In Days Fraught: “We Should Not Be Too Taken Aback”

Electoral College USA Map, Trump-Biden Fraught election

Fraught?

Fraught is the word of the week. As in headlines like, “How is TV news going to cover the weirdest, most fraught election in US history?” Or, “How to talk to kids about the election and fraught politics.” Fraught, fraught, fraught. Fraught.

Election or not, our lives are fraught.

So just what is “fraught”? It’s an adjective and its strong synonym is UNEASY. The word worked its way to us from the Middle Dutch noun vracht, which meant “load” and which is also the source of the word freight. As in baggage, burden and load.

Merriam-Webster defines fraught as,

1: full of or accompanied by something specified —used with with a situation fraught with danger; The paper was poorly researched and is fraught with errors.

2: causing or characterized by emotional distress or tension : fraught relationship

We agree: these days are fraught. Being fraught is nothing new.

But this might be. That sometimes God consumes like a moth what is dear to us, that the Giver of all good gifts sends moths.

God Sends The Moth

I’m here to say that God sends the moths (Psalm 39:11). God sends consuming moths to drive us lay up treasures where no moths destroy (Matthew 6:19ff).

I’m here to say that God shakes the earth. God shakes the earth that what might not be shaken will remain (Hebrews 12:26-27).

I’m here to say that God makes crooked (Ecclesiastes 7:14). God makes crooked and when we acknowledge him he makes our paths straight (Proverbs 3:6).

And I am here to remind that no evil will befall you if you make the Lord your refuge; that our faith may be endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger; that inordinate grief betrays false gods and misplaced love.

I’m writing this post to reassure my fraught self and your fraught self that God strikes with severe mercy—he shakes our sense of security and sends moths to devour our treasures—because our Lord God will not share his glory with another or his praise with idols (Isaiah 42:8). In his grace, our Lord will not permit us to have stability apart from Himself.

In other words, I’m here to say that God sends these fraught days.

God Sends Fraught Days

Why? James answered well: “that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.4).

That’s good, right? Who wouldn’t want to be mature and complete lacking nothing?

But what if those only come at the cost of days fraught?

Our current trials may be discipline. Covid-19, the political scene, and our increasingly tense relationships could be God’s moths. He might bring these circumstances so that we tighten our grip on him or he could be bringing it to loosen our grip on our treasures. But in both cases God is working in and through these fraught days to make himself our chief treasure.

Consider the Psalmist in Psalm 39. He believed that what he was enduring was a result of divine discipline for sin.

When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!

Psalm 39:11

Erik Raymond explains,

In other words, God sends the discipline and the circumstances act as a divinely dispatch moth to consume his treasure! This is good because in sin we are, like Achan, hiding treasures in our tent (Josh. 7.22). God intends to unfasten us from these fleeting treasures and to refasten us, wholly and completely upon himself.

Regardless of whether our specific sin prompted these fraught Trump v. Biden post-election days or if God’s more general goal that his children grow in holiness was the cause (Hebrews 12:10), we can rest assured. For we know that if we are patient and trained by our trials, these fraught days will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).

Therefore, we should not be too taken aback.

We Should Not Be Too Taken Aback…

I, for one, do not want to miss the forest for the trees in these fraught days. God’s ultimate purpose is that we trust in Him (Psalm 37:4-7, Isaiah 26:3-4, Proverbs 3:5-6). Our work, Jesus said, to believe in the One He has sent (John 6:29). To trust him.

We tend to feel like our times are more fraught than times past; as if Noah and Job, Joseph and Moses had fewer reasons for discouragement and unease. So I’ve come back to this bit by J.I. Packer a few times in the past couple fraught days.

The same wisdom which ordered the paths which God’s saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian’s life today. We should not, therefore, be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Why simply that God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly. 

Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humour, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Or perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit. Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself in conscious communion with Him…

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1973, p. 86

Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself in conscious communion with Him…

Free From Fraught

As I write this votes are being recounted in my hyper-divided swing state of Wisconsin. Our nation is on a razor edge. The tension is tangible, this fraught-ness that is new. Oh sure, I’ve been disappointed before.

But this is gloom goes far beyond the two men atop hundreds of thousands of contested ballots in light blue and pink states. As much as I spout hoping in God, I’ve been more skim milk than real cream since election night. Kind of weak. Rather fraught.

But I know there is a good design in it all of this. To quote from a Puritan named Thomas Boston,

It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.

By some miracle of grace, that is what saints do. We trust that there is a favorable design in our fraught days. I am drawing near. He is drawing me near. And I’m more aware of the treasure it is to commune with Him.

