Sometimes life has a funny way of flipping on us. One day all seems to be going great and then it knocks us down cold. If you have lived very long you know this to be true. Life is full of ups and downs, hills and valleys. If yours is anything like mine those hills and valleys seem to be happening in the same moment. I can’t figure out if I’m going up or if I’m on my way down. Happiness in one aspect and sadness in another. And Sadness has a way of saying, “What do you have to be happy about anyway? Can’t you see you’re struggling here?!”
The thing is whether climbing up the side of a mountain slope or going down it is an equally difficult journey. Our legs ache and our lungs scream for air on the way up while we cringe at the thought that one misstep on a steep downward slope could send us tumbling all the way to the bottom. I’m not sure I really get the whole hiking thing but I do know that I like the level path more than the rugged climb. Even if you are not a hiker, you can appreciate the picture of the trail opening onto a beautiful, lush meadow. Your breathing slows and your comfort level rises and you begin to think, “This was totally worth it!”
On a recent trek through Ecclesiastes I had to pause to think about life’s exhausting journeys. Solomon addresses the things in life that come to us through no action on our part— the illness, the accident, the down sizing, the prodigal child—he tells us, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. And then he says, ” Remember that nothing is certain in this life. I have seen everything in this meaningless life, including the death of good young people and the long life of wicked people.” [7:14-14 NLT]
Solomon is pointing out there is no formula to living the perfectly peaceful, stress free life. Nothing is certain. No matter who we are, how closely we follow the Lord, or how much faith we possess, just around any corner shear cliffs can appear. Dread overtakes us and zaps our joy.
Woe is universal. It strikes us all. It doesn’t matter if we are righteous or wicked. We will meet up with it eventually. There is no escape. But in the passage from Ecclesiastes it says, . . .consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. And that’s when we think, “Really, Lord. I’m doing the best I can and now this! There is no hope to be found here.”
But when the disappointment subsides and we can begin to see clearly again that’s when we can actually can start to realize that God is indeed in those dark days as well working undercover to bring about things that couldn’t happen any other way. Blessings in disguise some would say.
One disguised blessing came to me at a very critical time in my life. My dad was dying. His body was ravaged with cancer. No amount of prayer was going to turn the tide on this one. Nor did I even think God was working here. The real heartbreak was my dad never trusted Jesus with his life. He often said the church would fall down if he ever entered it. So, to protect the other parishioners he stayed clear of the building on Sundays. It seemed as though he had turned his back on God. The real truth is he felt unworthy and told himself God had no use for him. But a few months before my dad’s death came a new revelation.
On one of my last visits my dad was calling each of us aside and presenting us with the gift of a personal item he held dear throughout his life. His hunting knife, his hat, his rifle, his watch went to various siblings. They were just things he knew we would like or he just wanted us to have to remember him by. When he got to me he said, “I don’t have anything in my box for you.” I shrugged it off with, “That’s OK, Dad,” knowing his love was really enough. He went on to say he wanted me to know he had made his peace with God. The cancer, as horrible as it was, had given him time to think and he had finally trusted Jesus with his life.
Oh, My God! [reverently, of course] You are truly a God of surprises! I cannot tell you the pleasure I found in hearing my dad’s profession of faith. A long season of prayer was answered and a daughter’s broken heart restored. And that’s not all. When it came time for his passing God blessed me again by allowing me to be with Dad when he saw the light of heaven. He pointed it out to me but my eyes were still too anchored to this earth to see it. He went on his way leaving his family to mourn his passing and rejoice in the fact that we would see him again.
At the end of this particular portion of Scripture in Ecclesiastes Solomon states,
It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.
The man who fears God will avoid all [extremes].
I believe he is talking about grasping the bad and the good that comes our way. Hold them in your heart. Look for God and his wisdom in each situation. Know that God is at work bringing not just a good but the best outcome. This is what brings that sense of ease even in the midst of turmoil. When we do this it is like that experience we talked about in the beginning, the stepping onto that peaceful meadow. Trusting that God is in control of all situations allows us to stand in awe of the beauty he is creating in and around us. When we do, we will surely find ourselves breathing out, “Oh, what a view!”
Therefore my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices;
God has made everything beautiful in its time.
Psalm 16 :9 Ecclesiastes 3:11
A group of ladies from my church have formed a hiking club. They usually get together weekly to hike parts of the Pacific Crest Trail found in the mountains near our home. I have had the opportunity to join them on occasion. It has been challenging, but has allowed me to see some very beautiful country.