Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Tyranny of Choice

The title of chapter twenty-one in Angie Smith's book, Mended.  She presented the concept that, with all the choices we are given in this first-world life, the majority of us feel entitled to only be surrounded with the things that please us most and make us most comfortable.  And if something proves to be unpleasant or uncomfortable, our society gives us so many opportunities to get out.  You know the department store, Kohl's, has a no-questions-asked returns policy?  You can literally return a pair of shoes weeks after purchasing them if they somehow, later down the road, prove to be unworthy of wearing.  Good customer service, absolutely.  But you see my point.  

Angie Smith says this:

I've been convicted and overwhelmed over the nature of humanity and the fickleness that is bred by entitlement.

Entitlement.  With all the choices available to us and the opportunities to separate ourselves from that which does not completely satisfy, we tend to live with feelings of entitlement.  And surely, if something leads to an unpleasant outcome, we have made the wrong choice.  

I am here to tell you about a time when my husband and I made the right choice, what we believed to be God's choice, and it was terribly unpleasant and uncomfortable. 

I'm talking about choosing to have a second baby.  And you know the end of that story.  

Josh and I felt led to have another baby.  Getting pregnant with that baby took no time at all.  Things seemed to be coming along nicely until halfway through the pregnancy when we learned of Evie's diagnosis.  She would not live.  This baby that we thought God wanted us to have would not live.

I very clearly remember crying to my mother-in-law the evening we found out.  I remember saying to her, "I thought this was what we were supposed to do!  We didn't know.  Should we have made a different choice?"

She told me sympathetically, "Oh honey, we don't know about life.  Only God does.  We just live and then trust Him with the rest."

From the book, Anything:

Somewhere in my life I picked up the idea that if things did not feel right or fall perfectly into place, God was not in them.  I thought obeying God should feel pretty easy and convenient.  ...but if obeying seemed too uncomfortable, I likely would have decided this wasn't from God.  Where did I get that?

God wanted us to have Evie.  He wanted Josh and I to experience the soul-wrenching pain of anticipating our daughter's death and then watching her die in our arms.  He wanted us to grow through it all.  This was His plan.  

I am here to tell you that just because a life choice presents difficulties, it is not always the wrong choice.  Of course, if you give your life over to sin and then lose money, homes, friends, and families, and then wonder why things are so difficult, I think it would be safe to say you made the wrong choice.  But I'm talking about people who, after much prayerful consideration, do what they believe to be God's will and then are asked to carry a huge burden or wade through murky waters.  Sometimes it happens and it's ok.  You didn't make the wrong choice, you made the right choice.  It's just not always easy.  

In a world where we can return merchandise long after its "brand new" status has been lost, we become accustomed, entitled, to the idea that we weren't meant for discomfort and, any circumstance that causes us to wring our hands should be promptly eliminated. 

But that's not always God's way.  

Again, Jennie Allen, from her book, Anything:

If God did not give us and our kids a safe and comfortable life, was He holding out on us?

No.  No, He isn't.  But that has become our expectation.  If we lived in a place where Christians are routinely beaten, brutalized, and imprisoned for their faith, we would absolutely not have that expectation.  But, in the land of a thousand choices, the expectation is very different.

Trials are hard, this is true.  But they also make us.  They bring us closer to the Lord.  They make us ambassadors for the only Kingdom that really matters.  A soon-to-depart missionary from our church recently showed us that the word "fun" appears zero times in Scripture.  God isn't in the business of making our lives fun, He is in the business of building disciples.  And, the majority of the time, true disciples are born out of adversity.  

Let's purpose our hearts to not become entitled to the chiefest comforts because of our overabundant choices.  Let's be committed to God's will - the good and the hard - and praise Him for it all.

**It seems my use of the word "want" (God wanted us to experience losing Evie) was cause for concern to some.  I don't believe God wants suffering in our lives in the same way we want a tropical vacation.  He derives no pleasure in it nor does He enjoy watching His children endure it.  But, He does want certain sufferings in our lives if they will mold us more into the vessel He desires us to be, bring Him glory, and accomplish work for His Kingdom. God doesn't want suffering for us any more than we want to discipline our dear children (I am not saying suffering is punishment, just using an example).  I must discipline my son because I know if I don't, his sin will take over and he will be a very unpleasant little boy.  I take no pleasure in disciplining him, but I know it is necessary to tame his naturally foolish behaviors.  Likewise, God doesn't desire his children to enter into needless suffering, but He knows it is a necessary tool to make us into more Christ-like vessels.  God wants suffering for us because He ultimately wants to work all things for good, and oftentimes suffering is a part of His plan.  But I do not believe He derives any pleasure from it whatsoever and would do anything to one day give us the opportunity to live suffering-free, which is why He sent us Jesus.  