We trust, and we watch for the divinely dispatched moths. They might fly in with coronavirus closures and kids stuck at home. Or they might appear in the mail with late arriving ballots or on the wings of a Twitter bird that does not tweet away.

We trust that God in His wisdom sends moths to eat away our idol hopes and make something of us which we have not attained yet. Yes, we trust that God is at work. Perhaps simply to draw us closer to Himself.

And we are drawn and to him who takes our fraught upon him, who daily bears our burdens, and we are not too taken aback.

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
    My hope is in you.

Psalm 39:7

Disappointment —> His Appointment

organizer-791939__340.jpg

What’s the biggest disappointment of your life?

Maybe it’s a high hope that came smashing down with an injury, a breakup, a loss. Or maybe it was a noble dream- for healing, for children, for peace- that has slowly fizzled out.

I had some disappointment last week when some grand plans I had for myself and my family didn’t pan out. The details don’t matter. What matters infinitely more is that I learn to do disappointment well.

Because how I cope with my disappointment reflects a lot on my God.

For God’s Sake, Do Disappointment Well

My learning to cope has been slow. The devils of Self-pity and I-deserve are right there, crouching at my door, desiring to have me the second my plans fall through.

But I am learning.  Here are two things I know about coping with disappointment.

  1. Joy comes when we choose what we did not choose.
  2. Grumbling won’t make the bitter taste go away, but gratitude will.

But the third is new- or maybe it’s just a new spin on the first two.

See God’s Hand in the Crooked Path

In my disappointment, Ecclesiastes 7:14 gives me pause: Consider the work of God, for who can make straight what God has made crooked? 

Thomas Boston wrote a book on that one verse. It’s called The Crook in the Lot. Crook is short for crooked and lot is as in one’s “lot in life.”

Boston writes,

I am now meeting only what has been determined by his eternal plan. I know not what is the “reason” why it was appointed; but I see that God had resolved to do it, and that it is vain to resist him.”

When we are disappointed, can we say the same thing? That it’s not by chance or accident, but by His appointment?

Boston adds,

It is much, when we are afflicted, to be able to make this reflection. I had rather be afflicted, feeling that it is “the appointment of God,” than feeling that it is “by chance” or “hap-hazard.”

It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.

And by some miracle of grace, that’s what saints do with their disappointment. They trust that there is a favorable design in their disappointment.

Because God makes no mistakes.

Too Wise and Too Loving to Err

John Paton and his pregnant wife Mary left Scotland to be missionaries to the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific on April 16, 1858. They arrived on November 5th.  In March 1859, his wife and newborn son died.

Talk about a bitter taste and a crook in the lot.

After Paton buried his beloved wife and infant son, he said,

I felt her loss beyond all conception or description, in that dark land. It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances; but feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that he does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work…

I do not pretend to see through the mystery of such visitations – wherein God calls away the young, the promising, and those sorely needed for his service here; but this I do know and feel, that, in the light of such dispensations, it becomes us all to love and serve our blessed Lord Jesus so that we may be ready at his call for death and eternity.

It does. In our disappointment, it becomes us all to rest assured of our God’s wisdom and love.

Love Leads in the Opposite Direction

I’ve been camping in the land Exodus lately and was greatly impacted by Tim Keller’s sermon on chapter 19.

The Israelites are three months out of Egypt but further from the Promised Land than they were before they left.

Exodus from Egypt map, ESV Study bible

God, for kind reasons of his own (Ex. 13:17), led the people in nearly the opposite direction of their destination and he took them into a desert. A mountainous, barren desert. A land far worse than Egypt.

I love how Keller explains this “history of grace,”

God says I’m going to take you over here, but I’m going to take you by way of a place that is farther from Egypt and a land that is worse than Egypt. And that’s where he meets them. And it is often so…

If you admit it, you’re further away from the the things you thought God would be giving you than you were when you trusted him and it seems like God is taking you in the opposite direction.

So often the history of grace in our lives follows this same path. God seems to be taking us away from where we thought we were going, but he’s still leading us to the Promised Land.

In other words, our disappointment is God’s appointment. That’s how God’s grace often comes.

Disappointment, His Appointment

It just so happens that the very same day I wept myself dry, I ran across this poem.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing,
Tho’ it may come in disguise,
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Whose?  The Lord, who loves me best,
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test;
For, like loving earthly parent,
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts, UNQUESTIONED,
All that from His wisdom flows.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
“No good thing will He withhold,”
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold,
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust,
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Lord, I take it, then, as such.
Like the clay in hands of potter,
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plan in Thy moulding,
Not one single choice be mine;
Let me answer, unrepining —
“Father, not my will, but Thine.”

