The transition from hospice to hospital strips us of a number of luxuries – among those treasures, a free car park. My new routine is to park the car on the driveway of some friends, who live that little bit closer to the hospital than we do, so that I can make a brief 15 minute journey on foot and avoid having to sell my car in order to meet the hospital’s car park charges!
It was – and remains – a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning – unusually so for the season. Spring is in the air and January seems reluctant to put up a fight. Weaving through the warren of red brick houses I noticed a number of folks (one guy in bright orange t-shirt, shorts and slippers!) taking advantage of the climate as they de-decked their halls – and porches – of bells, holly and seasonal lights that have acted as useful beacons and markers for me as I retrace my steps back from the hospital each night. Nevertheless, the hospital’s corporate xmas tree continues to tower and twinkle in the foyer as I arrived. Berry-red lights spiral downwards uniformly from the pinnacle of the tree which, in the spirit of seasonal sensitivity, is absent of any traditional star or angel decoration; prevention is better than cure, they say, and there’s not a specialist in this place who can cure you if you catch a glimpse of the real meaning of Christmas! At the foot of the tree sits a different kind of herald in the form of an A-board proclaiming bad tidings: ‘Warning Norovirus!’
I’m never quite sure how long Christmas is supposed to officially last but it appears to be (almost) over for another 9 or 10 months. And while most of us may have switched off the lights, taken down the tree, rolled up the remaining wrapping paper and placed it all into those various storage boxes labelled ‘Christmas Stuff’ we’ll always be left with those two boxes that never get stored away; two boxes that we cannot see or touch but they’re always with us wherever we go, 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. These are two boxes that we can never do without.
The one box is labelled ‘Right and Good’ and the other ‘Wrong and Bad’. And we use them to store, process, understand and respond to the many and varied things we directly or indirectly encounter in daily life. Robust and versatile, there’s no end to what we will put in those boxes; in them, among many things, you’ll find events, experiences, motives, actions, attitudes and past and present opportunities; stuff – major and mundane – that doesn’t even have to belong to us or concern us but we’ve bagged it and boxed it. We can and will put anything in either of those boxes. There’s just two exceptions: neither box can contain the specific content of the other and what goes in the box, stays in the box.
Sometimes we file something in life in the ‘Wrong and Bad’ box. Something happens to us that shouldn’t happen or we’re treated in a way that we did not expect or want or deserve to be treated and without a second thought we react by reaching for that box. We process it with much anger and indignation and respond accordingly. Other times we file something in life in the ‘Right and Good’ box. Something pleasant happens to us or a great opportunity stands before us and lovingly we place it in that box where we will process, accept and cherish it with much joy and happiness.
But sometimes things are not so clear cut – especially when it comes to those difficult things in life. Do they all just go in the ‘Wrong and Bad’ box? And what about the stuff in the ‘Right and Good’ box? Was everything that glittered, really as good as gold?
Sometimes, in hindsight, we regret the decision we made and we’re haunted by self-resentment and frustration that results from having ‘put something in the wrong box’. This is peculiarly true for those of us who are Christians. As Christians we of all people ought to know that God has a purpose for difficult things. And yet, so often, when the time comes when life confronts us with something difficult, we are only furious, indignant and upset; only later, comes the delayed recognition that God is indeed sovereign and that in all things He has worked for our good. Instead of patiently trusting His promise, we spent the time complaining, standing up for our rights and getting all hot and bothered. And when the good that God promises comes to pass we feel a degree of shame and regret for the way we behaved in the process. On the other hand, sometimes through gritted teeth we resist the urge to put something difficult and unpleasant in the ‘Wrong and Bad’ box and robotically, reluctantly – sometimes stoically – throw it in that other box regardless. But later on, we realise that while we pretended it was good for us, all we really did was attempt to grin and bear it; we did not find the joy and peace that God offers; we did not really grow in grace through it and there’s only so long that bitterness will endure pretense. The same feelings of resentment and frustration will simply have found another door into our hearts and minds.
One liberating life lesson that God has been teaching Annie and I through His Word and His Spirit in our experiences recently is the need for a third box. A box simply labelled ‘Both’. It’s not a box that replaces the other two. It’s an additional box. A box which appreciates that not everything in life is discernibly black and white but God remains supreme, just and loving in every shade and contrast nonetheless. It’s a box that allows us to express active faith in God’s promises and experience His presence in the heat of the moment, eliminating that latent resentment, regret and frustration.
…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
You’ll find examples of what I’m talking about all through the bible.
Remember Joseph? Was it right that his brothers threw him down a pit and misled their father about his demise? In terms of their personal motives and actions, absolutely not. It was an act of deceit, jealousy and cruelty. Was it just and fair to be thrown into prison for a crime Joseph didn’t commit? Not at all. That was an act of injustice and gross misuse of authority – not to mention the rampant deceit, unfaithfulness and jealousy in Joseph’s accuser, the temptress, Potiphar’s wife. And yet, what is Joseph’s own testimony of all that happened?
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. – Genesis 50:20
Joseph wasn’t pretending that the pit, the slavery and the prison cell were not hard. He understood that the motives of others sought to harm him. But he never stopped trusting God in all things and – more importantly – he acted like someone who trusted God in all things.
The Old Testament and New Testament are filled with the accounts of Godly men and women whose lives and example followed the same pattern, all of them shadows of one central example:
Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. – Acts 2:22:24
In describing the central event of the gospel, the Apostle Peter basically says two things: 1. Wicked men accomplished wicked things; 2. An incredibly loving God accomplished the most incredibly loving thing. Something terrible and something wonderful in one ultimately victorious event.
A couple of days ago when Annie was transferred from the hospice to the hospital we experienced an event that we could easily have put into the ‘Wrong and Bad’ box. The frustration of the ambulance crew as they arrived at the hospital expecting a bed for Annie said it all. As we lay in a cold A&E ward waiting for hours and hours it would have been very easy to spend the time dwelling on how unfair it was and how much better it would have been if Annie was simply left overnight at the hospice until a bed was available. It would have been too easy to have spent the time processing and planning how to give a piece of our minds to whomever it concerned. But before we left the hospice we gave whatever happened next over to the Lord and trusted Him. All we ultimately asked for was that we knew His presence with us. In return He richly poured out a measure of His promised Holy Spirit – the promised Comforter and Helper. Before I met up with Annie in that crowded A&E ward He spoke to us in a way which changed the way we received the following eight and a half hours:
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” – Luke 9:58
This is how putting something in the Third – ‘Both’ – box looked for us. As we lay in limbo we experienced special fellowship with our Jesus. Yes we were tired. Yes we were wronged. Yes we were at peace in the presence of God.
“We do not want anger and joy to neutralize each other and produce a surely contentment. We want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent.” – GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
When the ambulance crew left Annie they said to her: “You really ought to take issue with this.”
Is this advice that we file in the ‘Wrong and Bad’ box or the ‘Right and Good’ box?
One thing is for sure, there will be both a right and a wrong way of going about either. Selfishness could easily motivate action or inaction. What matters to us is that we hear God’s voice and follow His leading with love. Sometimes He tells us to challenge injustice graciously; other times He tells us to simply be still and wait on Him. Whether He calls us to action or inaction, may it ultimately lead to demonstrating more of His incredible grace and love!
Sometimes we’ll make mistakes. Sometimes we’ll forget all about the third box. How wonderful that our God cannot be boxed! How amazing His unconditional love for His children! His sovereign grace still works ‘in all things’ for the good of those who love Him – even if those who love Him, fail Him!
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, – Psalm 23:6
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39