  1. I agree with most of what you said. but through prayer and studying who God is and all His attributes, I would respectfully disagree with "He wanted Josh and I to experience the soul-wrenching pain of anticipating our daughter's death and then watching her die in our arms. He wanted us to grow through it all. This was His plan"

    I think the way God designed this world, we were all supposed to live in peace, with no hurt, not dying. Because of the fall, there is pain, and He KNEW it, but He didn't want that. Because of this fallen world, there is death, disease, heartache, pain, loss of children, etc. His heart breaks over those things. He doesn't plan them, but He does use them if you let Him to give Him glory and honor.

    I believe, for you, for me, for anyone whose lost a child, God doesn't plan for that to happen, He doesn't want to see us agonize, and mourn, and grieve our child(ren). He does know it's going to happen. He does have a plan for you for what could come of it afterwards if you let Him use you, but I don't think He says "Hey you, I want you to feel what it's like to have empty arms, a hole in your heart, miss a piece of you and watch your child die in your arms". At least not the God that is described in the bible. We live in a broken world. The bible is clear that when He restores the earth, there will be no more tears. That's not His plan.

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    2. Hi Heather,

      I think I understand what you are saying a little bit, but maybe not. I think it's a matter of God's sovereignty. Nothing on earth can happen without the permissible will of God. I think of Job's story and know that sometimes God does author pain. Does he enjoy watching us go through it? No. But he has a perspective that we don't. Even further - I think of Christ's death on the cross and know that was God's plan all along. The result of course was the Resurrection and the redemption of his people, but Christ's followers didn't understand that at the time. All they knew was that they were watching the man they loved go through the worst pain in human history. But it was God's plan. For encouragement I think of the man born blind, who met Jesus and his disciples on the road, and who was healed so that the glory of God could be revealed through him. God planned his blindness for a greater purpose. But, yes, I would agree that he doesn't enjoy seeing our grief. I believe he aches with us and whispers to our hearts, "hang on, hang onto me... if you could only see what I see up ahead."

      I say this all with love.


    3. Heather -

      I agree with Lauren and support all of her examples and just wanted to add a few of my own thoughts:

      You are right that sin and suffering were not God's original plan. He wanted Eden for everyone. But now suffering and the consequences of sin are part of our daily lives.

      You are also right that God's heart breaks over our sufferings. He ultimately doesn't want us to experience those things. But, He does want us to experience the things that bring us closer to Him and mold us into the vessel He created us to be. He knows us best and knows exactly the sort of trials to place in our lives that will make us grow. And sadly, for some of us, that trial is the death of a child, or in your case, children.

      God didn't arbitrarily pick you or me for this particular suffering. He hand-picked us, for a reason only He knows, so that we could die more to self and so He would increase.

      My father-in-law/pastor preached a sermon shortly after Evie died and his main point was "God might hurt you, but He will never harm you." The molding He does in our lives to conform us to His image hurts. It's uncomfortable and we don't like it. But allowing us to grow through pain and find Him along the way is part of His plan.

      It really is hard to think the God who loves us would allow us to hurt and that it would be part of His "good" plan for the universe. But He does and it is. And we can be thankful because we know He won't allow one more hurt into our lives than will grow us and He will most certainly never, ever forsake us. And all the in between that we can't understand is an exercise of faith.

      I'm so sorry for the loss of your babies. I know the deep, deep pain. My prayer is that God will continue to carry you and reveal more of Himself to you as you continue to walk life's journey.

      Much love,

      ps ... a really wonderful book on this topic is Hinds' Feet in High Places, by Hannah Hurnard. It's a wonderful allegory about how the Lord uses troubles to bring us to high places. I highly recommend it. <3

    4. First of all, beautiful post, Sarah. I love the Shedd quote you ended with. I've never heard it before but I think it's says so much.

      I've thought a lot about this issue (does God give us suffering?), especially after the birth of my son. I wondered if God gave Simeon spina bifdia in order to teach me something or to teach him something or is suffering something that just happens. I really think we may be talking about very similar things but using different words to describe them.

      I know some may disagree, but I do not believe that God gave my son spina bifida. I do believe that suffering is part of living in a fallen world. But, as Lauren pointed out, nothing happens without the permissible will of God. I think there is a difference between God bestowing suffering and God using suffering. If every good and perfect thing comes down to us from Christ, I can not fathom that death would come down from Him as well. Is death allowed by God? Yes. Is death bestowed on us by God? I don't think so. Even in the story of Job (which, I should mention, is one Biblical story that I seriously struggle to understand!) God allows Satan to do as he wants-- but God himself does not give the boils, and the dead crops, and all the other painful stuff.

