When I got sick as a kid, if it was bad enough to need medicine I invariably got the same stuff. Some kind of liquid antibiotic, it was an unfortunate pale milky yellow color, and it was foul. I could barely make myself swallow a spoonful of it, it was so horrible. I never got used to it, and it never got easier. I think experience actually made it harder, because I knew what was coming and dread made it worse.
Us grownup types do this unfortunate thing sometimes (you know, only one unfortunate thing. No, really. We get everything else just exactly right). We have a way of telling kids that difficult experiences are "good for them."
Sometimes, and from a good parent, it is often simple truth. Life includes difficult stuff, and some of the difficult stuff is necessary and some of it produces enjoyable results. The problem is, while we are telling kids about the "good for them" part, we often fail to acknowledge the part where the hard thing really stinks.
I had to take a foul antibiotic when I was a kid in order to beat germs out of my system. Giving a kid medicine to help them get over being sick is good. That didn't make it suck less in the moment I had to hold my nose and try not to gag.
I found myself thinking about this a couple of days ago, while dumping tangled emotions out into my notebook to sort through. My journaling often as not turns into prayer, and when I'm in the dumps those prayers tend to have a hang-dog quality about them. They might express the truth of God's promises but with no enthusiasm, no conviction. I find myself peeping timidly at my God, praying feebly, with a spirit of wanting to escape the praying as soon as I can in order to feel better.
Leaving God's presence, in order to feel better. There is something very not-right in this.
I realized I have this unspoken assumtion, that God only gives out foul-antibiotic good: good for you ultimately, but a crappy experience in the meantime. The kind of "good for you" that you have to suffer through in order to see some benefit, someday.
This isn't right either. Jesus spoke to it directly. In Matthew 7, he is recorded as saying this:
"Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
There's little mystery here. Good parents know how to give good gifts to their kids; more than that, good parents delight in giving good gifts to their kids. It's a joy for both parent and child.
Sure, parents need to make sure their kids take nasty medicines, when it's necessary. But parents also give their kids chocolate pudding sometimes. Some kinds of good are hard to experience, while they are happening. But some kinds of good are just plain awesome, through and through.
God doesn't shrink back from the foul-antibiotic kind of good when necessary. He clearly tells us that we are going to have to suffer through some things, and furthermore tells us that he permits it for our benefit. But those are limited things, and they are not the whole story. God also gives us unadulterated, delightful good, chocolate-pudding good, good that starts gleefully and ends joyfully and is altogether lovely, all the way in between.