Originally published June 18, 2013
Sometime within the past year, I received an e-mail entitled “God’s Cake,” about how some of life’s problems — such as a failed relationship, job layoff, ill health or a child’s rebellion — can be overwhelming and cast a pall over one’s entire existence, as if nothing is going right.
In the e-mail, a mother who was baking a cake while listening to her daughter’s long list of woes asks if she would like a snack, and the daughter replies, “Of course, Mom, I love your cakes!” So, the wise mother asks her daughter if she would like … Oil? Raw eggs? Flour? Baking soda? The daughter says, “Yuck!” to each of these ingredients. To which the mother replies, “Yes, all those things seem bad all by themselves. But when they are put together in the right way, they make a wonderfully delicious cake!” The lesson being: God’s “plan” for our lives can sometimes be “distasteful,” but that the end product can oftentimes be quite good.
I saved that e-mail because I thought it could be an interesting blog topic. But, the timing of it was important because it was a message I could relate to; if I had received that e-mail a year earlier, I’m sure I would’ve deleted it. Afterall, how many times — in particular, when you are in the midst of pain/the unfairness of life — have you been encouraged to “look for the best” in such situations, only to think the advice is worthless? And, that the person giving the advice doesn’t know what he/she is talking about?
For a long time, I displayed a refrigerator magnet that my Mother sent me: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” ~ Winston Churchill. In other words, “Ignore the negatives,” and “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” Good advice, but not easy to follow when/if you’re “going through hell” or think that you are. I’m sure my Mother meant that to be good advice because of problems I was struggling with, and I’m just as sure I thought something like, “Yeah, whatever,” when I received it. But, I placed it on the fridge because I needed it to hold some note or photo in place. Years later, here I am giving what I consider to be wise guidance to my daughters (28 and 31), and sometimes I’m met with blank stares, deaf ears or an exasperated, “Mom!”
I think most of us can appreciate the best in a bad situation — what one blogger calls “deep gratitude” — when we are farther removed from the irritation/the pain. For instance, I first spotted the quiet beauty of this post’s photo from afar, when I was walking a path through rolling, manicured farmland in upstate New York. I was drawn to it, and when I got closer I noticed the obvious imperfections — yellow paint chipping and peeling away from weathered brick; rotting wood supporting the doorway; thorny, overgrown vegetation blocking the entrance. Still, I thought it interesting enough to document it. Later when I downloaded it to my computer, it became my favorite … even though there were many more that were prettier, “unblemished.” I think it has more layers, that it is deeper in meaning.
There have been many times in my life when I have been lost in the midst of emotional pain, many times when I did not move gracefully through “hell.” Now, I look back over the great expanse of my journey, and I don’t remember what I felt like “way back then,” nor do I remember a lot of the details that caused me to bemoan my fate. I know this much: I was not thanking God for much of anything. These days, I thank God for my entire life because I now know that every single spec of it and every person has contributed to the joy and beauty that I now feel and see.
* Photo credited to author.