Perplexed But Not Despairing

You can often find me vacuuming my house in the middle of the night. Even when I’ve closed my laptop later than planned and my eyelids are drooping, I crave my nightly cleaning routine. My little handheld vacuum whizzes across the couch cushions and I scrub the sink and I start to feel like maybe I’ve got a handle on things in this crazy world.

But I couldn’t stop the crash and squeal and scraping gravel as another driver ploughed into the back of my car and pushed us onto the median strip. Life was utterly out of my hands. I had no control over my tears or shaking voice, the fear that pressed on my chest until my pregnant sister got cleared at the hospital.

I would never have chosen a week like that, with the accident and a broken shower and my first speeding fine and bone-deep exhaustion. Especially the week before Christmas. It was hardly the idyllic start to living on my own that I expected. And now a sudden COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney has threatened our Christmas plans. My older sister and her family—including my newborn nephew—were meant to be travelling interstate to stay with us for three weeks. Now we don’t know if we’ll get to see them at all.

I attempt to make sense of it, to tally up the suffering and the mercies in the hopes that the number at the end will make sense of it all. There is some benefit in tracing God’s hand, but is this actually another way I’m trying to seize control? I vacuum up every stray crumb under my kitchen cabinets, and I try to make sense of each bad thing. But I can never seem to make it all balance. I was never any good at maths, after all.

Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. I don’t need to find a silver lining in every cloud, a lesson to balance every loss. I can trust in the God whose providence is frustrating and inscrutable and far wiser than mine. When the apostle Paul considers God’s plan of salvation, he cries out in praise: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)

The God who wrought salvation from a bloody cross will certainly bring joy in my pains and disappointment. I don’t need to be privy to every twist and turn of the story—I just need to trust in the Author who will surely bring all things right in the end.

Paul also wrote: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8–10)

Perplexed, but not driven to despair. That’s how we so often live in these strange days between the cross and the glory. I need not grasp for control when I don’t understand my circumstances. God is in control, and that is enough for today.

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