God has gifted me with wise friends. When my kids were young, I struggled with wanting to make sure I treated my children fairly in every possible situation. One of our wise friends who had kids about the same age as ours, saw my struggle and pointed out that it was a fruitless struggle. He told me that when his kids complained that something wasn't fair, he would simply respond, "You are right, life isn't fair." He went on to explain that he viewed parenting as preparing our kids for real life. I was reminded of that conversation as I have worked through the Bible study, Discovering Hope in the Psalms. This week I am studying Psalm 73, which is Asaph's psalm in which he is trying to reconcile what he knew about God with what he believed he was seeing in the world.
The first time I remember struggling with thoughts about life not being fair was in the eighth grade. I came into art class and as I was sitting down a fellow student pulled my chair out from under me. I wasn't hurt, but because I was wearing a dress I was pretty embarrassed. The teacher became angry and marched the student to the principal's office. The guy and I were friends and I took it as a joke, not something he had done maliciously. But when he got to the principal's office everything changed. He told the principal he had done it because I had called him a racially derogatory name. The next thing I knew, I was called to the office and lectured about what I had done. I was crushed, because if anyone used racially derogatory name in my presence, I confronted them. Additionally, the principal never once seemed to consider that the student might be lying to get out of trouble. I remember crying out to God as I sat through that lecture feeling confused and unheard, telling him how unfair it was that I was being accused of something I wouldn't do, especially when I had tried to take a stand with people who did what I was being accused of.
The next time I struggled with the "not fair" thoughts at a deep level was when someone close to me was struggling with infertility. It was at the time that abortion was becoming legal. I remember her telling me all that she had gone through trying to conceive. Within a day or two, I heard about an acquaintance who chose to have an abortion and watched a news story about a baby found in a dumpster. Those thoughts crossed my mind again on a short-term mission trip when a man came up to us and frantically begged us to come pray with his wife. When we got over to her she was slumped over in a drug-induced haze. As we knelt down beside her it became obvious that she was very pregnant. Life was unfair that she was going to be giving birth to a baby who would in all probability be born addicted, and my loved one who would have cared for a baby couldn't conceive. Those thoughts occurred again when I stood at the grave of my friend's six-month old baby, knowing her breasts were still full and her empty arms were aching.
The next time I struggled with those thoughts was when I was sitting in church one evening and met a couple new to our church. She made it clear that she didn't want to live in Mississippi. My heart ached so much because my husband tried so hard to get a position in that town after He finished his doctorate, but nothing became available and we were having to leave a place we loved and in which we felt at home. I remember going home that night and crying long and hard after the kids went to sleep, resenting the lady and anyone else God brought into that college town.
I still occasionally struggle with thoughts of "it isn't unfair" when I see sweet friends who live godly lives, longing to be married and know others who are on their second or third marriage complaining about their current spouses. I struggle with those thoughts when I know a man who has been full of integrity in the work place is laid off while a lying backstabber keeps their job. I struggle with those thoughts when I think of friends who would never drive under the influence who were either killed by drunk drives or suffered traumatic brain injuries that forever altered their life. I struggle with those thoughts when seeing the pictures of natural disasters when one house or street of houses is demolished and another one stands. I struggle with those thoughts when a young person is killed by violence, who had plans to be a NICU nurse, a doctor, a teacher, a pastor, an artist, a chemist, or an engineer, knowing sex traffickers, drug dealers, and people full of hate live and impact this world in such negative ways. I struggled with those thoughts when good kids were taken by cancer and brain cysts and others weren't.
Sometimes good people respond in hurtful ways as we share our pain with them. Jean E. Jones, one of the authors of the Psalms study I am doing shared that after one of her miscarriages, a young man approached her and encouraged her to remember that God probably knew she would be a terrible mom. She confronted the young man and pointed out the errors in his thinking, but many people don't confront. They just suffer, feeling shamed to the core. I have known people struggling with autoimmune diseases who were told if they would deal with unconfessed sin, God would heal them. I was even told that if I dealt with resentment over an accident I was in, I would lose my limp and be able to walk normally again. Resentment, by-the-way, that I didn't experience. Looking at Job and the discussions he had with his friends, I am pretty sure generations of people have had these kinds of experiences, feelings, and thoughts. There is a part of us that wants life to be fair and there is a part of us that really wants God's grace to be a "right" that comes with trying to be good.
I think it is important for us to deal with the "not fair" thoughts by taking them to the Lord. I learned several years ago it is okay to ask God questions. I also learned sometimes my questions are just statements of protest in disguise when something doesn't seem fair. It is at that point that I can choose to go down the path of pride believing I know what is best for me and everyone I know, which leads to envy, discontentment, anger, and sin. Or, I can choose the path of humility, acknowledging that I am not God, and the view from my human perspective is limited and sometimes tainted by lies I believe or my desire to have more control over painful events my loved ones or I experience. It is important to realize the very events we consider unfair may be the events God uses to expose parts of our hearts that aren't surrendered fully to Him. They may expose ungodly desires for control that is not ours to have. They may expose trauma or losses we never acknowledged or grieved that He desires to heal. They may expose desires that over time we have made into idols we think must be fulfilled to be happy or to prove that God really is good. They may expose lies we believe about God and how His goodness and grace are to be manifested. If we aren't careful, we can become bitter, and bitterness can skew our view of God causing us to withdraw from Him, slander Him, or even rage against Him as many people in our culture are now doing.
I know, I want to process the "not fair's" I face as Asaph did in Psalm 73 so that in the face of the hard, I know without a doubt that God is good. I want to rest assured that He holds me with His right hand and will guide me with His counsel every step of the way until, in His perfect timing, He receives me to glory. While longing for glory, I want to be content and live in such a way Asaph's words are my words, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever...But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge that I may tell of all your works."