Most of the time, I live life like I’m dreaming. Maybe you’re the same. It takes no effort – the minutes propel us forwards, into routines of socks and schedules and sandwiches. Days, weeks, months…years like waves, lulling us to sleep. Life – unchanging, except for a peppering of balloons and wreaths; anniversaries, birthdays and deaths.
But sometimes, something happens to shake us awake. An event. Perhaps a tragedy. And once we’ve been woken, we can’t go back to sleep. The world looks the same, but everything is different. Things that didn’t matter before, now really do. The worries that gnawed at us are eclipsed – by something bigger. A problem, or maybe a recognition that the world is more than us, and no matter what we do to keep it small and safe, it won’t be contained.
I was thinking of this, reading an interview with Victoria Milligan. Last year, her husband and eight year-old daughter were killed in a speedboat accident off the coast of Cornwall.
Victoria was struggling to hold on to her four-year-old son and swim away from the boat’s propeller when she heard her 12-year-old daughter, Amber, crying: “Daddy’s dead, Daddy’s dead.” For her, that was the moment when everything changed. She said, “My whole life was completely planned out and sorted with my lovely husband, and four children and … the rug has been pulled from underneath me.” She talks about how her life had been perfect – but she didn’t realise, until it was taken away.
The most famous verse from the book of Job picks up this theme. At a stroke, Job loses his children and wealth and he exclaims: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
It seems counter-intuitive but actually it makes sense: suffering draws out gratitude. When “the LORD takes away” we realise that everything was a gift. When it’s all gone, we realise what we’ve taken for granted. Even if you’re not a Christian – and I don’t think Victoria Milligan is one – suffering can wake us up to something we should understand all along: we exist by the grace of God. All that we have is what He gives us.
I pray that none of us have to experience suffering like Job or like Victoria Milligan. I can’t begin to imagine what she’s gone through – and her courage and strength is humbling. But whatever we are facing, good or bad – we have not earned, achieved or deserved our lives – we’ve been given them. Whatever is taken away reminds us that none of it was ours to begin with.
We sometimes think that suffering proves that God’s not there – or that He doesn’t care. But I wonder if we shouldn’t approach it from the other end. Sometimes it’s the pain of this world that shows us the truth: that every moment we live by God’s kindness and grace.