-Edith Lillian Young

No sugarcoating: “doing” disappointment this way is both a bitter pill and a sweet remedy. I cried hard last week. Coping with disappointment this way hurts my flesh. But as it does, it heals my soul.

Even when I don’t know why, I’m learning to change that one letter and see that His appointment is a better choice for me.

“For He performs that which is appointed for me…”

Job 23:14a

A Clarifying Question for People-Pleasers: Who Are You Willing To Disappoint?

There are two kinds of people. Those who struggle to take no and those struggle to say no.

This post is for the second kind, for those who have a hard time saying no, the self-described “people-pleasers.”

Because, believe it or not, I’m a recovering praise-seeking, people-pleaser too.  And these days when I come to a crossroads and don’t know if I should say yes or no, I remember the Molly the dog story.

It started with a call from my friend Kelly on a sunny June morning. 

The moral of the Molly the dog story.

Hey Ab. Would you possibly be willing to watch Molly for us next weekend? We’re going up north and I know Molly had fun with you last time.

That was true. Molly had had fun. We weren’t an indoor pet family, but our big fenced-in yard and wrap-around deck made it easy to host Molly for long weekends. 

But next weekend was different. We were hosting the birthday bash for our clan’s June birthdays. These June parties were outdoor deck parties and aunts and uncles and a teetering great-grandma and toddling little cousins were coming. 

Here’s the rub: Molly was a big lively lab with a tail wag that could bowl a toddler over. With four toddlers in the invite list and two elders who disliked dogs, we’d need to crate Molly for most of Saturday. Molly didn’t much like to be crated. We’d sampled her pitiful, crated yowls last time.

But the party was only one day. And maybe we could keep the kids inside, away from Molly. 

Kelly, I want to help, but we’re having this birthday party. Can I get back to you? 

You have to disappoint someone.

I was torn. I didn’t want to disappoint my friend. But I also didn’t want to deal with Molly the dog while hosting the party. Jim didn’t mind, either way. So I tossed it around all day and I was undecided- and anguishing- that evening when my parents stopped by. 

I wasted no time. Could I ask your advice? 

It’s what Dad said, after the Molly story unfolded, that’s stuck.

Abigail, Dad said, You can’t love everyone. You’re human. You have to disappoint someone. When you say yes to one thing, it means you say no to other things and that’s okay.  As long as you’re motivated by love- throwing a peaceful party on your deck without distraction by a dog- you’re doing well. 

Being human, we can’t love everyone. Only God can do that. We can only give and love and stretch so far. And really, isn’t that freeing?

It means that we don’t have to feel guilty when we say no. In a sense, saying no is a form of humility. It means we’re accepting our limits. It’s acknowledging our finite-ness and creature-ness.

When Mom and Dad left, I called Kelly, Please ask us again. We like Molly. But for this weekend we’d better say no. 

How do you know when to say no?

Pleasing people can be a good thing. Giving joy to others is a great gift. Loving and serving and caring for others are God-ordained. But, as Tim Keller says, when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, it’s become an idol.

And too many of us, and I include myself, have made an idol out of man’s approval and praise. 

So, how do we know when to say yes to people? Why do we spend our time doing what we do? Are you confident that you’re saying yes and no to the right things, to the right people? 

If we’re honest, we’d probably admit that many of our decisions are based on what we think others will think of us if we do or don’t do something.

For better or worse, how other people perceive us- or how we think they’ll perceive us– has a huge influence on whether we say yes or no.

The Critical Question: Who are you willing to disappoint?

In his insightful article, “You Have to Disappoint Someone: How to Say No to Good Things,” John Bloom writes,

Coming to terms with ways we seek people’s approval or fear their disapproval will force us to face humbling truths about ourselves and may require repentance and uncomfortable change.

Bloom describes a conference he attended where Christian leaders were asked how they remained focused on their core calling while inundated with demands. In response, one of the speakers posed another question: “Who are you willing to disappoint?”

That sounds a lot like my dad’s advice: You have to disappoint someone.  I disappointed Kelly. (And, for the record, we’re still friends a decade later.)

Bloom continues,

That might seem like an unloving way to decide what we should or shouldn’t do. But it really isn’t. It’s actually a clarifying question. It isn’t asking us who are the people we will choose not to love. It’s asking us what we are really pursuing in our time commitments. Whose approval are we seeking? God’s? Other people’s? Of those, which one more?

We should ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and try our thoughts (Psalm 139:23). We should ask ourselves the hard question: who are we willing to disappoint? Or who are we unwilling to disappoint? Are we unwilling to disappoint God? Or are we unwilling to disappoint others? Are we unwilling to disappoint our own selfish preferences? 

