"And we know that for those who love God
all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to His purpose."
I hate to admit it, but I am a friend of potholes. I first became acquainted with them when I had my learner's permit. It was usually my mom who rode with me and she would often tell me to watch out for the potholes in the road. But, to me, the road looked smooth and I would invariably hit the ones she was warning me about. We were both frustrated but I wasn't seeing what she was seeing. Then one day it became obvious that I was having trouble seeing the black board at school. After being fitted with glasses, my mom let me drive home. That day as we pulled away from the curb, I verbalized my experience of seeing through lenses. I admitted I didn't realize I should be able to actually read the names of streets on street signs, read license plates, or see the chrome on the backs of cars. Then when I pulled off of the main street to go to our house, she reminded me to watch out for potholes and I could actually see what she was talking about as I navigated a much smoother ride home.
Over time I've realized there are all sorts of potholes. There are small ones we can barely see that don't cause any damage. There are larger potholes that aren't very deep that may jar us , but leave the car intact. In California we have earthquake damaged roads riddled with many little potholes that are barely discernible. Yet, when we drive on them we can feel the car vibrating as we hit pothole after pothole. I am also very familiar with potholes that are of the deeper variety caused by semi's. These do quite a bit of damage to tires, throw off the alignment, and can rip oil pans in two. We hit one of these while driving on a country road. Suddenly, we saw the large pothole in our lane, but with oncoming traffic and our speed, we were unable to safely move to the shoulder to avoid it. It did quite a bit of damage that required us to replace the oil pan.
Many times I've heard people using the analogy of a journey to explain life. I think potholes is a good addition to this analogy. We bump into some potholes because we are spiritually blind. Perhaps we grew up in a home or in a culture that had certain practices that aren't healthy or godly even though they are generally accepted by society or our family group. We experience bumps and bruises with these potholes without realizing it because the potholes are so familiar and because we are blind to the fact that the potholes are doing damage to relationships and causing pain. Consider a family where lying is a pattern as it was in Jacob's family. We may want to be trusted and respected, but when we are given to lying that makes it difficult to get what we desire most. We may desire a healthy rich marriage, but if we grew up in a home riddled with gender contempt, we may be prone to do things or display attitudes that prevents the very thing we desire most. I have had other point out behaviors and/or attitudes that were a blind spot for me. I didn't even realize I did or said things until they were pointed out to me.
Then there are the small spiritual potholes we face daily from simply living in a sinful world. We experience minor and major abuses and sometimes we are abusive as we allow the sinful flesh to drive behavior or speech. We experiences some pretty big bumps and deeper emotional bruises from these types potholes. In a fallen world we may also experience weather interrupting plans, cashiers being rude, a teacher yelling in frustration, mom's snapping because they're stressed, and a friend hastily speaking unkind words. We can often navigate these things unless we are tired or too many of them happen in a short amount of time and we get our eyes off of Jesus and begin to judge others and/or ourselves, resulting in our responding in ways that only dig the potholes deeper.
There are spiritual potholes that resemble the ones caused by earthquakes. The are usually potholes that are the aftermath of some kind of early childhood trauma or life altering event that was swept under the carpet and never dealt with. We look like everyone else and yet, the journey we are on now is full of little pits and holes that continue to shake our lives, make our relationships more difficult, and make it more difficult to fully trust God. We appear normal and look like we are navigating life pretty well but there is just this underlying knowledge that the tiny pits are there and they make us feel unsafe, unstable, and wear us out as we navigate life. It is frustrating because we know we are different, but are often unaware as why..
There are also those huge Spiritual potholes we may see up a head. Sometimes, we can navigate around them. This might be as we recognize the devastating affects of sinful behavior and turn away from the behaviors. This might be when we recognize unhealthy, hurtful relationships and establish boundaries that prevent us from experiencing unnecessary pain. This might occur as we make financial decisions and recognize there are spiritual principals we can adopt that will lead us to financial freedom. This might occur as we recognize we do things that have the potential to destroy relationships we really value and we choose to change the way we relate. It may occur as we recognize a pattern in ourselves that is hindering the growth of our relationship with the Lord and choose to practice spiritual disciplines instead.
