Last weekend was supposed to be a nice long weekend. My wife is a nanny and the family she nanny’s for, who happen to be friends of ours, were taking a trip out of the province from Thursday through Monday. That meant a five day weekend for us and hopefully the ability to get caught up on all the stuff that piles up in life.
The last few months we’ve gone from one event to another with seemingly no ability to play catch up. Karly hurt her back, then Sam turned one and we had a bunch of family in town, then we started sleep training, then Sam got sick, then Karly and I got sick, then we got back into sleep training. This weekend was finally going to give us the time to do all the laundry, get household chores done, organize clothes bins as we’ve switched out winter clothes for summer ones and, honestly, just find some time to relax as a family. Sunday was both Karly’s birthday and Mother’s Day, which just adds to the excitement of the weekend.
But as luck would have it both Sam and Karly got sick (again) with the stomach flu (again). While the first time a few weeks ago seemed to be the 12-hour variety, this one was the five-day type. And suddenly our long weekend, the weekend to finally catch up on life and relax turned into the kind of weekend where Sam is constantly fussy and Karly can’t get up off the couch without feeling overwhelmingly fatigued. What was supposed to be tears of laughter became tears of frustration.
Of course, my first instinct was to turn negative. “Of course this would happen to us,” I thought. Our first nice weekend and the first opportunity to catch our breath and instead of going for walks or out to dinner to celebrate Karly’s birthday I’m sweeping up countless cheerios in between loads of laundry. I was so busy this weekend I didn’t even have a chance to write my blog post for Monday.
However, as much as this has been my initial reaction—one based on negativity and self-pity—I’ve been trying to reframe it. The reality is that Karly and Sam were going to get sick. Whatever virus they picked up, wherever they picked it up, they were bound to get it anyway. So instead I should be thankful Karly didn’t have to work as well. Having three kids under two on Thursday, Friday, and Monday would have been extremely challenging if Karly can’t even get up off the couch without exerting all her energy. They were going to get sick, the extra time off helped make a bad situation more bearable.
But these kinds of situations happen all the time, both big and small. At Christmas Karly’s dad gave us some extra money and we were very excited for what we could do with it. But then, on our way home after the holidays, we got stuck in Fort Lauderdale due to a massive blizzard hitting the Newark airport. Suddenly we found ourselves having to pony up for a couple extra nights at a hotel in Fort Lauderdale. My initial reaction was, like this weekend, to feel bitter that our good fortune was taken away from us. But once again, the reality is that we would have been stuck in Fort Lauderdale either way. This extra Christmas money meant we didn’t need to dip into our own savings in order to cover that cost.
I think as Christians a lot of us have a tendency to go one of two ways. There are those of us who seem to think we deserve to be blessed and get bitter or resentful when those blessings are taken away. We focus on the fact that our long weekend was taken away or our extra spending money had to go to something practical rather than on frivolous fun items.
In the Bible, you see this perspective in the story of Jonah. In Jonah 4, after telling the people of Nineveh to repent, Jonah goes out east of the city to watch what he hopes will be their destruction (Jonah is super racist against the Ninevites). Jonah creates a shelter for himself to stay out of the sun, but since it wasn’t that great of a shelter God caused a leafy plant to grow up and provide him with some shade.
At first, Jonah was very happy about the plant. But the next day God caused a worm to eat through the plant so it withered. Suddenly, even though Jonah was no worse off than when he started, he got angry about the plant. For some reason, Jonah believed he was entitled to the shade of the plant, even though he did nothing to cause it to grow. Jonah was provided with a blessing and then upset when it was removed to the point where he exclaims it would be better if he were dead.
I don’t really have a solution for this type of thinking, and it’s something I tend to struggle with a lot. The only thing I can think is to try and reframe it; to change my perspective to focus on the blessing rather than the misfortune.
Then there are others of us who seem to go the opposite direction. Instead of thinking we deserve blessing we seem to reject grace out of the belief that we are so terrible we don’t deserve it. And while that’s essentially the definition of grace, unmerited kindness, we’re not any further ahead if we reject the grace and the blessings of God simply because we feel like we’re not worthy.
Once again, I don’t really have a solution here. I think maybe we should learn to be okay accepting grace and kindness from others, especially from God. I know at least for me it can be hard to accept grace because it doesn’t really feel like grace. Somewhere in my mind, there’s always the fear that this person—whoever is showing me grace—will expect a repayment. There is a worry that the blessing has strings attached to it somehow. Which isn’t really grace at all.
But that’s not how God works. God isn’t interested in strings-attached grace, which isn’t truly grace at all. God is interested in unmerited kindness, in mercy and forgiveness.
Like I said, I don’t really have any solutions to these problems. I think we need to reframe our personal narratives. We need to start to see a world that is broken, which means that bad things will happen, but that there is a good God who loves to give good gifts working for us.