I was born with an imagination not unlike Willy Wonka. From almost the day I was born, I could dream up a complete world in a couple of minutes. I blame part of this on the fact that I had no sisters, and you can only force your brothers to play your games for so long. (And anyways, they will eventually outgrow your ball gowns.)
I wasn’t a typical dreamer though. Rarely did I dream up a fantastic adventure or pretend I was an animal, or something like that. No, I dreamed up families. Alter egos for myself where I was married (with or without children) or, at the least, happily dating a nice guy. The details differed from story to story, but for the most part, my characters lived happy lives where everything magically worked out for them.
And, to a point, I grew up assuming my life would also work out exactly as God and I had planned. I knew it wouldn’t be a bed of roses, but I expected that it would be pretty “normal”, because that’s how things worked for Christians and their families.
Then I grew up, and I found myself in the middle of a life that I could never have imagined even in the farthest corners of my 7-year-old mental chocolate factory.
I know God is sovereign. I know His original plan was for every family to get along. I know He intends for moms and dads to stay together and for all the kids to love and obey Him. But see, sin showed up and decided to smudge God’s plan in every way possible. And people are susceptible to sin, and some people quit relying on God’s strength to resist sin, so the end result is that sometimes families get messed up.
How does that fit into God’s sovereignty? Let me give you a deep, mind-blowing theological answer.
I have no idea.
My family had no reason to be anything but a healthy, “normal” Christian family. Both of my parents followed paths that should have essentially guaranteed normal Christian lives. My brothers and I were raised by the “formula” for responsible, Christian adults. We had everything we needed. We didn’t know what a “dysfunctional” family was. We barely knew what it looked like. In fact, we were rather boring.
Yet not everything ended up as it “should have”, based on the “formula”. My parents’ marriage turned out differently than anyone could have predicted. My brothers grew up to be real live soap opera characters. Even Yours Truly has made mistakes she never saw coming.
In the last 5 years, I’ve watched metaphorical bomb after bomb drop in my world, and I’m exhausted. Many days, it feels like the drama is never going to end. I wonder why we can’t go back to being “boring”. I’ve prayed multiple times that God would fix my family, but everything is still as messed up as it was before I prayed. Why hasn’t God solved the problems? Why has He answered with what sounds like “no”?
I recently watched a live musical about Moses. Of course with any interpretation of a Bible story, the writers try to fill in the gaps where the Bible is vague, like the individual discussions between people. Well, in this particular show, one scene showed Moses talking to Miriam after another unsuccessful day of reasoning with the Pharaoh. Miriam shows Moses that, for all these years, she has kept the infamous bulrush basket because “it is proof that God can use foolish, broken things to fulfill His plans.” Moses responds to this with a pained “well, how broken do I have to become?!?”
I’ve felt like Moses pretty often lately. I’m sure that God wants to teach me something through all my family problems. But it seems like He is taking the long way around to get to the point.
At one point in the discussion, Moses bitterly points out that “God told me He would lead us out and I believed Him and look where we are.” And who could blame him? God promised Moses He would come through, and He had done several miracles, but the Israelites were still in the same shape they’d been for hundreds of years. For me, I can take you to the exact place where God told me “your family will not always be this broken”. Granted, He’s done some pretty great things, and I have a dated list to prove it. But here I am, almost 3 years later, watching yet another stupid situation go down.
So my eyes stung as I heard Miriam answer Moses:
“Who changed? You, or God?”
Well, I did, of course. Or more specifically, my perspective. See, when my life is uneventful, it’s super easy to trust God and put 100% of my small faith in knowing He will make all of my life work out for my ultimate good. But then if life goes smoothly long enough, it’s easy to start to feel like I have things under control. So then when things start to get interesting, I think I need to control things. I want to fix everything that is going wrong. I forget Who is really in charge.
I used to get super annoyed with Christians who could look at a crazy problem and calmly say, “well, God is sovereign”. First, what in the frick-frack did “sovereign” even mean, and second, how could they be so chill with it?!
But today, I understand. When they said “God is sovereign”, they meant “God is in control”. And they could be calm because they truly believed it.
The concept of sovereignty is hard to explain, but two of my favorite descriptions come from people who have experienced God’s sovereignty even in the middle of horrible situations.
“Sovereignty means knowing that everything that has happened in my life has been filtered through God’s loving hands.” –Laura Story
“Sovereignty is God using what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” –Joni Eareckson Tada
I know why God hasn’t fixed my family. I know why He hasn’t solved the problems. I know why He has answered with what sounds like “no”. Because He’s using all of this mess to accomplish something good. I don’t know what that good thing will be. I don’t know how long “will not always” is. I don’t know what “be this broken” will look like.
But I know this: God may choose to do something great with my life, and He can use anything to accomplish that.
Even if it hurts me, even if my life turns out differently than I dreamed, even if situations are too complicated for me to manage, God is still in control. No, it doesn’t make sense. Yes, it hurts. But I have to trust Him because He can manage more than I ever could, and He can create something more beautiful than I could ever dream.