When the going gets rough turn to wonder. There is a place of refuge in the storm. It is found in the capacity to be surprised by God. If our hearts remain just the slightest bit open, we will not fail to be surprised by a love the reframes our experience of suffering and gives renewed meaning to life.
If we look deeply at our own lives, we know this to be true.
For me, the touchstone experience of this truth was a dream I had when I was about nine years old. It was a difficult time in my life, when the depths of my father’s alcoholism and the acuteness of my awareness of it were coming to a head. Like so many children at that age, I somehow felt responsible for his behavior, ashamed and scared all at the same time. Life felt out of control. And it was.
The turmoil I experienced was heightened by the image of God I had internalized as one who is inaccessible and judgmental. Looking back, I imagine there was some relationship between the lack of connection I felt with my father and my image of God as distant and rejecting. At any rate, the circumstances did not make for a happy boy.
Then I had this dream. I was in heaven, standing at the far edge of a great crowd of people gathered before the throne of God. It was judgment day. I felt small and afraid. I knew somehow that this couldn’t be good. And yet, I felt inexorably drawn toward God despite my fear. I found myself pulled through the crowd until I stood alone before God.
Now, God looked like someone straight from central casting in a Cecil B. DeMille film: White mane of hair and flowing beard down the front of his robe! But that wasn’t what was important. What was important was that God stood up, wrapped his arms around me, and whispered in my ear, “Everything will be alright.”
God surprised me.
When life got rough, in spite of myself, without even intending to, I instinctively turned to wonder and was met by the God of my dreams, the kind of God I’d always wanted but dared not hope for: Wish fulfillment or reality? Perhaps both. All I know is that ever since, I have never encountered a circumstance that was beyond the reach of God’s love. I continue to be surprised; in part, because I continue to forget that God really is like that.
Secure in our experience of the awesomeness of God’s love, we can lean into life’s difficulties and find the means to respond creatively with our hearts wide open. When we respond with fear and rage, our vision narrows and our hands are clenched. When we turn to wonder, our vision expands and our hands are open to receive what we need to cope. The challenge is to stay open, vulnerable, and receptive when it is so tempting to retreat behind defensive walls and isolate ourselves from the very love we most desire; the love that changes everything because it changes our perception.
The one constant in a world where storms come and go is our capacity to be surprised by God. Resting in God’s love, the gift-character of life comes into focus and we realize that everything belongs.