Eleven days ago my husband and I celebrated our 16th Wedding Anniversary. It was absolutely wonderful. If I was to put it into the best words that I could, it was simple and sweet. What did we do to celebrate? Not much. We exchanged some sweet greeting cards and went out for a simple dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. That’s it. Simple and Sweet.
As we were driving to dinner there was this sunset. My very basic, and pretty “old” camera hardly does it justice, but I still wanted to share it. It was simple, yet it was such a peacefully beautiful sunset. It was nice.
For years and years and years “NICE” is a word that people have used to describe me. I would sit at conferences with my Mom as a kid and hear pretty much every teacher tell her that I was a nice kid. I heard it at church. I heard it in every activity I was involved in. People used it in letters of reference for me. As I started to become interested in boys, that it what they said to, I was nice.
To be perfectly honest, I became sick of being described as nice. Not that I wanted to become a mean person. I just longed so deeply to have better descriptors used that was more than a simple four letter word that means. When it came to my school and career work, I wanted to be “brilliant”. I guess I figured that if I was extremely smart, and knowledgeable about many things, then I could leave “nice” behind in the dust.
I tried hard. Very hard. I put a lot of effort into being brilliant. I thought being brilliant would lead to making myself distinguished which would then lead to “success” in all areas of my life. So I set my sights on becoming brilliant when I was young.
To be brilliant meant academic success, right? My cumulative GPA for schooling was 3.89 for high school, 3.91 for my two undergraduate degrees and 3.91 for my master’s degree. All very nice. Nothing that made me brilliant. Mostly A’s. Always a B somewhere to pull things down.
I even took a bunch of IQ tests. I guess I thought over time I could work my way up to a dramatically higher IQ. My thought was to be brilliant, I would clearly need a genius level IQ. It did not matter which version of the test I took. I couldn’t quite achieve that top box performance that would put me on the very extreme tail of the bell curve. I was just one step below that. I did a nice job.
I also wanted to be successful in relationships. I thought if you wanted to be successful, then you should certainly please people. I wanted to please parents, teachers, professors, advisers, colleagues, and bosses. That is just plain exhausting.
When it came to dating, I wanted to be beautiful, attractive, desired, alluring. In the eyes of most, well I was just plain nice. Just plain easy to overlook. I guess in some ways I saw it as another way to perform and achieve, all that with some work and effort I could become a woman who was distinguished.
Let me tell you about my husband, Eric. He is extremely simple and superbly sweet. We worked together. We were friends first. One night after work I was hungry, but I did not want to cook nor did I want to eat alone. It just so happened that he got off the same time, so I nicely asked if he would like to join me for a simple meal at one of the ordinary restaurants in town. I suppose you could say the rest was history…four hours of sweet dinner conversation that lead a friendship to blossom into a couple who spend much time together, which lead to a simple gold ring in a nice little box, a nice small wedding, two kids, a few job changes, a couple of house moves, a farm and 16 years of marriage.
Turns out, life for us is simple and sweet and nice. Now, it is by no means perfect. There have been many pains, frustrations, irritations, annoyances, disappointments, losses and even a bit of despair along the way. There has been hurt and uncertainty. But there has also been love, comfort, compassion, joy, laughter, hope and fun.
I wish I could tell you that in the very early years of our marriage that I had accepted us being a simple and sweet couple, but that would just not be true. I was longing for so much more and striving, fighting even, to get to a place that I thought was better. My eyes were clearly focused on the things of this world. For every achievement that I grasped in my hands, two more were placed in front of me to capture. I went after them with great vigor and passion.
I was at the time, faithlessly empty. All the stuff on the outside, it could not fill the inside. Then I opened the door of my heart to Jesus, who had ever so patiently been waiting for me. He came into my life, my heart, and filled me with love that I had never known before; a love that accepted me flaws (or in my case super flaws) and all. You see my life may have always looked “nice” from the outside, but it was a plain old mess on the inside. I am so thankful for Jesus and His patient work with me.
