First memories. First day at school. First love. First heartbreak. First failure. First loss.
What would you include in your life history?
I had to complete a life chronology form recently and it struck me how I judged my ‘significant moments’ and how many ‘firsts’ made the list. The form itself asked for a value judgement on these events and required an assessment of whether the significant event was deemed ‘good, bad or neutral’.
We encourage self reflection and retrospection on our lives and this is a great thing. However, as I was filling in the form, I became increasingly frustrated by this box: ‘goodm bad or neutral’, the term ‘neutral’ seeming increasingly inappropriate and the requirement to make a value judgement on past experiences really tough and uncomfortable. Were they good or bad? I admit I rebelled and for most of the entries I ended up putting ‘both’ because in every experience, as I reflected there was joy tinged with sorrow, there was victory but after battle, there was even suffering but with hope, and even a measure of clarity in hindsight.
I would say I have a naturally more positive, glass half full perspective, but adding ‘both’ to events that spoke of mine and others’ broken hearts, bodies and minds wasn’t just me putting a glossy veneer over painful pasts. Neither was I trying to be ‘deep’ adding both to seemingly wholly ‘good’ events- memories of family trips to Disneyland, but the magical 6 year old joy of that moment was accompanied by my dad leaving our family. The memory is strong and the good is to be celebrated, treasured, and the bad acknowledged and judged according to what it was. I’m not trying to be pedantic and of course certain events, my wedding day for one, was wholly deemed good. However, as I filled in this form, a verse kept coming to my mind from 2 Corinthians 6 where Paul is recounting the hardships he and others have endured and so commending himself and his coworkers in the gospel ‘as servants of God’ who are ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything’.
This is beautiful paradoxical living in Christ. Lives of expectant suffering and expectant hope.Called not to live neutral lives, putting a glossy coat of paint over the cracks in the wall, but to have real hope through real suffering.
Our lives in Christ are ones of heightened sensitivity. The bad is often sinful, evil, rebellion and our hearts grieve when our sin impacts others, and cry out in compassion and tenderheartedness when perceived in others and we bear the brunt. The good is glorious, certain hope, protected and treasured, stored up in our hearts and sealed there by the Spirit, lifting our hearts to long for eternal enjoyment of good forevermore, of perfection in heaven.
What would appear in your life history form and how would you judge it?
Something trifling to the world or not even a factor in another’s life chronology becomes a key moment of victory over sin for the son or daughter of God:
A date night at a restaurant is a victory against the eating disorder; a Father walking a daughter down the aisle becomes a testimony to the power of the reconciling message of the gospel; a confession of guilt the power of light shining on the darkness and freeing bondage to pride. Any one of these the awareness and celebration of the spirit’s work within the redeemed, and securing victories against the flesh.
Or a parent running a bath for a heartbroken teenager daughter following a first love breakup becomes a powerful display of empathy and compassion, the kindness of God enveloping and healing her heart, stored up and treasured forevermore.
A mother going to work the next day as usual is the testimony of the strength and endurance of the spirit for a single parent.
A routine hospital appointment becomes an event that will save a life and become a witness for Christ 10 years later.
Time with friends a victory over social anxiety; Talking to someone in the playground a fight against fear. Suddenly moments of seeming normality become triumphant rejoicing, events testifying to the heavenly realms meeting earth.
God doesn’t come into situations of our life that are bad and then work to sort them out, and bring them to an accepted level of neutrality. No, the situations, events of our lives are always both good and bad and that will always be the case this side of heaven. God is working in, through and on account of the bad, the devastating the evil and suffering. It is all under his Providence, all by his hand, on account of his purpose that surpass our understanding and perspective, however much retrospective reflection we make.
There is never a moment of our lives left without his presence and his Providence.
We like to judge our lives by good and bad experiences, reaching the end and deeming it good or bad. But in all the good and the bad all is lived by God’s grace, for his glory and the accomplishment of his loving purposes in and for us. And this is wonderfully freeing. Recently I read the following:
Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.
And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace
All by grace alone, and out of the abundance of God’s grace, we can confidently say that while our life experiences, our ‘significant moments’ are both good and bad, they are always being worked out for good and by God’s grace, under his Sovereign rule, and according to His power, might, love and perfect knowledge, He will accomplish the purposes that He has for us, in us, his always good purposes.
So as children of God we can boldly, honestly declare that ‘we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ Romans 5:3-5
It is God’s judgement that overrules and that is a wonderfully good thing! Because of Jesus, we never need fear a negative or neutral judgement. Our lives may never fear a neutral goal. Your suffering, your bad, awful, devastating experiences will not be wasted in God’s kingdom and his chronology of history. Not one moment of your pain or agony is overlooked or bypassed, but judged wonderfully in Christ. Every moment you experience is being worked to achieve something far more glorious than any of us can begin to imagine, and as part of a life history that includes the whole of God’s redemptive work for his children from the creation of the world until the day he welcomes us to Him. We do not await a bland, neutral standing before God, but in Christ, a welcomes, loved, accepted, desired, joyful belonging. In Christ, we are not only judged good but glorious, sharing in his glory.
The significance of your significant moments. The treasured and painful firsts. All are known completely and perfectly by God, and He who has begun a good work within yo will surely bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.
What would appear on your life chronology?
Your events will look different to mine. But every child of God has this in common:
You can rejoice in the suffering, glory in the good, knowing that your life will always be accomplishing a glorious testimony to the goodness of God.