Pasteur Jean-Christophe Bieselaar is overworked and understaffed in Paris, for the glory of God. His email contained news of vandalism to his church, L'Eglise Protestante Evangelique de la Défense, and concluded with this note: "Let me tell you the truth as a pastor, can I? This is bad-and discouraging."
But that is the middle of a story, not an ending.
Pamela, a distant acquaintance, shared the dark night of her soul at a meeting in 1998: Her father was leaving her mother for a woman younger than his daughter. Devastation. Sackcloth and ashes. End of the world as Pamela knew it.
That was also the middle of the story. When I met her over breakfast recently she was radiant. She had seen over nine years that the Lord brings about the most improbably wonderful finales: the restoration of a family to more glory than before the tragedy. No wonder Abraham's son was named "laughter." Back in '98, Pam would have changed the hand dealt her. But, as a retreat speaker once said, "Would you really want to be in control of your own life? I can't even reset the clock on my VCR."
The end of a matter is what counts (Ecclesiastes 7:8). If the end is nice, the middle mess is not only bearable but takes on the endpoint's sheen. "Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. . . . This is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory" (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce).
Satan wants you to believe the middle will last forever. A bit of the blues comes your way and you say, "Life stinks"-which is quite an extrapolation. But remember, the Polaroid shot of a tossed ball snapped at its arc's midpoint only seems to be stuck in the air. It won't stay there. The woman with the 12 years of bleeding (Luke 8) and the man lame for 38 years (John 5)-these are stories short in the reading but long in the living. But see what Jesus brought about.
Someone I love is presently perplexed that the Lord seemed to "dangle" a blessing in his life, only to snatch it away. "Why would God get my hopes up to let me down?" The short answer is "I don't know." The longer answer, from three decades' extra perspective, is that God, like any good Father, sees around corners for His children and snatches them out of the way of oncoming cars. He also drags His kids, kicking and screaming, from their cherished mud puddles, to take them to the beach.
Job, stuck in a brutal middle, cried, "I know that my Redeemer lives" (19:25). And that is the key to everything, to surviving brutal middles. "This is the victory that overcomes the world-our faith" (1 John 5:4). Those who believe not merely survive but flourish: "As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs" (Psalm 84:6).
My brother Marc, in God Still Loves the French, chronicles 20 years of beating his head against the wall as a missionary in France. I don't know, does God still love the French? Does he love Pasteur Jean-Christophe Bieselaar? Bieselaar and Mailloux in France are not unlike Paul in Asia, whose life was messy in the middle freeze frames.
And so are we all "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair" (2 Corinthians 4:8). A cloud of witnesses flanks the path of suffering, each one a living spring, dispensing ablutions of inspiration like so many cheering fans thrusting water cups along the Tour de France.