I am still such a broken work in progress, where we are constantly discovering new areas to work on. Sometimes the work is painful. Sometimes it is tedious. Sometimes it is exhausting. The results can be nice and simple. To use another word with little flare and flash, it is good. God is so good. The work that He does in my life is good. The path He has for me is good. To be a nice, sweet and simple person, that, too, is good.
Did you know that the word good can mean a right, proper, fit? My eyes were opened to that in a new way this morning. Which quickly brought to my mind this verse, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV). Romans 8 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. I can not tell you how often I go back to that chapter because I find rich encouragement in the passages of scripture that it holds.
I have often read verse 28 thinking that the word good meant that God would work in all things to bring me that which was good as defined as satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree. Out of the bad stuff (pain, frustration, set-backs, lacking & suffering) God could make good stuff (joy, laughter, provision, abundance, & peace). I still believe God is totally capable of that time and time again.
But, what if God is working for the good of those who love Him, by helping them get to a place that is the right, proper fit for them? I had to sit and stare at that this morning. I had to slap my own forehead at the tie between being “called according to His purpose” and the words for one definition of the word good, “a right, proper fit“.
Then I thought back to a couple of key examples in my work life. There have been two key positions that I had in my life that I toiled over, but could not find success in, even temporarily. I struggled physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually to make them work. I poured into them with all I had. I sacrificed a lot to live up to the hype that people were telling me it was a perfect position for me. I held on so tightly to it that it felt as if my own fingernails were going to leave permanent scars on my hands. I did not want to be a failure and I did not want to let anyone down.
I probably added a host of frustrations to those around me by desperately trying to make things work. It was not a right, proper fit for me. I humbly watched as the individuals who replaced me in these positions did much better than I in the same role. They seem to pour in less energy and effort, come up with more incredible output, and reaped in higher salary & benefits than I did. Which in the wrong mindset, had me thinking I was sure worth less, that being nice & trying hard does not get one anywhere.
Looking back from this point now, I would probably say it was more about me not being a right, proper fit. Of course that, in and of itself, is self centered of me to say. For all I know both the individuals who replaced me, as well as myself, were all being moved into places that were more of a right, proper fit for all of us. God’s ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts. So really, God only knows.
So here is my conclusion for myself, if God’s way, His thoughts and His purpose for me are to be nice, simple and sweet, if this is what is the good or right, proper fit, then it is something I should accept.
No, it is a role that I should embrace. I should throw my arms around it, receive it gladly, and avail myself to it. Most of all I should be grateful to God for working in all things, even the sticky situations I get myself into, for my good and for the good of those who love Him.
I am so grateful for the simple and sweet marriage that Eric and I share. I am thankful for the ways that God has worked good in both of our lives and in the unity of our marriage.
My dear reader, before I pray for God to be working in all the areas of your life, for your good, I just wanted to say thank you. I thank God for you so often. I am grateful that I can open up just a tiny window into my heart with you and share a bit of the mess that is my life. I just feel so compelled to tell you what I am learning in the hopes that it may encourage even ONE person out there, because that ONE is so important. You are an incredible ONE. You are beautiful and treasured and a precious gift.
Thank You so much for allowing me a glimpse today of the word good in a new light. Lord, it is so incredible how You, a God of awesome majesty who weaves the finest of details into a fabric of complexity, could also be a God who is sweet and simple.
Lord, thank You so much for the readers who share in my journey. Lord, please continue to faithfully work good into their lives. Help them to love You and to trust You to help them find the right, proper fit that You have according to Your purpose. Help them to let go of anything they may be so painfully holding on to. Help them to not compare themselves to others who You move around them or those who You may even move into spaces they formerly held.
May each of us realize that the gifts You give are truly beyond compare. Help us to let go of our tendency to compare ourselves with each other. Help us to seek You, to receive Your love, to love You back and to share that love with others in our lives.
In the sweet and simple name of Jesus, amen.