Then there are those more devastating potholes. Some we see coming and others we do not. These are the potholes that tend to be life altering--a spouse walking after twenty years married, a wife choosing an addiction over her family, a son succumbing to the dark voice of depression as he takes his life, a daughter starving herself too thin, and a parent being lost in the fog of Alzheimer's. It could also be the stock market crashing as retirement funds disappear, jobs are lost, and no one feels financially secure. These could also be oncoming hurricanes, tsunamis, or major earthquakes destroying homes, taking lives, and squashing a sense of safety. These could be a loved ones dying in accidents, a young father disabled by brain bleeds, and a soldier returning home without his limbs. It could be a woman raped, pornography found on spouses' phones, and children being preyed upon. It could be mass shootings in schools, malls, churches, or theaters--destroying hearts that once felt safe and causing minds to be forever riddled with flashbacks of horror.
This journey called life has lots and lots of potholes. Because of this, we run the risk of remembering that they are not just potholes, they are spiritual potholes because they either draw us to or drive us away from God. We don't realize those pesky little potholes are moments of grace that slightly disrupt life so we can examine what we really believe about God, life, and love. We forget they are opportunities to make adjustments and grow as we practice loving in the face of irritation, trusting in the face of interruption, and releasing our will and our ways to His.
Those spiritual potholes caused by childhood trauma are potholes that feel unjust because life, loving, and trusting is harder for victims. But they are grace because God has promised us that His grace is sufficient--sufficient enough to allow us to wrestle with His sovereignty over trauma, sufficient enough to allow us to wrestle hard with the concept of forgiving the unforgiveable, and sufficient enough to allow us to connect to the heart of God in a way that provides deep healing and power we never knew we had. No matter how deep the wounding from trauma, His love is bigger still. If we lean into Him in our pain, we will experience healing and a deeper intimacy that can only come from fellowship of suffering abuse similar to His own.
The potholes we experience because of living in a fallen world offer us grace by giving us the drive to seek God's wisdom to solve life's problems. It is grace because it affords us the opportunity to examine ourselves and confess our sin, removing all barriers to the sanctification to which God has called us. They give us the opportunity to see His face on every page of His Word as we dig deep for His wisdom. They give us the opportunity to experience and express grace as His image bearers who were ultimately saved by grace through faith and who have been changed to become grace givers.
Even those large potholes that leave us feeling breathless and unstable ground are graces that have been filtered by the love-scarred hands of a traumatized Savior. Our losses create in us a homesickness for our heavenly home where there will be no more death, no more sin, no more sickness, and no more sorrow. Our losses tend to reveal to us the idols we have held onto without knowing it. Spouses, children, jobs, friends, money, bodies, culture, churches, or our health can all be false sources of security and pride. Without meaning to, we often find our selves looking to these to find our worth, value, and significance. When we lose them, we are stripped bare and all we have left in the pain is God--the God who created us and who can sustain us when we are assailed by devastation. Sometimes it takes major life altering potholes to reveal to us our tendency to look for God's benefits instead of God Himself.
As the new year begins, I want to confess my own sense of entitlement to an easy smooth life and embrace the truth that this journey is going to be chock full of potholes. I want to look at the journey through the lens of His truth so that I can avoid all avoidable potholes that cause unnecessary suffering. I want to navigate the journey in such a way that when I am faced with those big potholes I can't avoid, I will do it with grace and an ever growing faith that seeks the One who can wisely be my navigator, who can be my stability, and be my sense of safety when jolted. I want to know the One who was hated and still loved, who was abused and still healed, who was betrayed and remained faithful, who was crucified for sin and rose victoriously to give life.