Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Looking for Closure...

If you read my post last year about lessons from James Bond, you know that I've always been a fan of spy stories. Well, recently I went back and started watching Burn Notice from the beginning, and I'm happy to say I've gotten Amber hooked on the show in the process!

Jeffrey Donovan is Michael Weston
in USA's Burn Notice
For those who don't know, Burn Notice was a show on the USA Network about a spy named Michael Weston who gets "burned", which is to say that he's black-listed - kicked out of the spy game. Forced to stay in Miami, FL, until his burn notice is lifted, Michael is trying to find out who burned him so he can clear his name and get his job back. In the meantime, he has to make money to survive, so Michael does what Michael does best, and he puts his spying skills to work (with the aid of friends and family) to help others escape all the dangerous situations they get themselves into. Though there's still a little bit of language and a lot of violence, Michael is not a womanizing alcoholic like James Bond. Instead, he comes off as a good-hearted guy who happens to have the knowledge and skills to know how to handle problems that come up. Part of the show's appeal is that while you're watching, Michael narrates the story, explaining the logic behind his moves from a spy's point-of-view.

For the first 4 seasons, Michael tries and tries to prove himself until, at the beginning of Season 5, the CIA trusts him enough to let him be part of a team tracking down the covert organization responsible for getting him burned in the first place.

"At last," Michael thinks, "I'll get to find out why this all had to happen!"

But we don't always get all the answers we're looking for...

After years of trying to prove himself and now months of tracking down the people who ruined his life, Michael finally finds out the name of the person behind the organization that burned him, and he decides to go after him. This means storming a heavily-armed compound in Venezuela, and Michael won't be held up by any obstacle. As he blasts a hole in the wall of a safe room where he believes the bad guy is hiding, Michael explains, "There's no greater satisfaction than that moment when you finally get the answers you're looking for."

I'm sure we can all agree that when life gets rough, it's much easier if we think we know the reasons why. We try our best to explain away problems - "Well, this happened because that person did something wrong!" or "That happened because God was closing one door and opening another." The only problem is that sometimes we're really grasping at straws to make things make sense, and sometimes our reasoning is just plain wrong!

I think of the ancient Israelites, who were forced to be slaves in Egypt for over 400 years, but the Scriptures never point to someone and say, "It's this person's fault that they became slaves." Or I think of the blind man in John 9, and everyone assumes that the reason he was born blind was because he was being punished for his parents' sin or for his own sin, but Jesus says his blindness has nothing to do with sin, but "he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him." (John 9:3)

The reality is that many times, bad things happen to good people, and it's nobody's fault! Sometimes, even a devout Christian gets cancer and never gets over it. Sometimes natural disasters wreak havoc - like the recent typhoon in the Philippines - even though it's a place where the Church is really flourishing right now! Selfish people get rich while godly people get poor! And sometimes it's difficult, if not impossible, to find answers for these things.

Unfortunately for Michael, by the time he gets to his man inside the fortress, the villain has staged his own suicide. Michael returns home dissatisfied and despondent. 

"That's it? All this way, after all these years... That's it? THAT'S IT?!"

Maybe you can identify with Michael's frustration. What do you do when everything goes wrong and nothing makes sense? How do you move forward?

As Michael pours over the questions in his mind, his mom visits, and their exchange is interesting.
Mom: "Sam said that... you didn't quite find what you were looking for on your trip..."
Michael: "I had a chance to finally get some answers, make sense of the last four years, and that chance ended up in a body bag!"
Mom: "You know, all those years I lived with your father [who was abusive], I used to think through millions of ways I could confront him, everything that I wanted to say. All of the sudden, he drops dead. That's it! You know, people talk about closure, but I don't buy it. Somebody blasts a whole in your life, it tends to stay open."
Michael: "It does, doesn't it?"
In her own way, Michael's mom comforts her son by reminding him that he isn't alone in his pain, and that answers aren't always easy to come by. I can appreciate that. We all need someone to talk to who can identify with us and empathize with us, even if they don't know exactly every emotion we're feeling. It's important to have someone you can talk to whom you trust. When I feel alone, I take great comfort in the realization that God always hears our prayers, and he always understands our pains, even when no one else can. Jesus knows what it means to be betrayed (Matthew 26:47-50). He knows what it's like to lose a loved one (John 11). Whatever you go through, whatever you're feeling, he sees it and he understands it, and that's hugely important to remember!

It's also important, at some point, to stop dwelling on the pain and find a way to move forward, whether that means you need to move to a new place or learn to forgive somebody. Knowing this, Michael's mom asks him what's next, and when Michael doesn't really have an answer, she suggests he ought to take his mind off it by fixing up his car, which had been completely totaled in an earlier episode. And that's when the great moment comes:
Michael: "This? Oh no! This is beyond saving!"
Mom: "Nothing is beyond saving if you work at it... Nothing."
That's what so much of the message of the Bible is about! No matter how badly your life has been messed up, it's not beyond saving with God's help! Jesus died to save you and to prove to you that God loves you enough to do it! (Romans 5:8) Not only that, but God has a plan. He will use both the good and the bad to bring about his saving power in people's lives and throughout the world (Romans 8:28). And he promises that a brighter tomorrow IS coming, when he will finally make all things right and put all these painful things behind us for good! (Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-6).

If you really feel like you need answers for life's disasters, I don't know if anyone can really provide that for you or not, but I can try. Maybe the bad things happen, not because you deserve it, but so you can learn from it - so you can learn to develop patience and greater love for others, or so you can learn to trust in the Lord more completely (Deut. 29:2-6). Maybe you suffer so you can survive to help and encourage others with your story, the way Michael's mom helped him in our show. You face difficulties so you can be delivered like the blind man in John 9, like Lazarus in John 11, like the ancient Israelites in Egypt (Deut. 26:6-9). Maybe it's all of these things, to a degree, or maybe none of these answers really gives you the kind of closure you're looking for. I don't know.

What I do know is that God sees your pain, he has a plan, he's more powerful than all your problems combined, and he has promised to make all things new if you put your trust in him. Surrender your pains to him today, and watch as he brings healing and refreshment to your soul. Because if you'll let the Lord work at it, nothing is beyond saving... Nothing!

Nothing is beyond saving... not this flattened Charger... not your battered life... NOTHING, with God's help!

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