"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." (Romans 12: 12)
Life happens. Circumstances change for the better. Some for the worse. People change. Some for the better. Some for the worse. We change. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. Life presents us all with situations that shake us at the core. Everything we knew for certain the day before is now in question.
That day for me was on a humid Saturday in August 1970. I was nine years old. My dad had just finished mowing the lawn and called my two older sisters and me outside, one-by-one for a "talk." What he said was so significant, so life changing that even what he looked like and smelled like is imprinted in my mind to this very day. He sat on the lawn, arms resting on his bent knees staring straight ahead as I took my place on the ground beside him. Then he said the words that would forever change me. "I don't love your mother anymore and I don't love Jesus, either. I'm moving out today."
He moved close-by and I became "Saturday's child." We'd share the day just hanging out or shopping or doing activities that were never considered when he was home, like bowling. Occasionally I'd come home with a new present. One time it was a brand new banana bike! It was lime green with white flowers on the fenders and sported a white woven basket in front. I loved it! Finally, I could replace that old, rusted, hand-me-down bike of my cousins! Well, the joy was replaced with regret as my parents fought over the idea that my dad bought me something new "every week" but never bought my 19 and 16 year old sisters anything new. If I didn't like the bike so much, I'd of given it back just to make the screaming stop!
Seven years passed by. I'd grown out of my lime green banana bike but I was still his "Saturday child." Each night I'd pray that God would somehow fix my parents; bring them back together. All I wanted was a real family again. As each year passed I grew more and more disheartened and angry at my dad for walking out. On one of our Saturday's I'd had enough of this part-time father routine and ordered him to take me home. I'd lost hope that he could ever be a real father to me at all.
Fast forward 36 years. My parents remarried each other 27 years prior. Now it's April 2006. I'm at Mount Manadnock in Jaffrey, New Hampshire for a women's retreat. The topic for the evening is "God as Father (Abba)" and our assignment the next morning was to spend some time writing down all the things we learned from our earthly father that helped us in our relationship with our heavenly Father. My first reaction literally was, "Are you kidding?! I'm not doing this! I learned NOTHING from my dad that has ANYTHING to do with God!" Then I resolved, "Well...if I did learn anything from him, it wasn't much. It won't take long so let's get it over with God!" So I got up the next morning, shut myself alone in the corner of a vacant room, opened my journal and began to write my thoughts.
At first my thoughts were just spouting words of anger that God would put me in such a position to face this painful childhood all over again. And then in my ranting He whispered, "Are you done? Now let me show you what I see in your dad." I wrote for an hour filling pages in my journal with positive lessons I learned from my dad and despite my dad. God allowed me to see what He saw...my forgiven dad not the sinful dad that I was focused on. It was a significant hour of healing for my heart and over the next seven months I was able to forgive my father wholly and completely, face-to-face.
As I reflect on this story in light of Romans 12:12 I understand Paul saying "Be joyful in hope..." The hope of our future as our lives are transformed to what God intended once and for all because of the hope we hold in the death and resurrection of Christ. The word joyful in this text actually mean exuberant! We need to hold onto the hope that the good God sees in someone (including ourselves) will come to fruition someday. What we see through our eyes is not always the truth of what God sees through His.
Be "...patient in affliction..." Trouble comes. That's guaranteed! We can choose to be honed through trouble or become angry, resentful, unforgiving. Trust me, the latter is enslaving. Be patient in knowing God is in control and the best is yet to come.
Be "...faithful in prayer." I am amazed at how much God calls us to pray in scripture. He asks us to pray without stopping. He encourages us to ask Him for everything, even though He knows what we need. He just wants to know we love Him. I've also been startled to know that our prayers, conversations with Him can actually change His mind! Remember Joshua praying for God to stop time so that he could defeat his enemies? He prayed earnestly and God stopped time for him and Joshua claimed his victory. (Joshua 10:13). Over and over again in the recounting of the Kings of Israel, God would listen to the cries of the God-fearing kings and gave them protection, victories, life. I prayed countless nights for my father to return home. God was faithful.
Is it hard to see the good in a hopeless situation? Be joyful (exhuberant) in hope! Are you growing weary of waiting from trouble? Getting angry? Be patient in affliction! Do you feel like your prayers are hitting the ceiling and falling to the ground? Be faithful in prayer!