When the current order to shelter-in-place was announced, I thought – for half of a second – that it might be a welcomed opportunity to push pause on the chaos of life. In many ways, that pause has been a reality, but it has been interrupted by the arrival of even more – and new – chaos. As I’ve wrestled with the notion of how to wrangle my life into submission, how to make it conform to the image I’d like it to look and feel like, I’ve had to entertain and embrace a very uncomfortable question:
Can I sit with Trouble Comfortably?
I have chosen to give Trouble a personification here, not because I equate it with a person, but because it is a very real presence that comes with the people we live with and love, and the lives we live together. And if we’re not careful to recognize it as its own presence, we run the terrible risk of assigning it to the people in front of us. Trouble manifests most often in relationships, but if we are going to learn to sit with it well, it must have its own seat at the table. It must be embraced as its own presence, rather than lumped in with the cloud of chaos that trails the family we are learning to live with and love.
I, like most people, desire an uncomplicated life. I want to follow God into simple paths that work out like they’re supposed to. Especially since I’m following God, doing my best – with His help – to live the way He’s called me to, I reason often that the results should be characteristically Trouble-free. From the outside looking in, you might be clearly able to laugh at that notion, and offer me plenty of Scriptural evidence to support your disagreement (like, for example, the fact that Paul was shipwrecked, beaten and left for dead in the path of following God’s will and doing missionary work). But you might also feel the same way I do when it comes to your own life and goals. You might be rather surprised and frustrated when Trouble comes.
I am not the first person to be surprised by fiery trials. Peter told us not to be because he knew we would instinctively be compelled to (1 Peter 4:12-13). The plain fact of life is that Trouble will come, to all of us. Christians and non-Christians alike will encounter difficulties beyond our ability to embrace or imagine. The advantage of the Christian life is that we do not face Trouble alone, and when Trouble comes to our house, it is sent as a guest, not an enemy. It comes to build and strengthen, not to tear down, simply because of the grace of God working in us as we endure it. We cannot control the things that come to touch our lives, but we can know the One Who has ultimate control, and trust in His good purposes as we walk through them.
As a recovering control freak, this sounds good but proves to be very difficult in appropriating. I admittedly struggle with things being out of my control. The fiercest test of this often occurs in the domain of my home. I understand (on some level) that I cannot control the outside world, but within the walls of my house and the structure of my family, there are certain things I have determined will be as I have prayed and planned them to be. I would like a healthy, happy family that loves God and lives to represent Him well. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
Up until a few months ago, this notion had been challenged, but not overturned. Now, however, I am entertaining stranger chaos than I would have ever imagined welcoming into my home and family, and it is forcing me to consider whether my “handle” on things is a reality I can sustain, or an illusion that needs to be shattered.
Let me be clear: I believe in order and authority. I believe that home should be a place where love is the bottom line, and where God is most accurately represented. I believe in embracing the responsibility of leading and shepherding with great care those who have been entrusted to me. I believe in nurturing relationships, and I believe in the importance of discipline and instruction when and where it is needed. I believe in rules, although the current trend of society has renamed “rules” and now calls them values. Whatever you call them, I believe in the guardrails that should keep a family living within certain boundaries that ensure a healthy and well-balanced life and environment.
There is nothing wrong with this picture. On paper, and upon the canvas of my heart, it looks good. It’s the goal I – and I’m sure many others – have started with.
But what happens when Trouble shows up? I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t usually follow the rules, which, for most of us, means we are left with two choices: demand and fight for submission, or give up. Either way, Trouble leaves its mark and we are either made better or made worse because of it.
But what if there is a third choice: welcome Trouble with open arms….and watch what God does right in the middle of it.
Over the past eighteen years of my life, I’ve welcomed and loved many broken and hurting people. With them came an unseen guest: Trouble. In the early years of this endeavor to embrace the broken, I tried my best to demand that they follow the program I was running in my home. There was no room for trouble where we lived. If it came in with you, it had to be bent into shape or it had to go. I didn’t know how to sit with Trouble, so Trouble had no room to change me.
