Friends in low places
My church has this wonderful tradition of going down to the bay for baptisms, and this last Sunday, my family and I were counted in attendance cheering people on from the shore. Living in southern California, this time of year the city puts out fire pits on the beach, for all those late night summer bonfires by the ocean we thought only happened on TV. Unfortunately, those pits are treated like garbage cans and are typically filled with cans, bottles, and even broken glass that need to be cleaned out first.
My toddler stumbled across this treasure trove of trash and reached in to take out a crushed plastic cup to play with. I stood up calling out to him when another one of our friend’s older daughters got to him first, taking away the cup and redirecting him back to us on the bank. He wasn’t happy, but understood that we don’t play with trash and let it go as quickly as he found something else to play with. Turning back, I noticed my preschooler standing with my husband, having a meltdown.
“You don’t do that to my brother!” He yelled. “You don’t grab my brother!”
“Whoa, dude, what’s the problem?” I asked, trying to figure out what happened.
“Mama! I’m so frustrated with you because you told her to stop him and that’s not right! She doesn’t grab my brother!” He howled at me before breaking down in a heap of sobs.
“Buddy, we don’t play in trash. She was keeping him safe. We know you’re looking out for him, but we are too. He’s ok; Look! He’s playing! Everything’s ok…”
“No! It’s not ok!” He cried for the next 10 minutes, all the way back to the car and then halfway home.
Later that evening, I was hanging out with some members of our college ministry, relaying some trouble life has been handing me lately to another one of the leaders, and she said, “I feel like if I say anything, I’m like one of Job’s friends… but it just makes me feel like, come on, God?!” I finished her sentence, “Can’t we catch a break? I know what you’re talking about.”
The more I thought about our exchange, the more it related to my eldest son seeing his little brother redirected and not understand why. He was livid with me that his brother was intercepted and blamed me for keeping him from what he thought was good but he didn’t see that for as much as he loves his brother and has his back, I do too, and I had a greater understanding of the situation than he did.
It’s dangerously easy to take offense on behalf of someone we love and question God when we see them going through tough stuff; To throw our hands up and say, “Really God? You’re still harping on them? Why can’t you just let something good happen for them?” Not only does this sow the lie God isn’t good, or faithful, or gracious in our own hearts, but it confirms that same to those in the middle of a hard place.
So what do we do when it seems God is actively keeping those we love from the desires of their hearts? How do we not be like Job’s friends, suggesting terrible things because they didn’t have the whole picture? My friend was wise, as we sat on those stone steps in the mist under a grey sky. At first, she was silent, taking in the weight of my words. She would only confirm that where I’m at is hard, and that God is still good, and that His hope is true. She hugged me and asked if she could pray right there, filling the air with hope instead of filling it with the doubt trying to build in both of our hearts.
We wait, we speak truth, we watch, we love.
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