This is the phrase that keeps running through my head these days. Hard days, for more reasons than one. I’ve found myself increasingly attune lately to the hardness of life. My dear friend has lost two friends in six months. One to disease, another to addiction. Another friend of mine is facing a huge life challenge and spiritual battle that words can’t even do justice to. Still another friend woke up a few years ago and had completely lost her hearing. It was gone, inexplicably, without reason and without warning, and every day now she must wake up and continue her fight to adjust to this new life without sound.
I have readers who reach out to me every single day to share their stories of heartbreak. So many beautiful souls, all twisted up, because another not-so-beautiful soul failed to love them well. Failed to protect their hearts. Failed to see them. I have friends who have lost jobs and lost their way. I’ve lost my way a bit. Or maybe it’s not that I’ve lost my way so much as I just don’t know what’s next for me. And it’s scary. Sometimes exciting, but mostly scary. As I stand here at the crossroads in my life, pondering whether to go left or go right, I pause for a moment just to sit in the uncertainty and observe the hardness of life. And what’s funny and strange and unexpected is that I find myself tipping my hat in respect to it a bit. Not because I’m happy that I’m struggling and people I love are struggling, but because of this one undeniable truth:
It’s impossible to know God if you’ve only known good.
Without the hardness of life, you’d never get to experience the softness of grace. Grace is like sinking into the coziest, fluffiest, most sumptuous recliner you could ever imagine at the end of a long, impossible day. Grace is like a chocolate chip cookie when you were expecting oatmeal raisin. Or like getting an A on a test you forgot to study for. Grace is beautiful, and holy, and life-altering to all it touches. And grace is also completely, entirely invisible to those who have never walked through the fire, never felt their world spin on its axis, never questioned, never failed, never fallen, never doubted, never hurt, never cried.
I look closer at the scars on my eyebrows, from which I could I have gone blind, and the deep cut on my tongue from which I could have gone mute, and all I see is grace. I look at the stories of women who write to me about terrible, heart-wrenching breakups, and I see the hand of God removing them from situations that would have caused them much greater pain down the road. I even look at Kevin’s leg and see grace. Grace that God spared his other leg. And his life. He was one hair, one breath, one moment away from death. And yet, here he sits with us today, not brain damaged, no other major injuries, fully alive and alert and able to someday dance with his daughters at their weddings. Grace upon grace upon grace.
Is this a Pollyanna, shiny, superficial way of looking at tragedy and hard times? No. I’m not pointing out the silver lining of suffering, I’m simply calling attention to the work of the Savior in the midst of it. Suffering sucks. There is no silver lining to it. And yet. And yet, the great paradox if it all is that it’s impossible to know God if you’ve only known good. Because God is in the hard. He runs to the hurt. He rushes to the heartbroken. He even catches our tears in a bottle, the Bible says. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18)
I just feel like there are seasons for light and fluffy, and there are seasons for hard and real. And this is the latter. Because the truth is: life is hard. And then it’s beautiful. And then it’s devastating. And then it’s gratifying. And then it’s complicated. And then it’s sweet. And then it’s confusing. And then it’s clear. And then it’s broken. And then it’s blissful.
And through it all, God is there. I know this because I’ve experienced it firsthand. He’s certainly there in the good times, too, but you see the hand of God in the good, and you see the heart of God in the bad.
That’s why I’ll say it again: It’s impossible to know God if you’ve only known good.
Remembering that makes me feel brave. Brave enough to take a deep breath and stand a little taller, a little surer, at my own crossroads. Because the truth is, whichever way I go, whichever way it turns out, I know I’ll be okay.
And so will you.