His character. To comprehend His love. To experience His peace. To receive His gifts.

We have gotten down and dirty, God and I.

I’ve let it all hang out. I’ve screamed at Him and cried on Him and sat in His lap.

(It’s my guess that if you’ve never faced terrible adversity, you’ve never sat in God’s lap. I don’t think it would dawn on you to do such a thing. Or even that such a thing is a spiritual possibility.)

Adversity has granted me the gift of Intimacy.
It keeps me close to the One I love.

And there, He holds me and gives me treasures in secret places.

He has never let me down.

He has never let me go.

I can't wait to see how He's going to handle this one.


“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

*(God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

Has anyone else ever experienced a 'hug' from God, or do you think I'm crazy? 
(Never mind, we all know the answer to that one.)

It was hard to choose which youtube of this hymn to post. David Crowder, Surjan Stephens, and even Mumford and Sons(!) all have versions. Love all those people. Google them.

May you have a weekend full of irrational joy, no matter what your circumstances.


Anonymous said...

No, Kim, you are not crazy (or if you are, then so am I)! I am experienced His hugs in a number of ways - most recently through a prayer shawl. We all need the physical manifestation of His mystery in our lives because - as you've pointed out - He made us to feel and be tactile creatures - so He meets us where we are (we just don't always see Him)!

As challenging these various adversities are that visit our lives, it is always the greater challenge to remember to run to our Father first, not respond out of our humanity (or maybe I ought to personalize that a bit more and say I always...). Anyway, you speak eternal Truths and are not the only one! I know that doesn't make the situation any better, but I do find I can breathe a bit free-er knowing I'm not the only "crazy" person in the world!!

As always, love, hugs and prayers to you!!


Laurel said...

I think about this phenomenon a lot. I agree with you that God does not cause adversity, but if we believe He can prevent it, then why doesn't he?

And I can see how every challenge has produced a blessing, and not only of a spiritual nature. Sometimes it's a better job than the one you thought you wanted but would not have found if you got the "dream" job. An amazing professor who's class you took at your "fallback" school. Seeing how your college crush stacks up now to the boy you ended up marrying.

I don't know if we require adversity to receive our blessings or to recognize them, but I have no doubt that they are, indeed, the labor plains of a blessing's birth.

Emily Ferris said...

Kim, I really appreciated this post! Thank you for your honesty and for shining His light through your own life.

Anne H. said...

Kim, Thank you for this post! Yes, I've experienced His hugs and it's always been after I've spent time on my knees. I too struggle with moving away from the cross when things aren't hard. I am thankful for adversity and I am thankful when things are hard because it does drive me back into the lap of our Father.
"Abide in me." "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." John 15:4; 1 Cor. 15:58
Thank you Kim!
Praying for you,

cheryl Doerr said...

Oh, this was such a great one. Thanks so much Kim. A Blessing and wonderful reminder to all of us. C.

Anonymous said...

I came...

and sat next to your side.

I listenend as words rang true.

Today, I will choose to be brave. And to search for those treasures in the dark, despite the bright autumn day.

And when time comes to give thanks, I will remember you and your words of wisdom...

Thank you...

becky weber said...

Kim - haven't commented for awhile but continue to be a loyal reader of Margery. This one is certainly one of your best and is full of TRUTH. I am sure all of us fellow "earthquake gals" have all climbed in God's lap. And thank God for the comfort of that lap in the midst of the sorrows this side of heaven. Thanks for a beautiful reminder of God's purposes in adversity.
God Bless -

Donna said...

Timing is everything and I believe it was God's perfect timing that you posted this, just when I thought I couldn't take one more adversity slapped onto my already overflowing plate!

I haven't left a comment for awhile but I read every single one of your posts and this one truly touched me and reminded me that if I reach out to God for a hug, he is always there with open arms and a big lap to climb onto.

Thank you Kim.

Mary Walsh said...

Yes, Kim I know what you mean. You are in your classroom teaching and the principal comes to get you. The sheriff is there to talk to you. Your husband has been arrested for the most odious crime ever and suddenly your life is changed forever. Life on this earth can be really hard but we have the hope of a perfect Heaven to live in forever!

Kim said...

As always, your comments have blessed me.

But these have made my cup overflow!

Thank you for your encouragement, your stories, your unique perspectives, your wisdom.

And, thank you, Lord, for giving me a sign through one of these comments!

(you never know how God may use you!)

Love, kim