Fridays with Susan
I can't tell you all of Michael's story because it's his to tell. But I can tell you about his response. I asked for permission to write this account, and he freely and instantly gave it.
His piercing brown eyes misted over, but he wasn't giving in to tears. He sat across from me, having just been given the unexpected news that his life was about to be turned upside down. All his answers were suddenly becoming questions. All his security suddenly was cast adrift on a stormy, stormy sea. Without sharing the details of what he was facing, trust me that his situation is really tough. He had every right to react to the news with some strong emotion. And he had every reason for that emotion to be negative. I braced myself for what I thought was about to come. It didn't come. Not like that.
I could see pain in his eyes - a man about to break. But I could see resolve in there too. I watched something I recognized as courage materialize there right before my eyes as he forced his face into a smile. He willed the corners of his mouth to trun up; yes, he literally willed that smile into existence. Under the circumstances, it should have looked fake. But it didn't. It's one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. And one I will never forget.
"I'm going to be happy," he said. "I'm going to trust in my God - because what else can I do? He will take care of me and my family."
I looked at him hard. "Michael, considering what you're going through, that's an incredible attitude!" I phrased it almost as a question... I wanted to comfort and encourage, but there was nothing I would be able to do or say that could possibly help. He took my words as an invitation to explain to me, but at the same time, it seemed, to preach the truth out loud to his own soul. I wonder if he knew how tightly I was hanging on to every word.
"What's the point of getting all down, and upset and complaining?" he said. "I'm going to go through this whether I'm happy or sad. If I get all miserable and unhappy, what is that going to help? Being miserable won't help anything." He said it again, "I have to go through it anyway, so I might as well choose to be happy. I'm just going to trust God. He knows what he is doing. That's it." His eyes were becoming clear and his smile looked more relaxed and natural. He began to list for me, and for himself too, I suppose, all that he was grateful for. The list was long, and every item came easily to his lips. You could tell he was used to practicing gratitude. He was blowing me away.
I felt so convicted. I quickly explained to him my own situation. A situation in which I have fought hard of late to keep a positive attitude. A situation in which I have given in all to often to grumbling and complaining and whining about my lot. I thought it was my right to complain like that! But compared to what Michael was facing in that moment, I have had absolutely nothing to complain about. His words rang so true. "I have to go through it anyway. I might as well choose to be happy in it."
"Do you know what that means?" I offered. He raised his eyebrows a little and waited for me to answer my own question. "You're right. You have to go through this anyway. But if you have a positive attitude you don't have to repent when you come through the other end. You can just rejoice and celebrate, because you knew all along that God was going to bring you through. You didn't waver.."
I thought about how I knew that... There are so many examples in my life where circumstances have been difficult and instead of trusting in the goodness of God and the knowledge that he has a great and wonderful plan that all of this fits into, I have given in to fear and anger, and grumbling and complaining all too often. His grace and his goodness always prevails, of course. And when the blessing he had in mind all along suddenly comes to light I can't enjoy it because first I have to spend some time repenting of my terrible attitude. "Father please forgive me for not trusting in your goodness. Please forgive me for grumbling and complaining."
I told Michael that I could never complain about my situation again. "You are such an example to me," I said to him. "If you can be grateful in the middle of this, I can be grateful in my puny little situation. Thank you." His eyes looked back at me with deep joy. It was a "God-moment" for both of us. We could simultaneously feel his sovereign hand in our hearts and on our lives.
I told Michael that if I ever complain again, I pray that God would put his face in front of me and remind me that I can choose to be happy. "Just like you," I said. "Because if you can choose to be happy right now, there's no reason for me to be anything but happy in any circumstance I might be going through."
I have never felt such a deep and sudden sense of repentance. Of turning from walking in one direction to instantly walking in another. I felt something break inside of me. Something good. Like the groom in a Jewish wedding who breaks a glass under his heel to signify that his old life is over - and something has permanently changed. Just as surely as that glass can not become "unbroken" again, so I cannot go back to being the way I was. Through Michael's response of faith, God's mercy has brought me to repentance. I will never be the same.
Thank you, Michael, for slipping up there to the tip of the Vee . You are truly a leader in the Kingdom of God.