You know, a lot of people think the whole purpose of human existence is to try get rid of all your problems, and a lot of those people are Christians. If this is what you think life is all about, you’re nailed, because you’ll never do it. I think the best we can hope for is to just exchange the problems we don’t like for other problems we can live with. For most people I know, this is what life consists of; the perpetual, sometimes exhausting, often expensive, pursuit of new, more manageable and socially acceptable problems.
I myself have quite a few problems. At the moment, they relate mostly to money, to my need to maintain the aging and quite weathered body I inhabit, and to having four children ranging in age from twenty two to ten years old to mother. Luckily, a lot of my problems aren’t mine to bear alone. I have a husband to share them with, and I’m pleased to say that right now my marriage is probably the least of my problems. It hasn’t always been so, but we’ve been working pretty hard on it and it’s going well. There have been times when the set of problems associated with our marriage seemed insurmountable, and we lost hope that we would ever be able to make it work, but by the grace of God, and because it’s still illegal to kill your spouse, we’ve been able to see it through. I think marriage works best when you both have the same set of problems to work on, and is even better when those problems don’t include each other.
What are problems anyway? I think they are things someone else is able to convince us we have wrong with us. I know I wouldn’t have half my problems if I didn’t have a television. If you ask me, advertising is just one long, steady stream of information designed to undermine all sense of happiness and wellbeing, a constant reminder of what I haven’t accumulated yet, as if I needed reminding. If television is to be believed, things, and perhaps rock hard abs, are what make us happy. I guess if solving the problems that come with owning lots of stuff is what you enjoy doing, then probably having stuff will make you happy. Not me. Call me lazy, but if it were up to me, I’d live in a caravan and never do housework, and just drive my car into the ground. I don’t really want the problems that come with having lots of new things. I have enough trouble trying to stay in one size of pants and remembering the birthdays of everyone in my family. I hate to think what I’ll be like when I’m eighty.
In my twenties, I thought it was possible to eradicate my problems. I thought I could just choose my way through them and out the other side. For example, I cured my issues with body image by keeping myself pregnant for about a decade. I think my becoming a Christian was probably meant to serve the same purpose. Christianity promised me freedom from the burden of past problems, and freedom from the worry of any new ones. I have wondered since then whether all the things that happened between then and now were as a result of a misunderstanding on my part, or a shortcoming on God’s.
One thing I could not have predicted is that my inability to manage any of my problems, my cancer, my marriage collapse, my husbands alcoholism and breakdown, was actually what ended up bringing God and I together after twenty five years of Christianity. I thought that my being imperfect was what kept me from being close to God, that my problems showed how bereft I was and how far I had to go. I thought my crappy life was evidence of my wrongness, of Gods distance, of my un-Christianness. But if I were as fixed up as I wished I was, I’d never have been able to receive the grace that cost God so much to give me.
When I was a little girl, the greatest compliment someone could pay my parents after they had minded me was “Oh, she was no trouble.” And that’s what I still want in my heart so much to be seen as…no trouble. I am not too much. I am not a pest. I can be good and well-behaved and low-maintainance. You don’t need to fix me, keep me, mend me God. I am worth keeping. I’m worth not leaving. But God is not a man that He would leave, or leave me, or lie. He is God, and He knows I can’t do this on my own, that it can’t be done. And doing it right isn’t about doing it right, getting it right, making it all perfect…it’s about doing it together. It’s about needing Him and being able to be content with myself as someone who needs Him. It’s about accepting that problems are part of my life, and because they are, He is.
My self-sufficiency may impress my friends, relieve my parents and irritate my enemies, but it pretty much renders God’s grace toward me void. And it’s not that I make problems in order to validate God’s grace; I don’t need to. Problems are coming whether I want them or not. As my friends and I say, everyone’s got the stuff. But the thing is, if you’ve got the stuff, you’ve also got God’s grace. If you’ve solved all your shortcomings, you don’t need it. And He wants to give it. Two weeks ago, I saw God move to bring two people together with something uncommon in common who needed each other desperately and didn’t know how to find each other…and neither of them are Christians, but everyone who watched it unfold sat back in awe of what was happening. The only other believer in the room and I whispered the same thing in each others ears – that, right there, is Gods grace…extended to people who don’t even know Him, who don’t even acknowledge He exists. I’ve seen with my own two eyes God reach out to bless a needy sinner, and I’ve also seen Him take a wide berth around a self-sufficient, self-congratulatory Christian.
I’m done being embarrassed about my problems. I often make errors of judgement that take me places I don’t want to be, and I’m working on that. But I don’t care what people think as much as I once did. Everyone’s got the stuff, you know? If it’s a toss up between keeping up appearances, pretending I don’t need God’s grace because I’m so worked out, and looking like a loser because I need his grace like I need oxygen, it’s the latter I choose. With the problems, comes the grace. With the grace comes Him. With me, I just get…me. The problem free life is a myth, and can’t be organised or even purchased. What you really need the most has already been paid for.