“[God] is the best writer, too,” Gabriel said to me.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because he gives every good writer something to struggle with and try to work out by writing down. That’s genius.”
– John Corey Whaley, in Where Things Come Back
When I was little, I used to pray for a tornado to suck up my house. We lived in Minnesota and things like that happen there. I couldn’t believe it when my friend, Dawn Thompson, had the roof sucked off her house, while mine– miles away– was left untouched. Had she been praying for the same thing? Because if not, that was totally unfair.
I also dreamed of becoming a writer. I composed poems in my head as I dawdled along Hamline Avenue, late for school. I told myself tragic stories about parents abandoning their children as I tossed newspapers between screen doors in the fading sunlight. I devoured every book I deemed worth reading in the school library, and dreamed of the day my own name would be shelved alongside names like Madeline L’ Engle and JRR Tolkien.
One thing I knew for certain was that no one could become an author without living an interesting life. Otherwise, where would the stories come from? So I prayed for a tornado. Or a kidnapping. Or a meteor crashing through my roof. Anything exciting to pay my passage into the world of authors.
I don’t know how many nights I spent in tears on my knees begging God to not let me have a boring life.
So maybe what happened was my own fault.
Because one thing is certain.
God was listening.
But really– is anyone’s life boring?
I noticed a shocking thing in the Bible the other day, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head ever since. Brace yourself.
Jesus had a hard life.
|Artist Del Parsons|
Yes. I’ve read the Bible before. I’m a Mormon, and a Christian, and I’ve read it multiple times. (Well, ok. Not Leviticus. I skimmed that particular book once and moved on.) And I knew Jesus had a hard life, but I guess I’d always thought it was because He’s the Savior and had to do hard things to save us. But the other day it occurred to me that the Atonement was what came at the end of His life, and being a God, He could have set up the world however He wanted, including so that things could have been full of preaching to happy followers, converting missionaries who would sing rousing songs and march out to convert the world. Love, Peace and Harmony. And then, at the end of a glorious life of good will to men, He could have performed the Atonement to save us all and risen triumphant into heaven.
But He didn’t.
He had a hard life.
And so has everyone else who has ever lived on this earth.
And for the first time, the pattern that was obvious all along sunk in. Hard lives serve a purpose. For everyone. Good people and bad. Nice people and mean. People who mess up their own lives with addictions and little girls who pray for tornados. Even, apparently, perfect people.
Hard lives serve a purpose.
And since not everyone becomes authors, the purpose is apparently something beyond giving us something to write about. Although that doesn’t hurt.
And since I truly believe that God’s purposes are good and kind and not intended to make us miserable, I have to assume that the purpose in life being hard is also good and kind.
My son recently read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, and I recently heard an amazing talk (sermon) called Grateful in Any Circumstance, by Dieter F. Uchtdorf– both of which share a similar idea. We have reasons to be “filled with gratitude” no matter what our circumstances are. It’s not about being grateful for something. It’s about being grateful in our circumstances. Whatever those are.
Because really, whatever our circumstances are, unless we are actively screwing up our lives ourselves (something I am certain is possible, but generally try to avoid), God put us here. And it might look like hell from where we are standing, but somehow hard lives serve a purpose. For everyone. A purpose that in the end has to be good and kind.
I don’t have answers for why girls in Africa get kidnapped, or babies are born addicted to crack, or college students who are going about their day trying to pass exams get shot. I know it looks like hell. I know it feels like hell. I also know the Atonement is real and I’ve felt its inexplicable healing power in my own life. It’s personal. And it’s real.
My house never got sucked up by a tornado. But lots of other stuff did happen. And sometimes I feel the Atonement and am nearly overwhelmed with gratitude for the stuff God gave me to struggle with and try to work out by writing down.