“Some days you tame the tiger; and some days the tiger has you for lunch.”
My father was a stoic man who had little patience with complaint, thus I learned to play down the intensity of my feelings and hide behind a facade of dead calm. I became a strong proponent of the stiff upper lip.
But as I’ve grown older I’ve become a complainer. I’m learning to grumble and pour out my grievances to God. Complaint, I’ve come to see, is better than stoicism, for at least it draws me toward my Lord.
But grumbling is not the last resort. My agitation sometimes leads me to look deeper inside to see the realm from which my frustration and anger come. Feelings lay bare my inmost desires, like the lights on our automobile dashboards that indicate what’s going on under the hood. The way I respond emotionally when God and circumstances don’t match my expectations reveals the condition of my heart.
The reason for so much of my anguish, it seems to me, is that I’ve set my heart on the here and now and have completely lost sight of the realm that is timeless. Deprived in the present I decide there’s nothing left for which to live. But that’s a serious error. There’s more to life than this.
The purpose of life is not to be happy, I’ve finally discovered, though there are plenty of serendipities and blissful occasions along the way. No, everything in life works together to move us toward intimacy with God and to make us more like him. That’s what this life is for.
But that lesson can only learned by those who are “trained” by affliction and difficulty. We must let adversity do its work. We must know that we’re greatly loved by God even when circumstances suggest otherwise. We must know we’re in these straits, not by accident but by God’s appointment, and humble ourselves under his mighty hand. We must seek to manifest the specific grace for which this trial calls. And we must accept our sorrow as the means by which we are drawn into the heart of God.
We may not have the good life —struggle, pain, disappointment, vexation, opposition, loss may be our lot —but we have God forever and he is our good. As the psalmist concluded: “The nearness of God is my good” (73:28). God himself is our joy. “Happiness is neither outside nor inside us,” Pascal said, “it is in God, both outside and inside us…. Our only true bliss is to be in him, and our sole ill to be cut off from him.”
Life’s disappointments—and they seem to come in waves—strip us of our earnestness with everything but God. When we begin to see how empty life is, when it ceases to have it’s attraction on us, then we begin to move toward God as our good. As we come to him again and again—listening to his word, meditating on his thoughts, following him in the path of obedience, tasting of his goodness—he makes himself increasingly known. We enter into intimacy with him and come to love him for himself.
“The most fundamental need, duty, honor, and happiness of men is…. adoration,” Fredrich von Hügel said. In adoration we enjoy God for himself. We long for the Giver rather than his gifts. We ask nothing more than to be near him and to be like him. We want nothing but the hunger to give ourselves to him. In adoration we learn why every other chase has left us breathless and restless, worn out and wanting for more.
And so, though it’s hard to accept, we need nothing more than God. Our “toys and lesser joys” can never satisfy; they are a small delight. God alone is the answer to our deepest longings.
So, the only thing left for us to do is to turn our energies toward him, giving him our full attention and our heart’s devotion, asking him every day to bring us to the place that we find him more interesting than anyone we know, anything we do, any place we go, or anything we possess.
Then we will have all we can ever expect to have in this world, but it's enough. As a beleaguered friend of mine once said, “You never know how much you have until all you have left is God.”