Swallowing a Hard Saying

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We have just returned home from our annual family vacation, which I realize is a luxury in times like these. With unemployment and COVID restrictions and regulations affecting so many (including our family), the fact that we could get away and spend quality time with loved ones is truly a blessing and a privilege I am deeply thankful for. This vacation, however, redefined blessing and privilege for me and my family.

Everything started out fine. We had reservations at a vacation rental home – a secluded and well-appointed space where we could all relax, swim, play and recover a little bit from the tensions of life as we’ve known it recently. The week before we left, I got into a big car accident, so we had secured a rental car for the trip.

No problem.

The weekend before we headed out (we left on Tuesday), we were informed that my vehicle was totaled. So we extended the rental car agreement.

No problem.

The day we left, we piled into the rented van, packed with all the “stuff” we could possibly need (plus some) for a great time in southern California. We were looking forward to visiting my cousin and her family, and hosting them at our rented “home-away-from-home.” We decided to take the scenic, coastal route, which was beautiful, but turned our trip into a 10 and a half hour drive.

No problem.

As we drove up to the rental home, situated on top of a hill in a quaint little town, nestled among miles of sprawling vineyards and prime for viewing the daily hot air balloon trips that magnified the incredible sunsets, we marveled at the beauty of the setting. My cousin and auntie met us there, and our three cars crawled up the long, gravel driveway to the entrance, as “oohs” and “ahhhhs” and squeals of delight came from the back seat.

We prepared ourselves for a sight we had seen pictures of, but had imagined would be even better in person. The kids were especially looking forward to jumping in the swimming pool. They could hardly contain themselves as we inched toward the reality they had held in their little imaginations for the last 10 hours.

My husband did his usual prayer-walk through the house upon arrival, while the rest of us waited outside, suppressing squeals and bursts of joy. Finally, he emerged, and the look on his face shattered our hopeful expectations.

The advertisements had been false, and the perfect vacation home was dangerously imperfect (in case someone should stumble across this blog long after COVID-19 has become a part of pandemic history, let me clarify that there are currently sanitization requirements which go far above and beyond the usual and customary – not to mention expected – standards.)

BIG problem.

I don’t need perfection to be happy, but safety in the circumstances we are facing is critical. I’ll spare you the gross details, but share that my kids’ hopes were dashed to pieces as they ran up to a cloudy pool, an empty (and broken) hot tub, leftover food crumbs scattered across carpets and tables, stained bedding, and broken oven (caution tape included). Being the little optimists they are – especially when it comes to vacation – they tried to reason through the disparities. Bless their little hearts for being determined to have a good vacation anyway. Needless to say, we could not share their willingness to live with such compromised accommodations.

Fast forward to an hour later, where we were all sprawled out across my cousin’s little living room, scrambling to find a backup plan. After having our money refunded – which was a relief – we still needed to find a new place to carry on with our grand vacation agenda. Finding a last minute option proved to be a daunting task indeed.

Let me pause here and clarify that our agenda had been thoroughly prayed through for months. It wasn’t like I just decided what I wanted to do and asked God to bless my plans. I made a diligent effort to make our decisions were in agreement with what I sensed was His direction. So you can understand why I sat in my cousin’s living room trying to understand what God was intending to do through all of this.

In a way, it was a little easier to bear because I had sought His direction in the whole thing. I didn’t feel like He had failed or abandoned us. Instead, I had the confidence to look to Him for the next leg of the plan, which I trusted He would provide.

Lo and behold, after some dinner, some energy spent consoling and encouraging the kids that God would provide the right place, and some searching through various vacation rental apps, we found another perfect spot to set up camp in. We would have to camp in my cousin’s living room for two nights, but we would still have plenty of time to enjoy the new place, plus the added bonus of extra time with family we didn’t get to see very often. I love how God works. Even when plans appear to fall apart, He always has something wonderful wrapped up in the unraveling.

As I went to sleep on a crowded air mattress that night, I thanked God for the adventure. I felt confident in His leading and could trust that we would still have a wonderful time together. But I was concerned about the mark this could leave on my kids’ memories, so I asked Him to give me something from His Word that I could share with them during our devotional time the next morning, to root them in truth and clarify their perspective in a way that would strengthen their faith.

When I woke up the next morning and sat down at the table with my Bible, I prayed the same prayer, and then opened the Scriptures. I had been reading through the book of Hebrews, which was bookmarked. But the Bible opened to Luke chapter 9 instead, and verses 57 and 58 stood out like a banner waving in the wind, luring my attention with magnetic force:

“As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.'” 

Talk about a hard saying to swallow! I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at the candid way God had answered my request, or to be thankful that I’d been prepared to receive such an answer because I’d been studying some of the “hard sayings” of Scripture recently.

