Word of the Week

When Times Are Good, When Times Are Bad

It's always the little things, isn't it that stick with us through life? It's usually not the grand gestures or the extravagant moments, but the whispers. The experiences that are engraved in our memory and won't let us go, even if we tried. Many call this the beginning of grace.

A gem like this has stuck close to me since high school-- though it was not taught to me by any teacher or shared with me by any friend. In fact, it's crazy that I remember it at all.  It came from a banner hanging in my school hallway.

From 7th grade on my parents sent me to a Christian school about a 30 minute drive from our home in downtown. They were concerned about the quality of education I'd receive from the public high school assigned to me and they felt really great about academic and social opportunities available for me at this place. My grandparents were even kind enough to help out with the tuition. Small class sizes, individualized attention and loads of spiritual formation was a part of everything I experienced here. Though I wish now that my teenaged years had been full of more racial, religious and socio-economic diversity, I am thankful for the spiritual foundation for my time at the Christian school gave me (basic Bible classes in seminary were much easier from all the preparation!).

In line with this value system, each year, the senior class would select a class verse and class hymn to be read and sung at graduation. Then later, each class' verse of scripture would be sown into a banner and placed along the walls above the lockers. The banners were usually all quite large and colorful. You could hardly walk down the halls without noticing them.

Though I have no memory of my particular class verse was, I do remember one. This banner hung directly across from the door I walked into every morning next to the principal's office. As I gathered my wits together to keep going through school each early morning, I read it daily and was memorized:

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. Ecclesiastes 7:14

It never made much sense to me, especially the ending. "Man (or woman) cannot discover anything about at his future?" Such a sentiment seemed to go against everything I thought I knew about God at the time. Growing up in a fundamental driven household, I believed that I grew up to do the right things at the right times, then my life would be free of trouble. The only people I thought at the time who experienced trouble were those who went against God's plans for their life. (And, with my "I'm spiritual" hat on I knew I wasn't one of them).

But, as I've grown up and heard the words, "when times are good . . . when times are bad" in the back of my head, this verse of scripture has equally made more sense to me and frustrated me all the same.

No matter how good you are or not, life interrupts. Plans you once betted your life on are quickly destroyed. People whom you thought would be in your life forever simple do not have the breath to climb the mountains with you.  Grief comes. Sadness comes. The unexplained comes. Life makes absolutely no sense. We cannot have a specific 30 year life plan and even dare to think it will come true. We just don't know. And, it's frustrating. Many of us truly wish for life to simply be more lineal and fair.  And it isn't. It never will be.

But, this does not take from us the moments-- the pure and beautiful moments of our journey. Which is what I think this verse is all about.

When life is good, let's rejoice, but when it bad, let's remember that each experience of life can be just a season. Life's joys, even as tainted as they may be by past losses, will return. Joy comes in the morning . . . (even if we have to wade through the night for years and years and years).

Over the past couple of weeks, I've heard countless stories from friends and colleagues about this dichotomy of life.

Some parents' children have died much too young from rare diseases. While other parents' children have soared into a new school year-- making their first goal at soccer matches and getting their first 100% on Spelling Tests. Some parents have cried new deep rivers of tears. Other parents have smiled for so long they thought their mouths would burst.

Some marriages have ended in bitter word wars over financial issues. While other marriages have only just begun with cakes, glamour photos and gleeful expectations based on promises for a long future. Some have entered new dark seasons of self-doubt and life crushing agony. Other folks have soared to high once in a lifetime emotional peeks.

Some long-term partnerships have ended because of the death of one from an unsuccessful battle with cancer. While other partnerships have soared with the expectations of new shared dreams and common goals. Some have cried tears they never expected to ever leak. Other folks have simultaneously said to themselves, "I didn't know that life could be this wonderful."

This is the mystery of life. Or as my friend Leslie said the a couple of days ago on Facebook, "On any given "best" day, someone, somewhere, is having their worst day.  I guess that's the deal.  Please God, give us strength when we need it."

I'm glad for the ever-present reminder of this wisdom as I long for the day when we are all made whole.