Growing up, I was taught that its easiest to praise God in the good, and hardest to praise God in the bad.
My life has not lived up that one.
Sure I’m happiest when my life is smooth, when I’m hiking through Europe, or sitting on a bench staring at a glacier. But as a daughter of Patriarchy, I have trouble praising God in the good. A lump forms in my throat, quite literally. “I don’t deserve this. Something bad is about to happen, I just know it is,” I’ll repeat to myself. Last October as I was riding my motorbike in a small city in Asia, I couldn’t shake off that feeling that I was going to die, or worse, become crippled. My life had been so great that I just knew punishment awoke me at the other corner. I was terrified.
I also just do not know how to praise God for blessing me when all these people suffer so much. This is the part of missions they don’t tell you when you sign up. They tell you that seeing someone dying of AIDs, or people starving, and children rescued from brothels will make you immensely grateful that your childhood wasn’t even worse. But they forget to tell you that it can also make you very bitter and depressed. They forget to tell you that thanking God for your blessings seems hypocritical as long as your friends are suffering.
See, it’s not that praising God in the bad times is so difficult. Granted, if I couldn’t walk, or if my daughter died, then it would be immensely difficult to praise God, I know, I know. But overall I was trained to be a victim. I was trained to praise God when my parents were fighting, and I was trained to praise God when I was depressed and socially isolated. Praising God when I’m suffering isn’t the problem. That I can do.
But I can’t seem to praise God when I look into the giant field of human suffering and pray for a miracle, and God says no. I don’t know how to praise when I watch someone else suffer and someone else die of AIDS who was monogamous, or not monogamous as far as that goes. When I lived in America, and it was just the people out there suffering (who we never engaged with), I could cope with those feelings. Or when it was just an occasional car wreck that claimed the life of someone in my class, I could cry and continue. But when I lived in Asia and it was everywhere around me, continually with no end in sight, praising God wasn’t so easy. I could praise God when I was tired and worn out, and I could praise God when the kids were mad at me. But I couldn’t praise God when my life was heaven, knowing others made their beds in earthly hell.
I visited these refugee camps. And I would sleep up in this bamboo hut that had no door, no insolation, no electricity, no beds. And in the pitch dark at 5 a.m. I could hear the orphans wake up and praise God. They worshipped two hours a day. And it wasn’t just the kids. Most of the tribe is a Christian tribe. They are stateless, no papers, no belongings, family has been dispersed and misplaced, family members have been tortured and murdered, and people everywhere would just praise God. Once half of the camp burned down(intentionally), and it wasn’t two hours later that everyone was up in a corner praising God.
And I would pray. But “thank you God” wasn’t the words I prayed. I prayed God, oh why?
For a long time I felt weak. But then one day as I was praying over the kids, a little girl leached onto me and just wept and wept and wept. And then one of the other boys stole something from one of my kids. And someone ran away. And I realized their hearts were unsettled too. They wonder and question, too. Beyond every strong voice was a trembling heart, hanging onto hope.
“Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. ”