“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” ~Psalm 34.19
“Trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born,” so the song goes and we all sing along. Afflicted places are crowded bars these days. There are mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and big girls and little boys all crowding to the counter to order up another round of comfort frothed over with mercy.
If you look carefully, you see stories in their eyes. Pain, concern, grief, and confusion have left jagged cracks around the edges. You don’t see it right at first. You have to look carefully for where life has swelled like a tremor from the deep and ripped through their hearts. No warning. One moment peace, the next, calm and planned upon things tumbling the shelves, spilling out the unimaginable.
“Trouble…Oh, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble.
Feels like every time I get back on my feet
She come around and knock me down again.”
There are those for whom it would seem that trouble is their just dessert; it was only a matter of time before they got what was coming to them. Or so we secretly hope.
The others though, what about them? Their trouble seems so unfitting. The innocent get unjustly accused. The vulnerable are overtaken. A hard worker unable to keep up with the hole in the economic bucket. The unsuspecting wake up sick. Bad things happen to good people.
I’ve spent the last month being angry about afflicted places. Not everyone who approaches the counter for another drink does so because they need comfort. Sometimes they just need someone to hear them. They need to know they aren’t alone. In some odd way, Cheers had it right; people need a place where everyone knows their name, even if for today that name is ‘afflicted.’ Everyone needs a place where it’s okay to not be okay and it’s okay.
“Why, Lord? Why do you let all this stuff happen? Why did you let people hurt my friend? Why the hell cancer? Why don’t you stop that bully? Was life not already poured out empty, did you really have to take that too?” Everyone in this crowded, afflicted place grows instantly quiet as my questions echo through their thoughts and join with their secrets of angst. “Yes Lord, why?” In the hush, you hear just the smallest whisper, “How else can I teach you to be brave?”
There’s a courage of faith that is born in affliction. When your heart is breaking and your pocket book is broke and your daughter is ill and your past still holds power over your future, it is then that you get brave enough to let the big thoughts about God penetrate down into the little tiny details of life. Faith isn’t made of fluff. It’s made of fight, and flint, and last forever stuff. You don’t learn the bravery of faith in the easy, soft, or comfortable.
Affliction makes us brave. It makes us brave enough to let go of the silly notions of control and trust God like we’ve never trusted him before. Somewhere along the way, I got tricked into believing that trusting anyone other than stoic, stiff-upper-lipped me was only for the weak. Trouble is teaching me that trust is brave, and bold, and unrelenting.
“Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Ps. 34.11) Could it be that the classroom of affliction is where we learn to have that faith as of tenacious child? Does not trouble teach us to be honest? Does it not school us in humility? Does it not graduate us to places where only a braver you and me will have the courage to go?
It takes a brave and bold God to love us for our good. You ask me what does brave and bold love look like? I say, Calvary. You say you can’t trust God because he doesn’t seem to be concerned about ‘goodness.’ You’re not sure if his love is really love. After all, why would he let you suffer so? I say, look again at Calvary. It is the afflicted place where bravery and boldness persisted until all that remained is Beautifully Tenacious Love. I know it takes bravery to be loved so boldly. I know.
The need to pound my glass on the counter subsides; I release my demands to be poured one more shot of vengeance. It’s a sacred thing, but a very real and powerful thing, to see an empty glass as a gift of goodness. It is a brave thing to see God, and have him be all you need in the afflicted place. “Taste and see that Lord is good” (Ps. 34. 8).
Be brave today, friend, be brave.