As writers of Christian Fiction, one trend we typically follow is the development of our protagonists' character, if not through the entire story, definitely by the end. Since a lot of us put something of ourselves into our stories, character growth made me think of personal growth. But what causes growth?
A couple of years ago I attended a workshop run by Donald Maas at the ACFW Conference in Colorado. Amongst the wealth of information he shared, one thing struck me. He asked us to create a problem for our protagonist, and then another one and to make things progressively worse for them. It is through trying to solve a problem or by learning how to live with some not so pleasant circumstance that growth emerges. Obviously, I'm oversimplifying, here. Emotions, motives and reactions can be quite complex.
Have you ever had an experience where you were certain of something? So sure that nothing and no one could shake your confidence in what you knew? Well, I had a friend called Luke, who was more like family. He went into hospital, but as far as I know, it wasn't for anything to serious. I remember praying for him one night and having an overwhelming sense of peace after I'd made my petition. I'd never had that type or level of peace. Ever. Imagine God cocooning you in His arms. I understood the fullness of joy from being in His presence. I went to sleep with a smile knowing that God had heard me and answered my prayer.
I got a call from Luke's cousin not long after telling me that he had passed away! I was confused. I'd prayed and I know God heard. Where did that peace come from? I didn't know what to think. And being someone given to intense self-scrutiny and contemplation, that was very hard. Until...
Until the Lord revealed to me that I had misinterpreted the peace. I thought the peace meant that Luke would be healed and continue with his life here on earth, but instead God removed him from the pain he was in and the limitations of his physical body because he was ready to go home to the Lord. Talk about an occasion for growth.
I have another, very close friend O, who has been married for over 20 years. After suffering 6 miscarriages and years of trying, she got pregnant in January. Understandably this time around she wasn't very vocal about the pregnancy. Around the 3 month mark she invited me to go with her for a scan, but didn't tell me what the scan was for. I drove her to the hospital and dropped her off because I couldn't find a parking space. It was only hours later, after I'd returned home that it hit me that she wanted me to find out that she was pregnant! I called her and following her cues, skirted around the issue. It wasn't until about a month later that my suspicions were confirmed when she started to show. I was so happy for her. I'd never seen anyone look so beautiful! A couple weeks later she was put on hospital bed rest. We weren't worried because we trusted God and just knew that this time would be different. Knowing her history, it was good to know that her doctors were taking this seriously. Bed rest seemed a small price to pay.
On the 10th of June I got a text from O telling me that she'd given birth to a daughter the day before, but the baby's lungs were not developed enough for her to survive on her own. O's husband dedicated the baby to the Lord. To say I was devastated and confused doesn't really do justice to my emotions. I couldn't begin to imagine how O was feeling. At that moment all I knew was that it was enough! I do praise God that O and her husband are hopeful and that despite their pain, are trusting God to fulfill His promise that they will be parents. This by no means dismisses the tears and turmoil they must be going through away from prying eyes.
In my years as a Christian, like everyone else, I've had my ups and downs and sometimes wanted to run away from myself, and from God, but the thoughts running through my head at O's experience scared me. I began to question God. I know there is nothing impossible for God to do, so I wondered why O had to go through this trauma for a seventh time. I just didn't get it and I allowed myself to get angry at God for the first time in my life. And that terrified me. Was this another opportunity for personal development?
I became extremely uncomfortable in my own skin because I felt like my view of God was faulty or erroneous. And the very foci by which I'd anchored my life seemed to have shifted. But thanks be to God. I'm learning that God does not need me to defend Him, and I'm seeing through current experiences that nothing surprises Him and He knows just how to remind His children of His love - a big part of which is trusting Him even when we don't understand what is going on. I'm learning that in the midst of intense emotional turmoil one can experience incredible spiritual joy.
Okay, I know you're wondering how I got here. First of all I'm not really there yet, but I'm definitely on my way. God, as only He can, knew that at the time that O would lose her baby and when the threads of doubt would threaten to choke the very life of my faith, I, along with all members of my church would be studying the book of Job. I love how dynamic the Word of God is. Even though I've read through the book of Job a few times before, I don't think I'd read any part of it while I was dealing with something serious. I'm learning that there are conversations and decisions going on about us in Heaven to which we are not typically privy. There are indeed some things that we can prevent, but there are also other things that we can do nothing about save pray and ask for daily grace.
Only God can define the standards by which we live. An event that we view as sad or traumatic, can be an opportunity for God's glory to shine. Because we live in a world of information and knowledge overload we question, trying to find answers to things that make no sense. But faith is about trusting in the God who sent His son to die for the sin He would never commit. God understands pain. He understands suffering. He knows all things and always acts in the best interest of His children. God does not belittle our pain, but walks with us through it. He gives grace to get through the hour, the day, the month. He gave us time. He welcomes our questions, but by no means should we assume to know. Only He has perfect knowledge, and what we do know is the little He allows us to.
None of us knows tomorrow, but we do know that God is love. We also know that our 'knowing' increases with each experience that God allows us to face, as long as we go through them leaning on Him.
Father, thank You for growth and for the grace You give us as we grow!
Ufuoma Daniella Ojo is a Technical Author and Software Trainer. She lives in London and is currently editing her first manuscript titled The Sower, and is trusting God for connections leading to publication.