By Jessica Brodie
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”—1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)
A few weeks ago, I had a debilitating headache. It lasted for three days straight. I tried everything—Advil, exercise, rest, a good meal, migraine medicine—to no avail. On Day Three I sat on the edge of my bathtub, head in my hands, wondering how I could get relief and begging God for it to go away.
Then a verse I’d read flashed through my mind: thank God for everything.
My inner self rolled my eyes. But as I sat there, trying to decide whether to drag myself downstairs for breakfast or collapse in bed again, the verse echoed again.
Thank God for everything.
And so, as weird as it felt, I closed my eyes, bowed my head, pressed my hands together and mumbled with every ounce of non-sarcasm I could muster, “Thank you, God, for my headache.”
I wanted to laugh at myself. It felt incredibly bizarre to thank God for something so agonizing. And yet I found myself muttering it again for good measure: Thank you for my headache.
In the still of that morning, in the quiet haze of headache and bleary non-sleep, I felt a sudden peace surround me. God. There, in that moment, with me.
I still had my headache, but God was with me in the pain.
My headache eventually went away, but I’ve found myself holding onto that verse, which comes from Paul’s words in Thessalonians 5:18. I’ve done it twice more since then, and both times, I’ve instantly felt God there with me. It didn’t make my situation magically disappear, but it changed how I felt about it. I was no longer alone.
We know there are blessings in bad situations, whether a mere headache or a truly devastating situation. When I look back at a really tough period in my life, a struggle with infertility 13 years ago, I can easily see the proverbial silver lining. In fact, it’s now wrapped up in my faith testimony—how I learned to let go of My Way and cling to God’s. I’ve heard much the same from people who survived near-death experiences or major illness or trauma.
Bad times help us draw closer to God. They help us develop a more Christ-like attitude—humility, faith, and trust in God’s will (“thy will be done”). They teach us things we wouldn’t know otherwise. They help us become patient. They can later help us to comfort others. And when we thank God for these situations, even when it feels ridiculous to do so, we’re acknowledging His sovereignty, His dominion and His power.
Our United Methodist Church is going through hard times, with differences over sexuality causing arguments, anger and much pain. But I can also see, as we go through this, how we continue to cling to God in the process. Our bishops are calling us to prayer, to surrender to the Holy Spirit. I wonder 50 years from now how we’ll look back at this moment in time. What good will we see?
There is good in all bad, even pain. Even death. Even persecution. While we might not see this in the present moment, or even in our earthly lives, drawing closer to our Lord has eternal significance. Our “awful thing” might be the very thing that seals our soul as God’s own.
Thank you, God, for the good, the bad. For everything.