The young boy in my music class pounded the tambourine on the floor. This was after I’d demonstrated to everyone how to properly play our classroom instruments.
Visibly frustrated, I confiscated the instrument and commented (in jest): “If you break this tambourine, I’m coming to your house and breaking one of your toys.” The offender gazed at me blankly. However, another little boy spoke up matter of factly.
“God doesn’t do bad things. He doesn’t break toys.”
Five Year Old Super Sage
My little friend had me there. I sheepishly admitted to everyone that he was right and I was wrong.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.
Psalm 89:14 (NIV)
God is indeed right and fair and loving and faithful, yet we are prone to blame Him when bad things happen in this world.
For example, I know someone who lost faith in God after her father died during a routine medical procedure. She feels her dad’s life was taken; how could a loving God allow this?
Truly, this is a tragic situation. But is God really to blame? Perhaps it makes more sense for my friend not to believe in doctors.
So, where is God when terrible, evil, and incomprehensible things happen? He’s in the same place He was when His only son’s life was taken: on the throne.
The prayer room at my seminary dorm was small: just two comfy chairs and a little table framed by a window. A wooden box with a hinged lid sat on the table—a place for people to leave prayer requests on the cards provided. Each card had space at the bottom where you could tell the person you prayed for them.
I sat down in one of the chairs, opened the box and began to pray for each request. The first two were like many I’d seen before. “Please pray for my dad. He has open heart surgery next week.” “My cousin isn’t a Christian. Pray that she will accept Jesus as her Savior.”
I reached into the box for another request and fished out a piece of paper that was folded several times. “This is odd,” I thought, as I flattened out the creases.
What I read sent a shiver up my spine: “My name is Daryl and I want to kill myself.” I impulsively scribbled a message back, “Please don’t. I’m here if you want to talk” I added my first name and room number, refolded the paper and put it back in the box.
Later that evening someone came to my door. I opened up to find a rather disheveled man: about my age, with major bed-head hair, tired eyes and mismatched clothing. He looked like a workaholic telecommuter straight from central casting.
“My name is Daryl,” he said. “I’m the one who wrote the note.”
Cue second shiver up my spine. Since I wasn’t sure when my roommate would return, I suggested we talk out in the foyer. I sat near the end of a long couch, while he stood uneasily across from me, repeating (over and again) his intention to end his life. He also mentioned that he had the means to do so–in his car, which was parked right outside.
This was way more than I’d bargained for, but there was literally no one else around. So I began to talk. I shared scripture verses, stories of survival and positive thoughts, but Daryl was undeterred.
I asked him to wait while I went to get someone, but he refused. He said he would leave if I did. By this time he was clearly agitated: pacing back and forth throwing glances at the front door.
Exasperated and out of options, I got on my knees beside the couch and began to pray out loud. For 15 minutes…30 minutes…45 minutes, I cried out to God: “Heavenly Father, please help Daryl want to live!”
Sometime after the 45 minute mark I felt him sit down on the couch beside me. I looked up. Daryl began to quietly sob. He told me he wouldn’t go through it. Reaching into the pocket of his tattered brown blazer, he pressed something into my hand that brought the third shiver of the day: a single 12 gauge shotgun shell.
At 1 a.m. we parted ways. It turned out he was my next door neighbor who’d just returned to seminary in the past twenty-four hours!
At 8 a.m. that same morning I waited outside the student counselor’s office. Let’s just say I was his most interesting walk-in that day! I told him the whole story. He said he was familiar with Daryl and knew he had just returned to campus. Someone close to him had committed suicide and he was in danger of doing so himself. The counselor had been trying to contact him.
I head back to the dorm, and sure enough, there’s a thick thumb-tacked stack of notes on the message board for Daryl. The next day there’s a message for me. It’s from the counselor. Daryl had been to see him and was returning home. I am to keep the entire matter in confidence.
The only evidence that remained of what happened was my vivid memory and a 12 gauge magnum shotgun shell.
Then Samuel took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “So far the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12
I soon realized that the shotgun shell represented MY Ebenezer from God–a reminder of His help in my inadequacy. I walked “into the deep” to rescue a man who’d lost his way, but was unable to lead him out.
God intervened and saved us both.
Almost 30 years later, I still have that shotgun shell. It sits in the back of a drawer and I take it out from time to time. Holding it in my hand, I recognize a certain overconfident young man (me) who overestimated his abilities, and then I thank the God who stepped in.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I hope you’re still out there, Daryl— happily alive and middle-aged like me.
“Whoever seeks good finds favor, but evil comes to one who searches for it.”
In the early 1990’s, social psychologist Roy Baumeister began exploring the negativity bias–the widely accepted belief that bad has a stronger impact on people than good. His team conducted extensive research, hoping to find situations where a single positive circumstance was actually stronger than a negative one.
They couldn’t find any.
In fact, Baumeister and his colleagues discovered that negative life events are typically three to five times stronger than positive ones. In other words, it takes four compliments to make up for one put down.
He lays it all out in his 2019 book, The Power of Bad.
Here’s my favorite take away: our brains are hard-wired to focus on bad, but the rational mind can take this in stride by finding the good.
Baumeister recommends a positivity ratio of 4 to 1 (4 good to 1 bad).
Finding the good isn’t a new idea; it’s as least as old as the 1913 novel, Pollyanna. In the book, a young orphan named Pollyanna uses the “glad game” to cope with the circumstances and sorrows of her life.
Here’s how to play:
Always look for something to be glad about in any situation.
This makes sense. Maybe it’s why gratitude journals are so popular, while keeping an ingratitude journal is a non-starter.
But let’s take it all the way back to the first century. The apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Rome that God uses EVERYTHING for the good of those who love and serve Him (Romans 8:28).
“Child, I got this. It’s ALL good.”
Finally, brothers, Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.