I recently celebrated a significant anniversary. You see, on my 16th birthday my father set me on a path that would lead to my independence. He threw me out of his house. Actually he told me that he wanted me gone before he woke up the next morning. My mother had left him just a few weeks before and I guess he decided that he didn't need me any more than he needed her. What did I do? I bought a plane ticket and flew from Phoenix, AZ back to Little Rock, AR. My mother was in Little Rock and my natural instinct was to go to her. Two weeks later she announced to me that she was going to California and she wasn't taking me with her. Those events took place 33 years ago.
Please allow me to backtrack and tell you that I wasn't a bad kid, in fact, I would like to think that most parents would have been glad to have me. I was a good student, went to church, and had never been in any trouble. I didn't smoke or drink or chew and didn't go with girls that did either. I was no saint, to be sure, but I wasn't trouble either.
I wish I could tell you that I was prepared for my abandonment and that I handled it like it was any other event in my life....But I didn't. To be honest, I wasn't surprised, but I still had a real hard time accepting that my parents didn't want me, and by extension didn't love me. My love for my parents was real, even though I knew that they weren't exactly Bob and Carol Brady. My home life was filled with violence and abuse of every kind. I learned very early on to discern the proper times to be at home and the times to be gone, which was often. I used to joke that I could spend a week on Oprah and not exhaust the stories, the problem is that it wasn't a joke. The safety net didn't catch me....and I paid a price. I grew up lonely and fearful. My parents drilled into me three primary lessons about who I was: 1. I was a mistake, 2) I was ugly, and 3) No one would ever love me. I carried those lessons for a long time and can even hear their whispers as I write these words.
Life was hard. But it was still life, and I'm grateful for those lessons, no matter how hard they were to learn. I only wish I had learned their lessons sooner. But I have and live with no regrets. I can, from this vantage point, look back and see the hand of God protecting, guiding, and strengthening me throughout those long and lonely years. I wish I could say that I was always aware of His presence, but my lack of understanding doesn't negate the work He did in my life all those years ago. His ways are seldom understandable to our minds.
I recently listened to a program for pastors on CD-Rom and I heard the statement "God doesn't wast pain." I was so profoundly impacted by that statement that I actually hit the back button three times to hear it again and again. God doesn't waste pain. God is with His children in every situation, whether we can see Him or not. There is nothing that takes Him by surprise or causes Him to alter His plan. God actually brings good out of the pain of our lives. I have come to a point in my life where I can truly thank God for those dark times in life. I have known abuse of every type, abandonment, death. I have been wrongly accused, fired, and been viciously attacked by those with nothing more that a dislike for me. And God has known about every situatin before they happene and has not wasted any of my pain.
In my pain God has taught me about love and faith. Fear and courage. True strength and the value of weakness. Through defeat and loss I have learned that God keeps a different type of score than I do. I have come to appreciate God's ways whether I like them or not, whether they make sense to me or leave me utterly confused. I have learned that I am not first and I've learned to be okay with that. Those thoughts are completely foreign to most believers today, but they weren't lost on the early church or the great saints of the past. Could it be that believers today are unaware of this truth? It is true that we don't hear much preaching today about self denial or dying to self, or is the issue one of unwillingness to sacrifice our desires and comfort for the sake of the cross?
One of my favorite men in the Bible learned that God doesn't waste pain. His name is Joseph. Joseph knew rejection by family, false accusations, deprivation, and loneliness. But Joseph learned that God used all of that pain to prepare him for something far more important than his personal happiness. Thanks, Joseph, for giving me an example. Thank you God for using my pain to make me more than I could be by myself. I fully realize that I've failed far more than I've succeeded, but even in my failures you've not wasted by pain. May you give me enough wisdom to learn from those lessons as well.