You told me that you were going to hell.
Did you say that because you’ve fallen in an addictive behavior? Did you say that because you can’t control your temper? Did you say that because life is so bad for everyone you really love and you can’t do anything to fix it? No, my friend. Hell isn’t what’s ahead of you. It’s what you are living right now.
Hell is raising small children that never stop screaming and you can’t do anything to stop it. Hell is seeing your teen ruin her life with stupid decisions and you are helplessly watching her do it. Hell is taking on lives that another man screwed up and trying to deal with his mess. Hell is knowing what you need to do to take care of yourself, but setting that aside again and again because that’s not what’s good for the family as a whole. Hell is working all day, stress-filled evenings and chronic lack of sleep. That’s right, you are living through hell right now.
As a pastor, it is not my job to lessen that knowledge. It would be a lie to tell you that God gave you the strength to deal with all this, because you already know that’s not true. As far as you are concerned, you’ve already failed. So the biggest hell you are living in is looking around you and seeing failure.
Now I want to tell you what you need to hear, like it or not.
1. You have not failed
Anyone can look in the middle of a marathon, see how many people are ahead of them and think they’ve lost the race. Anyone can look at an unhappy child and say they weren’t raised right because they aren’t happy right now. Anyone can see the stress that they’ve lived in for years and throw up their hands because they don’t see how it will end.
But the middle isn’t the end. You don’t know how you or your children or your relationships will end. That’s still to come. All you have to do is not give up.
2. The future will get better
Living in the middle of hell seems endless. You can’t see the future, because there is a wall of stress and anger and inadequacy that is covering your eyes so you can’t see. But I can see it, and your future looks great. You aren’t in hell, technically, but purgatory. You are in the middle of fire, but you are already in the process of putting that fire out, with God’s help. I know you don’t see it and it makes no sense where you are, so I just ask that you trust me for a moment. I’m looking from a different perspective. It will take some time, but all this stress and fire and anguish will fade away. Rest is coming.
3. Have faith
Many people say that faith is trust in dogma, but you know that isn’t true. Faith is trusting in a trustworthy person. The only trustworthy person. Faith is saying that you know who God is. That God is love, and so He offers you forgiveness. That God is powerful and can deliver you from your hell. That God really cares for you, personally and so will deliver you, but perhaps not when you expect it. You don’t have to trust in anyone but God. And God is on your side. Even now.
4. Rely on God’s community
God didn’t leave you alone, but He already gave you people to help. He gave an overworked pastor to set an hour aside to talk to you (or write you an encouraging note). God also sent you Mary Anne who can provide babysitting for you so you can get a break. God sent you Jeff to build you up. God sent you Genevieve to financially support you when you needed it. Sometimes you want to deny these gifts that God gave you. But you need to accept them, and take what little bits of respite that God has provided.
5. The Lord has appointed salvation for you
You may think that you will go to hell, but God has a different plan. God said that the people who seek their own comfort to the harm of others are going to hell. But those who go through hell now for the sake of others, God has provided comfort and rest and everything they need. Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Just by being there, taking the abuse, and doing what little you can both for your own children and the children God gave you, dealing with the stress and the sleepless nights and still providing and forgiving and apologizing… that’s all God asks of you. Sorry, but hell isn’t your destiny.
Jesus never said that perfect joy is for this life. Look at his life—he suffered and had anguish and disappointment and sacrifice. The joy we have, he said, doesn’t come from our present circumstances, but because we look ahead. We look in faith at the God who sees all the hell we are going through and all the suffering and all the sacrifice we make for others and we know that God takes people like that and gives them perfect rest. Not today, but soon. We know that because of our present anguish we will receive a better life than we could possibly imagine. We don’t choose a horrible life because that’s what we want. But because God will grant us a better life. That’s my faith. I am not joyful now. I am content. And that contentment will become joy eventually, because of the hell I’ve had to go through. And you will get the same.
Be at peace.