Who are you willing to disappoint?

Mary knew who to disappoint.

Let’s close with a fresh look at Mary and Martha through this new lens (Luke 10:38–42).

Martha, you recall, was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40) and “anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41).

Bloom writes,

I imagine nearly everyone in her home that day thought she was doing a good thing. Martha herself thought this, which is why she requested Jesus’s support in exhorting Mary to get busy helping. She didn’t seem to be aware of her own motivations. But Jesus was. He saw the deeper motivations in both Martha and Mary.

Martha’s time commitment was being motivated by anxiety, not love. Given the context, it’s reasonable to assume her anxiety stemmed from what all her houseguests would think of her if she stopped waiting on them and did what Mary was doing.

On the surface, Mary’s actions might seem selfish and inconsiderate. Since Mary lived with Martha, she must have known how much Martha wanted her help. Yet, there she was, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him speak.

Guess what? Mary knew who to disappoint. She was more willing to disappoint Martha than *to disappoint Jesus.

And remember what Jesus said about Mary?

…Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Luke 10:42

 

*More on disappointing God and grieving the Holy Spirit in the next JoyPro Post, “Grieve is a Love Word.”

Like You Wrote It? When You’re Not Living The Dream

Like You Wrote It?

It didn’t sit right.

That America’s funny, wholesome family man- The Cosby Show was one of 3 sitcoms mom let us watch- would say something like that didn’t fit. It sounded smug, arrogant, proud.

I won’t comment on Bill Cosby’s fall from grace and imprisonment, except to say, It’s all so sad.

But Cosby’s comment does make more sense now.

These are not the exact words I heard on the TV interview two decades ago, but these are attributable, and they’re close. When asked about married life, Cosby said with that big easy grin of his,

We are living it now just like we wrote it.

It hit me wrong. Because even then, fresh out of grad school, newly married in my early 20’s, with a house and a job and good  friends, I may have been living somebody’s dream, but I knew I wasn’t living mine

My story had already taken some twists and turns I couldn’t have imagined, much less written 20 years ago. Let’s just say, I didn’t think I’d be playing these roles, with the “cast”  now. I’m not (mostly) living my dreams. This isn’t how I wrote the story.

Which is really no matter.

Playing The Part

Because, my life is not really my show.

C.S. Lewis explained like this: We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played.

The playing it well is what matters infinitely.

God wrote us each into this story, where He wanted us. He’s the Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2) and  the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5). And He casts each of us in his grand play to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17).

And when we are on our set stages- and in our waiting stages- playing our roles with joy and thanks, we make Him look great.

Testify to Grace

Paul said something 2,000 years ago that ties all this story-play-dream stuff together for me.

In Acts 20 Paul shares some sobering last words with some old friends, church leaders from Ephesus. He explain that he will go to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there.

In other words, Paul didn’t know what turns his story will take. No worries, though, because not knowing the story didn’t stop him from playing his part well. Heres’s how he summed up that part (Acts 20:24):

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

Is that the aim of our lives too?

Different Stories, Same Aim

Our stories are so different. But, John Piper explains, in Christ,

We do all have the same essential goal: to magnify the glory and the greatness of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the racecourse all Christians are running. The turns and the terrain are different. The aim is the same.

This means we embrace the fact that we do not write our own stories. We don’t know the next page, let alone the next chapter. The way there is unknown.

Our stories twist and turn,

[A]round the corner called future and disappears into the unknown. Therefore, the unwasted life is always lived one step from the unknown. This is what faith is for. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). That’s what faith does.

I don’t want to waste my life. Which means I need to rest content with the unknown next chapters and with parts I wouldn’t have scripted this way.

Not Living the Dream is Still Alright With Me

So, no. I wouldn’t have written myself in this way- not into this marriage or this job, not these boys, this house, or this blog. (Well, I guess I do write the blog. But it wasn’t my dream. My friend Traci spurred it on.)

But I do know this story I’m in, with both its surprise twists and its storylines that feel more static than I’d write, was scripted by God. 

And- oft in sorrow, oft in woe– often way too slowly both for the characters around me and for me- I’m learning that it’s not so much what part I play but how I play that part that matters.

Oh, sure, sometimes I let my hungry eyes drift to what seem like others’ storybook lives and dream up different parts for me. But my aim is to play my part well, which is to testify to the grace of God.

And the great thing is, I don’t have to have to be living like I wrote it, living the dream, to do that.

In fact, God’s grace might just look that much greater when the testimony to it comes from one whose story is not just like he wrote it.

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Jeremiah 10:23