Some things in life are not easy, like eating with chopsticks, doing math in your head, or cooking something other than microwave popcorn for dinner. Then there’s the really hard stuff, like figuring out which college to attend or which career to choose. The Apostle Paul tries to encourage us in Romans by explaining that trials help us develop endurance. But I think this sounds like someone trying to convince me colonic cleansing is fun. It’s tempting to believe God no longer cares about us when life gets hard or we feel like he’s asking us to do something that doesn’t make any sense. How are we supposed to trust him when things go wrong?
When Things Go Wrong
In high school, I dreamed of being a professional dancer. When the university of my choice didn’t accept me into their dance program, I was crushed and naively assumed God didn’t want me to dance. I enrolled in a different school without selecting a major—I was waiting for God to tell me what to do. Toward the end of the school year, I still hadn’t chosen a program. My adviser asked, “Why don’t you at least consider a minor in dance?” I was so wrapped up in grieving the loss of my dream and being angry with God that it had never occurred to me.
In his New York Times bestseller The Shack, William P. Young writes, “Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved. Because you do not know that I love you, you cannot trust me.” Do you love God enough to trust him? Or is it the other way around? If I’m being honest, I often don’t. But it took me many years and the loss of several more dreams to realize this.
Faith Like Abraham
The story of Abraham was pivotal to my realization that I didn’t love God enough to trust him. I was twenty-eight, and I had just broken up with my boyfriend and moved to a new city with few familiar faces. I was working a stressful job that paid pennies, and I was deeply depressed. My counselor called this dark period “the night shift” and encouraged me to dig into the Bible. I reluctantly started with the story of Abraham and Isaac—a troubling and intriguing story. How could a loving and all-knowing God ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son on an altar to prove his dedication? How could Abraham trust a God who asked him to do something that seemed to go against his commandments? How could his son Isaac go along with such a barbaric plan?
I imagined the anguish of this father taking his child on a death-march—a physically and emotionally tormenting, three-day mountain trek. It made my stomach curl, my blood boil. I shook a metaphorical fist at God, How could you be so egotistical? How could you give this man the thing he desired most and then ask him to destroy it? It reminded me of losing my dance dream.
But as I looked back at the qualities of Abraham, the following traits jump off the page: his quick obedience and unquestioning trust in God’s good character. He believed God loved him. He believed God was trustworthy and benevolent. He believed God would provide an animal to sacrifice in place of his son. Just as Abraham was about to complete his mission, an angel intervened and, “Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means ‘the Lord will provide’). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’”(Gen. 22:13–14, NLT).
The Bible doesn’t reference Isaac’s thought process during this excursion, but I noticed he didn’t question his father. He only asked “where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Whether this was a question of faith or a question of naiveté, it is clear that Isaac trusted his father in the same way Abraham trusted God. I believe because Abraham’s faith was so influential that Isaac, too, grew to believe in God’s absolute goodness.
I wanted faith like Abraham’s. I wanted to love God so much that I never questioned him about my losses or trials. I wanted to believe he didn’t waste my pain. I wanted to feel like tough times were not just something to survive but opportunities to thrive.
[bctt tweet=”I wanted to feel like tough times were not just something to survive but opportunities to thrive.”]
Thriving, Not Surviving
I poked around the Bible more and found additional examples of God’s people thriving in difficulty. David, a shepherd boy, took down a giant with only a sling and rock. Esther, a Jewish orphan, saved her people from extermination. Joseph, a cocky boy with a head full of dreams, saved thousands from famine. Each man and woman faced unimaginable difficulty, yet came through as their best self: courageous, selfless, humble, grateful, and more confident that God cares and provides for his people. God was on their side and had a greater purpose for their lives.
“Each man and woman [I read about] faced unimaginable difficulty, yet came through as their best self: courageous, selfless, humble, grateful, and more confident that God cares and provides for his people.”
What I didn’t understand when I was seventeen was that God didn’t say no to my dance dream; he just had a different purpose for it. Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (NLT). I now believe dance is a gift to enjoy, rather than a skill to rely on to make a living. Each trial teaches me that God has an awesome habit of showing up, and that it’s important to love him more than I love my plans.