This was mostly because I had grown up in complete chaos, and was determined to never make room for it again. My home was a no-chaos zone, as far as I was concerned. I attacked any and all threats to my “peace” with a quickness and a harshness that caught people off guard. I didn’t realize it then, but I was attempting to protect myself from feeling unsafe, because all my life I had been the victim of deep trauma caused by things being out of control. I had determined that my home would be the complete opposite. In essence, I established a “peaceful” prison, where no one was allowed to act up or step across any lines…or else.
If you’ve raised or been around any children, you know how ridiculous a goal that was. Children challenge lines they come across and so, of course, the ones I raised challenged every one of mine. I invested many years halting life in order to deal with every infraction of the rules, in order to “keep the peace” I had established. You can imagine how exhausting and frustrating that was for all of us. I’ve repented and apologized to the kids who lived under that regime, and I pray that they will learn from my mistakes. I hope to spend the rest of our years together making room at the table for Trouble now, and showing them what I wish I would have known then.
Since I’ve had several “batches” of broken and hurting children come to stay with me, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow from each one. Little by little, I’ve learned to recognize that Trouble isn’t something caused by an unruly child, but rather an opportunity to embrace healing in my own heart, and allow it to become a gift to the others who sit around the table with me.
Trouble personified looks like sitting with unresolved messes and choosing to love and trust in the process. It looks like not denying the painful parts, but also not demanding that they be fixed. It looks like allowing life to be whatever it is, admitting I don’t have control over it, and choosing to sit with it until God does whatever He intends to do. It looks like not minimizing the window that’s on the current screen of my life, not hiding from the reality I live with, and at the same time not confronting it unless God leads me to do so.
This is uncomfortable for me, because control is still an instinct I am learning not to yield to. My first inclination at the sight of Trouble is to take care of it. I am an expert at “doing something about” everything. Yet, I have been visited by such great Trouble in recent months that I’ve had to come to terms with a revelation that is changing me: I can’t do anything about any of it.
Trouble has come, and I cannot refuse it. I can’t send it away. I can’t pray it away. I can’t even demand that it act a certain way in my house. It is clear that it’s here to stay for a while, unruly as it may be. But every morning, noon and evening, I sit down face to face with it and it teaches me – more about myself than anything or anyone else. Apparently, I have a lot to learn, still.
I think this is good, because I’ve always been told that when I think I know it all, I am in the gravest danger. Today, I can happily (though painfully) admit, I feel as though I know close to nothing, except that God alone is in control. The ground I had built to stand upon has been shattered, and I am an elementary student all over again in this new territory. And I have the amazing opportunity to trust Him where all of what I thought I knew about how to do life is being undone.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, has Trouble visited you recently? It may take on many forms, but within each is wrapped the gift of transformation. God invites us to welcome Trouble with joyful hearts when it knocks on the door of our lives, because He knows just how to bring strange but perfect beauty out of every messy situation Trouble brings.
If you have unresolved Trouble in your life, I encourage you to leave it unresolved. Instead of making it your aim to resolve things nicely and move on to the “normal” business of your life, choose to sit with Trouble and learn about its aim. There is always a purpose attached to its visit, and for those who are willing to entertain it, it changes us.
Say this with me, and ask God to help you mean it:
I am not in control, and I don’t need to be. The chaos of my life is not an enemy, but an invitation to trust God’s rule in everything. Today, I will count it as joy when I sit with Trouble. I will learn to embrace it for as long as it is here, and I will trust God to send it away at the appointed time. Until then, I will be a student, growing and learning and following the course my Teacher has planned for me – Trouble and Triumph equally acknowledged and celebrated. When Trouble has accomplished its work, I will be found purified, like gold that has come through a refining fire. I may not understand all throughout the long, hard way, but I choose to trust my Father’s unseen plan, and I rest in His abiding presence – that no Trouble has the power to diminish.
Be blessed as you learn to sit with Trouble and welcome the transformation it has been appointed to bring.