It was the summer of 2009, and I was on the way to England to meet with some of my colleagues in the UK office of the charity I work for. And I was excited: I had never been to England (beyond a brief stop in Heathrow the year prior). My father is a British citizen, having immigrated to Canada when he was a child. Beyond the work aspect, this trip was an opportunity for me to get in touch with my roots.
But it also came at a pretty tumultuous time in my life. A few months prior to leaving, we’d lost a baby to a miscarriage, and I nearly lost Emily in the process, as well (severe complications). We were experiencing major financial strain, we were dealing with some relational tension with extended family, and I was completely overwhelmed with my work schedule. There were many days when I wished I could just sleep for 100 hours.
Leaving, I brought along a copy of Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. It wasn’t the first book of his I’d read, and in all honesty, I wasn’t a huge fan of his based on the books I’d read previously. I found his insights very helpful, but generally his writing dragged. So here I was with this book that I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy reading, in the midst of a whole lot of chaos, 30,000 feet in the air. And I was about to learn one of the most important lessons of my life to that point:
That thankfulness—true thankfulness—stems from trusting God in all his wisdom, sovereignty and goodness. “It is the firm belief that God is at work in all things—all our circumstances—for our good,” he wrote.
To derive the fullest comfort and encouragement from Romans 8:28 … we must realize that God is at work in a proactive, not reactive fashion. That is, God does not just respond to an adversity in our lives to make the best of a bad situation. He knows before He initiates or permits the adversity exactly how He will use it for our good. God knew exactly what He was doing before he allowed Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery. Joseph recognized this when he said to his brothers, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.… You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 45:8, 50:20).1
Reading this in the midst of all the chaos made it all click. It had been a terrible year. To this date, I am not sure I’ve had a more difficult one (though 2012-2013 come pretty close). But what I was able to see coming out of it was I actually did have much to be thankful for.
All of these difficulties we were experiencing, God knew exactly how he would use each event for our good. He turned heartbreak into joy when we discovered we were expecting Hannah, and showered us with grace upon grace in bringing her into our lives. The financial difficulties we were experiencing eventually led us to sell our former home, which was a blessing from God. My difficulties attending our previous church were even a good gift in certain respects (even if there were ways I handled things really, really badly).
Were I not certain that God was at work in all of this—and more than that, that each of these events were intended for my good according to his purposes—what might my attitude have been like? In all honestly, I’m not sure. There’s a part of me that suspects I might have been tossed to and fro by doubt and depression. Doubts about God’s goodness, about his will, and about his love for me. Doubts about whether or not all this stuff I’d come to believe really made a difference.
But Bridges pointed me back to an important truth: that in all of these things, I had opportunities for thanksgiving, even for the simple truth that nothing in my life is random or chance. That he is working in all things, that he is planning all the days of my life according to his purposes, to make me more and more into the image of his son, Jesus.
And come what may, this is something I pray I’ll never stop being thankful for.