I want Teflon. Bad things happen to good people, but I hate it when I have to live this Truth of the Universe. My sons call me “congenitally nice.” I guess I am. That is, unless you’re mean to one of my kids, lie to me or betray a trust. Or if you do evil, unjust things like sexually abusing children, abusing your partner, conducting genocide or starting unnecessary wars. Then, if it’s in my power, I’ll take you out. I’m a basically good person. If the world spared us heartache based on goodness, I think I’d be safe.
But the world doesn’t work like that. I still had places to go and dreams to fulfill, when I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I was so pissed at God and life, I couldn’t stand it. Why me? Why now? How could you do this, God? Then I’d get pissed at myself for being so selfish and wanting special treatment. Why not me? Why not now? People deal with worse stuff than this every day and they keep going. Waiting to get blood drawn, I see people who look like they have stage four cancer. Others wheeze as they inch, step-by-step through the crosswalk, but they keep going. Then, in addition to being angry at God for a world where people suffer, I get angry at myself for being upset about my own difficulties.
As angry as I get at God, I never stop believing. There’s a ton of biblical precedent for faithful people being angry at God—just think of Job. The Bible says anger at God is totally acceptable.
A friend who died of cancer, Carol Baker Tharp, taught me that being angry at God is like when we throw baseballs at a backstop. God’s the backstop at which I hurl my questions, frustration, and rage until my emotional arm gets aches and I stop for a while. I never doubt that the backstop exists and that my baseballs dont’ fly off into nothingness. I trust completely that the One who created the world absorbs my prayers of sorrow, rage, and hope. I’m not alone. Even if God isn’t going to make everything bad go away, when my arm gets tired from throwing, God sits on the ground with me and lets me cry on a strong shoulder.
Others may face greater hardship than ours, but the suffering we face is our own suffering and it matters. It doesn’t go away just by wishing it would. It disrupts our life. It hurts. It frustrates. It limits us. It breaks our heart. It’s our own suffering and the feelings are real. Yes, people are starving, being killed in war, suffering with painful illnesses, losing jobs and houses, under-going horrors beyond imagining–but this is our own suffering and it still counts.
Ours is a drop in the world’s ocean of pain. It takes millions of drops to make an ocean. Without them, the ocean wouldn’t exist. Our suffering is one of those drops in the ocean, or maybe it’s a whole stream flowing into the ocean—you know your own suffering. We have a right to feel sad or angry or lonely or hopeless for a while. The fact that my life turned upside down was my own personal drop in the world’s ocean of suffering. It still is. Scripture says that God aches so much for our suffering as to keep our tears in a bottle. My suffering is not lost on God.
Sometimes, after I’ve thrown a lot of balls, God and I use the backstop as a back rest. We sit on the ground peacefully beside each other and look across the baseball field. The newly mowed grass smells like new life. No one’s in sight, just the sounds of birds on the power line and traffic far away. Sitting beside God, knees pulled up, leaning against the backstop as we each silently hold a baseball in our hands, is enough. The future lies in what we make of what has happened.