Life defining moments come in many forms. They come in the form of temptations--the temptation to use porn, addictive substances, binging and purging, entering unhealthy relationships, holding on to bitterness, or using harsh words that cut to the core. They come in the form of choices--do we take this job or that job, attend a neighborhood church or one across town, go on the mission field or stay on the home field, work or become a stay at home mom, home school or put our children in public school? Defining moments come in events beyond our control--events like natural disasters, accidents, illnesses, deaths, infidelity, or acts of abuse perpetrated against us.
Sometimes defining moments alter our lives in ways that they present ongoing defining moments. A couple of years ago my husband and I went out to eat and saw a couple in the restaurant. He was sitting beside her and feeding her. She wasn’t cognizant of her surroundings, but he was very attentive. When they left, he helped her up and took both her hands in his and walked backwards so she could walk forward face to face with him. They took small shuffling steps as he looked directly into her eyes, smiling the whole time. They went five or six steps and then he took her gently into his arms and embraced her sweetly. After a moment or two they resumed the shuffle. They did this repeatedly until they got to their car. While, I am sure her illness was a huge defining moment for them as individuals and as a couple, her illness causes him to face ongoing defining moments daily. He can choose to love with acceptance, patience, kindness, and endurance or become angry, bitter, and cold. While watching him treat her tenderly, I had the feeling I was on sacred ground, seeing him live out his true identity as a man, as a husband, and as a follower of Jesus. I had the feeling I was seeing Jesus Himself love and encourage her through her spouse. "Come on, Sweetie, just take one more step, your almost home.”
While defining moments are hard to experience and difficult to navigate, they are one of the vessels God uses to extend His grace to us. There are several ways we experience His grace. First, defining moments force us to come face to face with what we believe about our identity. If we are really honest, we have to admit we wrestle with our identity daily. Whether defining moments involve our sin, another's sin, or rob us of heart longings, we can fail to remember we are beloved, redeemed, set apart, empowered, and gifted and let our mistakes, our sin, another’s sin or what the enemy whispers define us and accept the lies as the truth. Those ugly lies paralyze and shame us—lies like stupid, ugly, invisible, barren, unloved, unlovable, too much, and not enough. Even after embracing our true identity, we face events, people, or circumstances that surface those old lies, forcing us to choose again and again to believe what Jesus has said about us. We sometimes even act out of who we were before He saved us or before He began a healing work in us. If we grasp the concept of our true identity, it helps us navigate those defining moments by guiding our decisions, changing the words we use, and governing our actions, especially when our flesh is raging battle with our spirits. And giving us the opportunity to live out our true identity is grace.
Defining moments also force us to look at what we really believe about our God. Parents who bury children have to come to terms with what they really believe about God in the face of deep grief. Is there really an afterlife? Is God really good? Does He really care about their pain? Can He really work the horrible devastation they feel to their good? Those who experienced natural disasters must wrestle with their beliefs about God who allowed widespread destruction as they pick through the remains of a home the earth shook to rubble. They wrestle with God as they remember children snatched from their arms by floodwaters. A woman who has begun to have flashbacks of sexual abuse will wrestle long and hard with who God is as she is plagued with the memories of praying for safety only to be victimized again and again. She will have to decide at some point if she believes her God is good and trustworthy in the face of seemingly unanswered prayers that left her feeling invisible, unheard, unprotected, and less loved. And giving us the opportunity to bring our doubt to the light and deal with it is grace.
Defining moments also expose our misplaced affections and puts us in a place that we must choose to act our of our faith. We can get so easily distracted by the things of this world, by the life we think we are supposed to have, and by the many different directions our hearts get pulled in a given day. But when we face difficult defining moments, our love get refined in ways that we can't even imagine before hand. People who have lost beautiful homes in fires and floods last year repeatedly said those things paled in comparison to having their families safe and still being able to hold their children in their arms. I am sure that even as they continue the hard work of rebuilding homes and lives, they will have a love focus so different than those of us who haven't face the loss of homes and the near loss of families and there is grace in that refining of our love.
Several years ago, our youngest son was wheeled into surgery after his spleen had ruptured. I faced the fear of losing him and even with the crowd of family surrounding me, I felt alone. I was terrified because there was nothing I could do to insure I would get the outcome I desperately wanted because the God I was asking to heal my son was the same God who had every right to choose to heal him or not. There were several complications that kept him in the hospital for 16 days, ten of which were in ICU. There were times I was overwhelmed, wondering if he could continue to fight his way back to health. As I slowly began to remember my identity in Christ, I understood that as alone as I felt, I wasn’t alone! I wrestled honestly with what I believed about God, knowing in my head He is good, though I struggled to fully trust it in my heart. I was forced to decide if I really believed in His goodness no matter what the outcome might be. I never doubted that God could heal him, but had to learn to trust His goodness with His sovereign plans as I watched our son deal with unimaginable pain and tubes that drained the fluid from around his heart. The decision to remind myself of who I was in Christ and to choose to trust God was who He says He is helped me to be able to stay engaged with my son those long days and nights. Choosing to pray to the God who held his life in balance gave me hope and strengthened me when I had nothing left to give. During that time God showed me grace by allowing me to see my son through new eyes as it gave us sixteen days in close quarters to get to know each other. Those days with a son in ICU who handled the situation with grace and dignity definitely changed my heart and mind about what is really important in life and that change has impacted my decisions and actions since.
Some defining moments are small, but have the potential to impact life in big ways because we have a big God! We face those kinds of "small" moments in marriage after kids come, life is busy, jobs are demanding, energy is low, patterns of neglect set in, and distance between spouses grows and loneliness cuts to the core where seeds of hurt and bitterness grow. It’s when each long to be seen and heard, when hope is low, and the desire to retreat strong that defining moments present themselves the loudest. That moment is when God tugs at a heart to be the first to reach out, the first to take a hand, the first to serve the other, the first to speak words of affirmation, or to be the first to apologize for the neglect of the relationship. It is in that moment when everything in us waits for the other to move first that our pride can either grow or it can melt. The humility that can cause us to act first moves a couple one degree closer and that degree has the potential to radically change a marriage. That hesitant touch, that thirst offering, that kindness spoken, or that apology whispered without excuse can stir the last ember of dying love, allowing it to burn bright again. That little changes can evoke big changes is grace.
Our defining moments give us the opportunity to remember who God is, allowing us to see His redemption stories that prove He is capable of redeeming what we deemed too broken, too dirty, or too lost. A small act of obedience gives us a chance to move knowledge of God from head to heart, giving us the will and the power to act in new exciting, living-giving ways. It is in the exact moment we act that we are snatching the victory from the enemy’s hands, proving God redeems our pain. It is in life defining moments God takes a grain of faith and builds it into a powerful faith that knows no bounds and that is grace.
Our God is a God of grace. Even His sovereignty that allows life defining moments is ruled by that attribute. We can look back and see how things that wounded us have impacted our lives and brought us face to face with our true identity in Christ. We can see how those moments brought us face to face with what we believe about God. We can see how they brought us to the place that what we truly love was refined and how those moments brought us to the place we had to decide what we would do with what we believe and afford us the opportunity to live out loud what we believe. How differently our stories feel when we grasp this concept of life defining. It in fact strengthens our relationship with God so that it can satisfy the deepest parts of our hearts where our God cravings reside. Could it be that the life defining moments we once thought were bad, are really graces designed by His own love scarred hands?