The Bible is filled with passages we tend to skip over. You know, the ones that don’t make too much sense to us – whether because we are far removed from the cultural context they are framed by, or because they challenge our comfort zones, or because they appear to contradict the other things we believe the Bible teaches – in our favorite passages.

I’ve been compelled in recent months to study those passages more deeply. In reality, I’ve wrestled through some of them. They are uncomfortable, and they do require more than a quick reading. They are not simple devotional material. But they are just as much Scripture as the passages that serve to encourage and strengthen our spirits when we are down. And they are just as critical for us to not only understand, but embrace. In case we tend toward forgetfulness, we are living in the generation which the Bible says will have many with ears that want to be tickled. In other words, there are plenty of people who don’t want to hear the hard sayings, and are only willing to listen to the things that make them feel good.

John 6 offers a startling but realistic account of a common response to hearing things that are uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus is teaching a group of disciples (followers) about how He is the bread of life, the fulfillment of all that was displayed in mere types and shadows among their ancestors. He made it clear that their religion was moving from an outside one defined by rituals and observances, to an inside one, rooted in intimate relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf. Furthermore, He was reminding them that He was Godand that deeply challenged all their preconceived notions and expectations.

This was a little too deep for them to comprehend, and definitely a concept they weren’t comfortable with. In verse 60, their response is written:

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'”

But verse 66 tells the sad end to that uncomfortable struggle:

“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Thankfully, there were a few who were willing to stick it out and embrace the hard saying. After the multitude left, Jesus asked those who remained if they, too, were also going to leave. Their reply is what I pray will always be in my heart, and what must be in yours, if you will be among those who endure to the end:

“‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.'” (v. 68)

So, back to my search for some truth to share with my kids about their devastated hopes for our dream vacation home. As we camped in my cousin’s living room, I was invited to consider the reality that maybe dream vacations – although not wrong in and of themselves – aren’t always going to be a part of the package of our lives in Christ. Quite possibly, we had been led into a disappointing experience in order to realize that following Jesus meant just that – following Him through good and bad, luxurious and humble, in plenty and in want.

Kind of reminds me of some vows I took before a crowd of witness on my wedding day:

“For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health…until death do us part.”

Our commitment to trust and follow Jesus was a lifelong one, and one that would more than likely include some hard and frustrating times.

After some deep studying to make sure I really understood the passage well enough to explain it to my kids, I swallowed hard and prayed for God to give them hearts that could embrace such a hard saying. We gathered in my cousin’s living room, and I proceeded to give them the truth God had given me:

That above all else, we are Christians, followers of Christ.

That while we have much to be thankful for, life as a Christian won’t always be easy or comfortable.

That sometimes we will go without.

That although we can make our plans, and should always seek God in doing so, if we are truly His followers, we have to accept that He will sometimes change the plans, and trust that His plans are good even when His good looks different than our version of good.

That the most important thing we could do, even with disappointed hopes and a less extravagant home to vacation in, was to be thankful and to cooperate with His plans, because we didn’t know everything about what He was working out in the process.

So, by the grace of God, we all agreed to adjust our attitudes, hold gratitude in our hearts, make the best of our camping trip, and appreciate whatever else God chose to provide for us along the way.

Now that I am home and reflecting back on the whole adventure, I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that God’s plans (of which I can still probably see only a sliver) were far better than I could have imagined. The second house we ended up in was just right for us, and kept us in close quarters rather than sprawled out and disconnected in private havens. We got to spend a lot of time with my cousin and her beautiful, fragile family. We laughed, cried, talked about faith and failures and disappointments, and celebrated the wreckage of great plans that have been derailed in both of our lives for reasons only God knows.

And most importantly, as a family, we chose to embrace the hard truth that sometimes comes with following God, and found that it made us richer in spirit than we might have wanted to be in the physical realm.

When my kids grow up and look back on this family vacation, I don’t want them to remember the sweet house we got to stay in. I want them to remember God’s careful provision. I want them to remember how being together as a family became more important than having all our desires granted. And I want them to remember that, while we may not always understand what God is doing or why, we learned – as a family – to embrace mystery, to gather around the uncomfortable, and to keep trusting and following Him.

And we discovered that He truly is, still, good.

Maybe one day following Jesus will mean worse, or harder than we experienced on this trip. I’d like to believe that we have tasted a little bit of preparation for what may come. And today, I am so grateful that I’m learning to swallow the hard sayings, and be nourished and strengthened by them.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I pray today that you, too, will embrace all of the Word of God, and that when you come across a hard and difficult-to-understand saying, You will determine to keep following Jesus.

Our God is faithful, and His Word truly does bring life!

{Photo images courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}

 


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