So Jacob, running from murderous Esau whom he has cruelly and unscrupulously deceived, rests at Bethel.
And in his dream, he sees a stairway between heaven and earth, with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And at the top, stood the Lord, who speaks blessing and encouragement.
And Jacob says, “How awesome is this place. This is the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
* * *
Jacob is in a fix. He has stolen Esau’s birthright, by taking advantage of his hunger and weak character. And then, taking advantage of Isaac’s blindness, he pretended to be Esau, stealing the blessing Isaac intended for him. He is now running for his life from Esau. He will never see his parents again, never return home.
And in the midst of this self-caused tragedy, God meets him, and blesses him.
* * *
When are we most likely to be unaware of the presence of the Lord?
When we are in the land of suffering.
I am working through Donald Miller’s StoryLine.
Step 1: We plot out our life to date, as if were a movie script, or the outline of a novel or memoir, assigning a positive or negative value to each event.
Step 2. We try to see if something good, something redemptive has come out of all the negative plot turns.
We make two lists for each negative event. Along with the list of catastrophic things, we make a list of the good things which emerged from the event.
* * *
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist, founder of Logotherapy, helped thousands of patients heal as he helped them see the good, positive, and beneficial things which came to them or others because of their greatest sufferings.
In fact, once people see the good which has come out of their sufferings, they no longer view it as suffering.
Donald Miller writes, “I now claim what I used to see as tragedies as honest gifts from God. Still painful, but redeemed.
* * *
Doing the exercise was eye-opening for me. I found myself assigning positive values to the most painful, disappointing and traumatic things that happened to me because I now, in middle age, can see the good which came out of them.
Some of the best things in my life have come out of some of the worst things, out of failure, humiliation, shame, and loneliness.
In fact now, there is nothing I assign a straight negative score to, for each of these “plot turns” has led to so much good.
* * *
Here are some of my plot twists:
1) I was “the naughtiest girl in school” in my first school run by local nuns, and got expelled at 8. Who gets expelled at eight? Apparently, I!
As a result, I went to a boarding school, run by German and Iris nuns in Nainital, in the Himalayas, receiving a rather more cosmopolitan education than I would have got in my small Indian town. Boarding school was a calm and very disciplined environment, with set hours for study and reading. I read hungrily and left relatively well-read, having read hundreds of books.
2) After my undergraduate degree in English at Somerville College, Oxford, I was offered a place for a Ph.D in English at Oxford, contingent on getting a First.
I did not, and was overwhelmed with shame.
Instead, I went on to graduate school in the US, earning an MA, and then some of a Ph.D in English and Creative Writing, before quitting that to get married.
I would never have gone to America on my own, but having lived there 17 years, I am as comfortable with Americans as with Brits; have a sort of Anglo-American sensibility; and, psychologically, live mid-Atlantic, which is an asset in the blogosphere.
3) I was so depressed after the rejection of a manuscript in 1996 that I diagnosed myself as “sick,” and decided I needed a physican. I committed to 90 minutes a day of prayer and Bible study.
That practice has changed who I am, and the course and events of my life more than anything else.
4) After a painful conflict (about a group I was leading), I withdrew for a few years from active involvement in church life and politics (though not from church services), pouring my energy first into establishing a stable family business, then into blogging.
The redirection of energy, away from leading Bible studies which I did for over ten years into writing , proved a blessing to me. And I left that church, SO toxic for me, for a grown-up, emotionally healthy church.
A few examples of “negative turns” eventually bringing many blessings my life.
It makes me more convinced that God is definitely working through my life, working through its plot, bringing good out of all the plot twists.
That He was there in each plot twist, though I might not have been aware of it.