      At the school where I teach, our 5th graders hatch ducklings. I thought about this a lot after one of the ducklings (as happens every year) died shortly after hatching. I know we aren't ducklings and I know it's not the same, but I remember looking at that duck suffer and thinking "I would never tell this little duck that God wanted him to suffer in order to learn something, so why do I say that to myself?" I prefer to say, "I am suffering, because that's the nature of living on this earth, but I'm so thankful that God can use my suffering for good-- can redeem my suffering somehow-- just like he did for the blind man."

      Either way, I think we can all agree that God is using our suffering for good-- regardless of where it comes from. And Sarah, that book sounds like a good one. I'll have to hunt it down :)

    5. It certainly is an interesting topic, isn't it?

      I think I agree with Mary's comment - after Ariella's sudden death, I questioned whether God *planned* it or *allowed* it. I have come to the conclusion that I believe He allowed it, but didn't plan it. My husband and I fully believe that God will bring good from this suffering, and indeed He already has. But we don't think He caused it so that good would happen.

      And I certainly agree with Mary's conclusion - I'm sure all different viewpoints can agree that God certainly uses suffering for our good.

    6. I also believe that God allowed (vs. bestowed) Evie to be born the way she was. I'm not sure if I've talked about it much here, but the doctors actually revoked the diagnosis they originally gave us because, as my pregnancy progressed and they discovered more anomalies, Evie's condition didn't fit the mold of any condition they knew of. It was literally, just a combination of random genetic defects. Sometimes that hurts because, to me at least, it points directly to the fact that it was just something God allowed in her little life. There wasn't even a medical reason for it. But, all things work together for good and so, I know ultimately Evie's condition and losing her and all these other hard things that come with it can be called "good" because God intends them for good.

      As far as God allowing vs. bestowing pain ... I'm not sure we can ever make a blanket statement, God *never* bestows suffering (the Old Testament God's anger resulting in judgement on nations comes to mind, although I could certainly be wrong there), but I do think it's safe to say, God *allows* suffering in the lives of His children for the sole purpose of conforming them more and more into His image and accomplishing Kingdom work.

      Thank you all so much for these discussions. I never intend my words here to upset anyone and when words like *want* or *plan* with multiple definitions are used, meaning can be lost in translation. I certainly don't believe God is evil or intends evil, but sometimes He does plan it into our lives and uses it as part of His good plan. But we know all things work together for good, to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose Romans 8:28.

    7. I definitely wasn't hurt or upset by your words, and I hope you weren't by my words

    8. Hi Sarah-- I don't think your words were upsetting at all. The truth is, this isn't an abstract issue for you or for me or for any of us who have seen our children suffer and had our hearts broken. It's personal. I think that makes the conversation emotional but not upsetting. I think your post, written with so much heart and thoughtfulness, brought up something that we've all thought about-- the great big "Why is this happening to me?" question.

      Really, we could talk about it and debate/discuss all day but we may never fully know or understand. There is a mystery to God. Not everything can be understood by man-- much of Him is unknowable simply because He is so infinite. I think you started a good and healthy conversation about this issue and I'm thankful you did!

    9. So true ... we may never fully understand. And when things hit so close to home, it's a hard topic as well, just as you said. I'm glad for the discussion too ... important, hard truths.

      And thank you for your kind words, Mary Evelyn. <3

  2. I so love that quote you included in the end (well, of course - I loved it all). I'm mulling over lots in my heart right now, and I very much needed to read this.
    Thank you, as always.

    1. Isn't that such a great quote? I scribbled it down as soon as I heard it. What a great picture.

  3. Beautiful words Sarah - full of so much truth. <3

    1. Thank you Lauren. And thank you for your words here, too. <3

  4. Such great thoughts, Sarah. We're in pretty deep waters when we speak about the mind of God. Hudson Taylor appealed to all his missionaries to look past all the "second causes" of hardship in life, and to think of God as the "first cause." He said, "Come joy, or come sorrow, we may always take it from the hand of God....Judas betrayed his Master with a kiss. Our Lord did not stop short at Judas, nor did He even stop short at the great enemy who filled the heart of Judas to do this thing; but He said: ‘the cup which My FATHER hath given Me, shall I not drink it?’"

    Who makes a baby deaf or blind? We are surprised at God's answer? One of the most amazing things God ever said in the Bible is in Exodus 4:11, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?

    Why would God do such a thing? I don't know, I'm sure, but if making my baby blind would make him a hero in God's eternal heaven, I'd choose it for him, too.

  5. By the way, when I said, "if making my baby blind would make him a hero in God's eternal heaven, I'd choose it for him, too," you know that that is precisely what I think happened with our little girl. She took one for team Jesus (a big one), and the Lord's going to make it well worth it to her forever. (And to her brave mommy.)