Remember the old "I dream of Jeannie" tv series where Jeannie the genie could just blink her eyes and make something happen, disappear or change? While I didn't want to live in a bottle - no matter how luxurious - I did want to have that ability. In fact, there are days when I still wish that I could just blink my eyes and things would change.
I can't tell you how many times in my own life and even more so in my vocation as a pastor, I wished that I could blink and make something disappear. Sure there have been a few of "those people" that fell into this category, but more often it was when someone found out that they cancer or another illness, when a beloved family member had died, they lost their job, were going through a divorce and so many other terrible things that people live in the midst of everyday. If I could just make people's pain - along with my own - go away....
As I look back on my own life and see the path that I have journeyed, there have been many rough places along the way. There were days when all I seem to encounter was a steep and sheer cliff with no way up or around it. There were other times when I was tripping over rocks, potholes and other obstacles. Times when all I seemed to do was fall down, skin my knees and shout in frustration. Or how about those days when the path seemed clear and then a storm broke out and the path was washed away? My cry would go up - Lord, please make the "rough places smooth and the crooked straight" recalling the promises spoke by Isaiah and repeated by John the Baptist.
Yet, there was no flash of light, no blinking of the eyes, no reversing of time to restore things back to the way that I wanted them. Was God not listening? Was this a test? Had I done something to deserve this? Where was Jeannie when I needed her?
If I look closer along that rough path, I notice God at work. God did not cause these bad things to happen, but rather offered me a hand and a way through them. Most often, it has been through the gift of others. The prayers, the shared strength, guidance and comfort from others helped me to scale those sheer cliffs, to pick me up when I had fallen, to hold me up when I didn't feel as if I could go on. I see faces of family, friends and even strangers along that path.
Often it is said (wrongly) that God doesn't give us more than we can handle. I don't know about you, but there have certainly been times when there had just been toooooo much for any one person to handle. And the God that I believe and know about is not one who brings bad things to bear upon people's lives. We live as fragile people with free will in a fragile world where life gets broken, bruised and worn out. God only desires the best for us as his beloved.
If we read Paul's words to the Corinthians, we hear about the God who does not test us: "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it." (I Corinthians 10:13)
God provides that "way out" and through these times and experiences. Through Jesus Christ we see how these rough places are smoothed through the power of the resurrection. We find that we are strengthened as we endure and live through these times. I see how God used the "death" of a job, a relationship or another experience to open up new possibilities and new ventures for my life. Our faith can be formed by these experiences.
I would still like to be able to blink my eyes and change my life at times. I still wish that many of these bad times and experiences had never happened. Yet, I also see the ways in which my faith has been formed and strengthened. I see how God has blessed my life through others who have helped and supported me along the way - that I would not change.