The kindest people I know have been through trials harder than I can imagine. The people I wish could be happy for the rest of their lives have gone through valleys of sorrow. The most loving hearts often had to learn about love the hard way, maybe through people who couldn’t give it to them. For having a Father who loves us enough to die for us, it seems that simply alleviating some of our pain would be a much, much smaller task than the cross; yet, time and again, it feels like He isn’t even listening.
If I had my way, there are people I would protect from all pain and sadness ever again. But the free will that allows us to love God also means we have the choice not to. So we mess up; we make mistakes, and they lead to consequences. Worse, those consequences are not limited to us, but can affect others as well – and it seems that suffering is just entirely disproportionate. Good people get a high dose of it, while those who cause pain seem immune from its consequences. No matter how much this dilemma might be based on our own humanity, it still hurts to watch. And sometimes it can seem like God doesn’t even care.
If God is such a good Father, then why does He feel so distant at times like these?
Prepared for a Role
The people I admire most in this world, many of whom have faced very challenging moments, have all told me they don’t regret what led them to today – they don’t spend time wishing they could change things. Betrayal by friends or family is still hard; broken promises can be difficult to come to terms with; and of course, losing people close to you can turn your world upside down. To continue onward doesn’t mean these things don’t hurt – and it doesn’t mean they don’t wish it didn’t have to happen that way. However, they do understand that all they are today, is built on what they have gone through to arrive here. Every challenge, failure, and wrong choice is still a learning opportunity. They all agree, in different words: They are the person they are today, because of what they’ve gone through in the past. They thank God for that, and the growth it brought. And in the end (occasionally grudgingly), I have to thank God for that, too! Because when I imagine that I might not have met certain people if their lives had been different, I know that I would be different, too. I know that I would not be writing these words right now.
A quick search for the definition of the word “good” told me that we perceive goodness as “something to be desired, or having the proper qualities for a role.” It’s the second part of that definition that struck me the most. So I have to wonder: what if difficult things are preparing us to have the “proper qualities for a role” God has in store for us? Are they more than simply tolerable, but actually contributing to our future growth?
When we mess up, we can always turn to a merciful God who is willing to use even our mistakes and hurt to bring about His plan for the world. That doesn’t make wrongs any more right; but it means they are not meritless. It means we can trust our every difficulty to be used for a greater plan than we can imagine. God doesn’t stop all our pain, because we have the will to make our choices freely; as does everyone else, even if their lives affect ours. But God can use each of those choices to bring good to the world, if we let Him work in our lives. That, to me, is quite the best you could possibly ask of a universal Father.
This is easier to say, of course, than it is to act upon. So what are some ways we can remind ourselves of God’s goodness when we simply can’t feel it in our lives?
It’s Not Just You!
Most importantly, when you don’t feel the presence of God as a good father in your life, know you are not the only one. Everyone goes through moments of feeling that God is far away; it is one way He reminds us that we can’t take on the world alone. It may be difficult, but it’s not wrong to feel this way.
Some of the wisest words I was told by a seminarian when I lost my closest friend was that I was allowed to be angry at God and that I should tell Him. Even yell, if I needed to. At first I was taken aback by this; if God has a perfect plan, am I not supposed to go along with it? But when I forget that God is so much greater than I, He has never forgotten that I have a more limited view of time than He does. When I forget that God will use everything for my good, He has never forgotten that in the moment, I am still feeling real, human pain.
As any loving Father, He wants to hear it. He already knows; but He wants to hear it from us. No relationship benefits from cutting off communication when angry. So that’s where prayer comes in – by “prayer” you don’t have to kneel down or even feel obliged to word things nicely. By “prayer” I mean tell God exactly how you’re hurting when you don’t feel His goodness in your life.
This is one that can benefit you in the good times and the bad. I keep a thanksgiving journal where I write things I’m grateful for, and on days when I don’t feel God is good, it can help to look back on the blessings He has given me. This is harder in the moment than it sounds – but if you can begin with the good, looking back on it during the bad can help you see how there is still light in the darkness.
Likewise, during the unfair moments, do write down how you feel things are not good (but don’t dwell on it long). As time passes, you might be surprised to look back and realize how well things turned out in the end. This doesn’t make everything okay; it often still hurts. But you might see how you received the graces you needed, or how your experience prepared you for a future triumph, or how you were able to relate to a friend during their own difficult time.
In the end, God’s goodness is not dependent on the goodness of our own lives at the moment; nor does the one guarantee the other. But it is only through God that anything can be made good at all. God saw His creation as good, and He loves us enough to redeem us. Nothing in our lives will be perfect, but anything used to prepare us for the role God has for us in His kingdom can be good. It doesn’t always feel like it, but our God is Goodness itself.