When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Sep 26, 2019
Today I pray the Serenity Prayer for friends whom I hold close to my heart:
May God grant you the wisdom to understand and evaluate all the doctors say, to ask the questions that need to be asked and to make the decisions that need to be made.
May God grant you the courage to go forward with your usual optimism and faith, even if the road is rough and crooked and obstacles along the way make the journey difficult.
May God grant you the serenity to accept all that you cannot control and cannot change.
And finally, may God send the Comforter to bring you the peace that passes all understanding.
How many times in life have you faced tough choices and—like in the multi-choice tests of schooldays—you wanted to check “none of the above”? I certainly have, and I ask God, “How can I possibly find joy in such difficult times?”
In recent years, I have been reminded too often of that dreadful verse in the letter of James, brother of Jesus: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring…. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13–15, NRSV)
Too often, my tomorrows have not been what I expected and wanted. I find myself increasingly uncomfortable speaking with conviction that I am going to do so-and-so. Instead, I catch myself saying, I plan to…I hope to…I’m scheduled to…
And I know too well that I don’t know how many tomorrows I have. My attorney keeps reminding me, “Ella, you need to be prepared (simultaneously) to live to 100 or to die tomorrow.” Denial is not a wise option.
Readers familiar with Young Life or Laity Lodge and the related ministries provided by the Howard Butt family may recognize the name Frog Sullivan. In the early ’70s, shortly before he moved from Corpus Christi, where he was Young Life director, to Laity Lodge in the Texas Hill Country, he spoke to teenagers in my church about “The Myth of Christianity.” He said that too many think that the Bible teaches “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and live happily ever after.” Instead, Frog explained that Jesus made only one promise: Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:20 KJV)
While I have always known that intellectually, my heart rebels when bad things happen to good people. When my dad was diagnosed with an always-fatal cancer at age 75, I protested to my pastor, “It’s not fair.” His answer, though it seemed cold at the time, was true. “Ella, life is not fair.”
I did not want to accept that. None of us do. So I keep praying the Serenity Prayer, asking for the courage to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference.
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Photo of Corpus Christi Bay by Sarah Norris.
Ella describes her journey from grief to joy after her husband’s death in Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, which was published in 2018 by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press. It may be ordered here.