This is a difficult week for us. In addition to preparing for a LONG stretch of travel to various mission conferences, we are in the midst of a local mission conference, striving to finish fixing up the house and looking for a home for Barnabas. If the house isn’t finished before we leave (which is very likely to be the case), we’ll simply have to deal with the last minute details when we can; however, we must find a home for Barnabas before we leave on Saturday, and we’ve had no leads. We’re both tired and feeling the stress of all that must be done. But through it all, we are clinging to the truth of this song, and I wanted to share it with you today for all of you who—like us—are weary in well-doing.
Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me. - Psalm 144:1-2
We all know that God is good, but we often fail to realize that God is goodness itself. The word "goodness" carries with it the idea of mercy, integrity, uprightness, of good moral standing. Where God is concerned, goodness is the characteristic that allows Him to show mercy and patience when we don't deserve it, to pour His love out on us even though He knows we'll take it for granted, to give to us knowing that we'll only ask for more. In short, God treats us far better than we deserve. And any good qualities we find within ourselves are all from Him. In and of ourselves, we are anything but good.
In all my years of being a dog lover/owner, I have never been tested in the area of goodness like I have recently with Barnabas. Our newest addition is a sweet, loveable little critter, but he definitely has some issues. I've already told you about his anxiety, but he also has a stubborn streak like I've never seen. As if that weren't enough, he has the doggie equivalent of ADHD syndrome. All in all, he's a handful.
But here's what I'm really having a difficult time with. The poor dog seems to have more mood swings than I do. One minute, he's calm and peaceful; the next, he's running through the house like a wild animal. One day, he seems to have learned the lessons from our training sessions; the next day, it's like we're back to square one. One day, I see marked improvement; the next, I'm ready to give up! I don't think I've ever felt so much at my wit's end with a dog.
I will admit there were a few times in those first couple of weeks when I thought of returning him. I had already fallen in love with him, but he was proving to be more work than I had anticipated. So, why did we keep him? For one, as I stated, I love the crazy mutt, and love doesn't give up on someone when things get difficult. Secondly, I see myself in Barnabas. Unfortunately, I'm familiar with the anxiety, the mood swings, the difficulty focusing on one thing instead of being distracted by everything around me. I understand what it's like to think I've finally learned a lesson only to discover that I made the same mistake again. In my insecure pooch, I recognize my own lack of trust in my Master which causes me to act out in ways I'm not sure I'll ever understand.
You know how every parent prays their child will have a child just like them so they can experience the "joy" of raising such a young one. Well, I'm not sure if my parents ever prayed that about me, but it seems that's exactly what happened. My "child" is just like me, and I don't have a clue how to help him. But I'm learning. In fact, I'm learning by example. My Master is guiding me by using my own life as a visual aid. And today's lesson has helped me to realize how good God is. Comparing myself to Barnabas, I can see how much goodness God has bestowed on my life. He has been so kind, loving and patient. He's displayed mercy beyond belief. And no matter how troublesome I've been, He's never left me, forsaken me or given up on me. His goodness endureth forever!
And now it's time for that goodness to flow through me to help another dear one who needs to be reminded that his master loves him, cares for him and will continue to work with him as long as it takes. After all, that's what goodness does.
Lord willing, we'll return to our study of the names of God in the Psalms tomorrow, but this post has been on my heart, and I felt I needed to share it with you.
Last week, I was watching a show on television. The youngest of three daughters had her heart set on going to West Point to become a soldier. Her attitude was right. Her motives were pure—to serve God and country. But in the end, her application was denied, and she was heartbroken. As we often do when we're hurt, she lashed out at others, particularly her dad. When he questioned why she was mad at him, her response was something akin to this: "You taught me wrong. You said if I did right, worked hard and played by the rules that things would work out for me. But you're wrong. That's not how life works."
Oh, how I can relate. I, too, have lashed out at my Father (the Heavenly One). I recall when our first dog, Tessa, had to be put down because of cancer, I struggled to find something to fill the void in my heart. Unfortunately, what I grasped hold of were anger and bitterness. I felt just like the daughter in the show. I felt I had been duped. I served God, lived right and tried my best to follow His commands, even when they made little sense, and this was my reward? Yes, the bitterness gripped me hard, and I'm sorry to say it held me for years.
In fact, I thought I had it firmly at bay until a couple of years ago when we had to put our second dog, Tippy, down. Suddenly, all of those angry thoughts and bitter feelings came back with a vengeance. Why was God being so cruel? Didn't He love me enough to keep things like this from happening. . . again? I'll be honest, I've spent the past couple of years trying to deal with this bitterness. I knew it was wrong. I knew God was good, but I was struggling to get my head and heart in sync.
Fast forward to last week. Mitch's tumor had been growing at an alarming rate. We knew it was only a matter of time before we'd have to make that horrible decision that no "parent" should ever have to make. Then, without further warning, we were in the midst of heartache and despair. The decision had to be made, and even though Jason and I both knew it was the right thing to do, we didn't want to do it. It was too hard. We loved him too much to let him go, but at the same time, our love for him was too great to allow him to suffer. So, we did what was best for him and grieved.
As I cried off and on over the weekend, I had a realization. I was sad, almost hollow inside, but I wasn't angry. I didn't feel bitter or resentful. In fact, I even thanked God for various things and praised Him in the midst of the storm. And at that point, a small smile interlaced with my tears. I've grown. I've matured spiritually. Somewhere along the way, I've finally come to believe that even when things are bad, God is still good, and He still loves me.
And you know what I think had an enormous impact on me? The study we're going through on who God is. It's no coincidence that I've been studying and writing on God as our refuge, strength, help, high tower, deliverer and so much more. Through this study, I've been able to learn more than just what God does. I've learned to appreciate Who He is and to understand that He never changes. This knowledge has helped me through these troubling times. Yes, it hurts. Yes, I'm still sad. Yes, I still feel Mitch's loss, and I know I will for some time. But this occasion, unlike all the rest, I find myself able to turn to God for comfort rather than turning to Him in accusation.
I don't know what you may be facing, but perhaps you're in a situation where you're saying, "God, I've done right, played by the rules and lived according to your Word. Why is this happening? It's not supposed to be like this!" I remind you that even in the darkest hour, God is good. He is kind and loving and does not enjoy seeing His children suffer. But what I've come to understand that it is in these most challenging times that we grow the most. God is molding us to become more like Him, and that molding is often painful but always worth it. Don't be afraid to cry. There's nothing wrong with tears. You can rejoice in the Lord while you sorrow. But in the midst of that difficulty, watch out for anger and bitterness. They can creep in unaware and, like the most stubborn weeds, they're difficult to get rid of once they've taken root.
Instead of examing the situation, look to God. Remember Who He is. Note how much He loves you. Then turn to Him for comfort. He'll see you through!
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. - James 1:2-4