Debriefing disappointment for growth and grace.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)
This cornerstone Bible verse (and my former life verse) was recently widely popularized by the Netflix original hit, Manifest. While I'd love to review this entertaining series, that's not why I'm here. Last week, my very athletic and ambitious 15-year-old freshman son found out he didn't make his nationally ranked high school baseball team. Though not entirely unexpected, it was still a big bummer. He's taking it like a champ--philosophical, mostly positive, and undeterred, planning to up his game for a fall comeback. Despite some misgivings, I won't discourage his perseverance, knowing the benefits. Plus, whatever happens down the pike, I've lived the truth of Romans 8:28.
Pondering the imponderables.
There is little more unsettling than seeing your kid disappointed, especially if it seems unfair. I know enough now to not linger there--unhelpful and irritating to all involved--and to take my questions to God.
I normally wake in the dark of night for my coveted quiet time with God, when the veil between this plane and THAT ONE is thin. It is good. On the heels of the news, I rose peaceful but pondering Pierce's disappointment (say that five times fast). I journaled my questions, reflecting on all the factors that may have contributed to the outcome, some within my power or his, many absolutely not--like Pierce waking the morning of tryouts with a bad case of Covid.
Some of my musings were self-deprecating, others were indignantly accusatory. All of them were mostly futile. I will never know the answers. More accurately, all the questions that tumble forth at such moments are answered by Romans 8:28 and even more fully by the sufficiency of grace.
God always answers prayers.
My mentor Barbara often reminds me God always answers prayers:
I have something better planned.
I like this take, but in the moment my desires are thwarted, I really want to shout,
"Whatev!!!!!!!" Even though I know it's true. Pierce, his dad, and I can surely harvest some lessons from this experience, and we will. Lessons that foster growth and blessings if we let them. Regardless, in the pre-dawn stillness, that quiet inner voice reminded me: God works all things for the good. Not because of me or the vagaries of life in a broken world, or my ability to sidestep or overcome obstacles, or redouble my efforts, but in spite of me.
Because God is good. All the time.
Romans 8:28 tells me all I need to know. Or as 12-step programs put it, "Either God is everything or he is not."
I can encourage Pierce with reminders about Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Abe Lincoln, or this weekend, Olympian slalom hopeful Mikaela Shiffrin, but mostly I want him to know the truth of this verse.
Dastardly detours and disappointments.
Those of you who know me know that I've faced quite a few dastardly detours in my life. Those are the moments when an outcome says, "screech!" or "full stop." Some of these detours were surely of my own creation, some totally outside my control, and others an inextricable and bewildering fusion of both. So far, all of them either had silver linings, turned out way better than projected, or were necessary, though very uncomfortable, redirects to a better way. Here are a very few:
Three years into a difficult marriage (17 years ago), I had decided to divorce, with burgeoning plans for a grand future, but instead found myself joyfully but unexpectedly pregnant with Pierce, stopping me in my tracks and thus forcing me to grow in place, which I did in spades.
Three years later, I'd reached some dramatic personal milestones and was finally serene, when Isaac arrived, sending me into a tailspin. He has turned out to be a firehose of continuous blessing in many quantifiable ways.
My meaning-filled and destructively all-consuming business failed decisively, but not only gave me the writing career I now enjoy, it also freed me from some burdens and planted me in Florida, which I love so very much.
I can report many more detours that have had unexpected benefits, filtered through God's loving omniscience and omnipotence, totally outside of time. After all, he knows the beginning from the end. He also loves me, is for me, and doesn't punish me, though yes, he lovingly disciplines his kids, like any good dad. That's for my good, too.
This God--well, he can wring good out of the lousiest stuff--for us and for others.
The price of spiritual progress.
As a mom, I want to (and kinda did) spring into action, trying to "solve the problem" even while Pierce seemed about unfazed. On my way to problem-solving last week, I met a mom while volunteering at Pierce's school who sympathized with my tendency to overthink and overdo, and kindly reminded me, "Our kids know more than we think and can figure it out." God has them! Sigh.
My friend Dr. Brooks Gibbs, is a clinical psychologist whose #RaiseThemStrong | We Help You Parent Resilient Kids program, helps nurture resilience in kids. He suggests prompting kids to provide at least three answers to each of the following three questions.
How could it be worse?
How does it not really matter?
How could it actually benefit me?
This gratitude-building exercise works darn well for grown-ups, too and aligns nicely with the command to be thankful in all things--unambiguously God's will.
This command, so very hard to practice in dim moments, is a window to the spiritual perspective in which an omnipotent and loving God can transform both the mundane and massive challenges of life, if we allow Him.
Brooks' questions are handy, but we can go deeper if we dare. As I've shared many times, including in my very recent Mornings with Jesus entry of January 30, I make a very intentional effort to mine all experiences, particularly the hard ones, for all their gifts. This is a practice inspired long ago by my little bubala Isaac.
A few years after Isaac was born, my former business was exhibiting at a disability conference hosted by a church internationally known for its special needs ministry. The business was already struggling and I was all-consumed. Still, I was presenting a workshop for special needs parents, and I wanted to do a good job.
Pressed for time and exhausted, I was nonetheless brimming with inspiration when I wrote Embracing Life: Letting God Determine Your Destiny, a simple Bible study aimed at helping people navigate major life transitions with greater grace and wisdom. The workbook became the basis for that workshop.
The business ultimately failed in epic fashion, but the Bible study has touched a lot of lives and soon led to my writing for Guideposts and others, which is much truer to the calling on my life and my own personal passion.
This still-unfolding road to fulfillment has been bumpy, twisty, trying in so many ways, and yet has produced a lot of fruit I could not otherwise harvest or savor.
I don't know the end from the beginning, but God does.
Shortcut: Trust God.
Pierce is serene, unhurried, trusting. (Oh, Lord, help me let him be!) He's going to hitting practice and working out daily and exploring his options for playing time this spring. I really hope his perseverance will be rewarded the way he wants, but I know enough to let that go. The juicy and enduring rewards I've earned by trusting God's will and persevering through challenges--whatever the source or outcome--are priceless and pay lasting dividends.
God knows this:
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. James 1:2-4
I have spent countless hours of my life pondering the imponderable, which according to Socrates, Gandhi and others, is not all bad. I've also wasted tons of time and emotional capital analyzing and projecting into future catastrophes or consequences that never came to pass.
In this moment, I can rest knowing that God is trustworthy. If you're facing a dastardly detour, I hope you will, too.
Remember: God loves you no matter what.
Grace & peace,
NOTE: If this topic strikes a chord, I encourage you to get my short and sweet Bible study, Embracing Life: Letting God Determine Your Destiny, to help you navigate your own detour with more grace and peace.