“This can’t be happening!” This is a statement I’ve said many times to myself over the years when life seems out of control, and there doesn't appear to be any clear answers. God has used many situations in my life to wean me from depending upon my own confidence and self-control, to hanging on for dear life to Him. One such incident occurred many years ago while we were active duty Navy moving from Hawaii to San Diego.
Ben had gone ahead of us to start his next assignment on board an aircraft carrier, which left me and six kids to close up the house, pass inspection, and fly out. The Navy did allow Ben to fly back to Hawaii for our departure day, but flying out on different flights. Ben was headed to San Diego to retrieve our van, the kids and I were flying into Los Angeles where he would pick us up. Friends drove us to the airport and we said our tearful goodbyes. We dropped Ben off at his gate and made our way to our departing gate. I kept doing a headcount to make sure I had everyone. Does this remind you of Home Alone?
The kids raced down the concourse to find their seats ahead of me. Once on the plane I checked to see where they were all seated. I found all except number six, Joel. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I asked a stewardess if she had seen a five-year-old boy with blond hair and big blue eyes. She shook her head but assured me she’d be on the lookout. I looked at her and thought, Are you kidding, you’ll be on the lookout? Call out the Navy and the Marines—just find my son!
I was panicking to say the least. How many times since then have I been in a situation of total panic, fear and desperation? I needed God and I needed Him now. I found Joel in the middle section that had a large movie screen. He was sitting there with a happy contented grin waiting for the movie to start. I got him buckled in next to me when another son seated on the other side started fiddling with stuff on his armrest and asking a stream of questions like, “Can the pilot put the plane in reverse while we’re flying?” The women on the other side of him leaned forward and said to me, “I feel so sorry for you.” It was a long flight to say the least.
When we arrived at the Los Angeles airport, Ben hadn’t arrived yet. His flight was delayed due to a medical emergency. He still had to pick up our van in San Diego and drive to Los Angeles. It was well after midnight and once again I began to the panic and say to myself, “This can’t be happening.”
The kids had piled the luggage into a small mountain. There were seven of us with three pieces of luggage each, including a boom box and a skateboard. You do the math. It truly was a mountain! Joel had climbed to the top and gone to sleep. At least I knew where he was. The terminal was emptying and lights were being turned out. After what seemed like an eternity, I poked my head outside the terminal and saw Ben coming down the walkway. Relief washed over me and a prayer of thankfulness was raised.
Over the years when some crisis or trial threatens my peace, robs my joy, and sends me into a tailspin of fear, I’m forced to cry out to God. I have a tendency to panic and search for my own answers. I want relief and answers as quickly as possible.
I’ve discovered that my response to trials determines my spiritual pulse. In other words, it reflects the level of faith and trust I have in Christ alone. If my response is always one of fear and anxiety, my spiritual pulse is weak. If my response is one of peace, faith, and hope, my spiritual pulse is strong. I confess that I have a tendency to lean the wrong way, the way of anxiety.
A dear friend recently sent me this verse, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). A spirit of fear does not come from God. When we are anxious it puts us in charge. Our focus shifts from God to ourselves and the trial we are in. Our trial and suffering are real, but when it degenerates into a consuming self-focus, that’s pride. How many of us race to Google or to other people to find answers instead of racing to our Bibles and prayer? When God allows pain and trials into my life, I can say, “This can’t be happening!” or, I can choose instead to say, “This is happening, and what are you trying to teach me Lord?”
Three important lessons I continue to learn:
1. God always uses trials to discipline me because He loves me. Hebrews 12:7
2. God uses trials to build into me compassion and empathy for others so I might come alongside others and be an encouragement. 2 Corinthians 1:4
3. God uses trials to build a stronger dependence on Him. I am in control of nothing except my own responses. Isaiah 41:10
Worries can become mountains just like that pile of luggage so many years ago. Maybe we should just climb on top of it and rest. Allow God to comfort us. His promises become so very real during trials, and in reflection we realize He’s been there all along!
“The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8