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Worse before Better - By Pastor Thomas Engel

There’s a commercial for Hershey’s candy bars that tells a little story that I think we can all relate to. A teenage girl is sitting on the floor of her bedroom leaning on her closed door. Her mother is sitting on the floor outside the door. It looks like they have been talking for a while through the door. We can see that the girl is tearful. My guess is that the girl is suffering from a broken heart.

This is where I think we can all relate to the girl. When we were younger, we had a “puppy love.” Just to throw in a little psychological analysis here; Freud recognized the validity of "the proverbial durability of first loves." Also, in my google search about “puppy love,” an expert in the field of human behavior says, “A crush is described as a coming-of-age experience where the child is given a sense of individualism because they feel intimate emotions for a person not part of their own family.”

“Puppy love” is part of growing up. Having experienced a broken heart is part of developing mature relationships. So, we take broken hearts seriously, even if that broken heart comes from a “crush.”

But I have digressed a little; now, back to the story in the commercial. The mom slides a Hershey’s candy bar under the door, and she says, “I promise you that things will get better.” The daughter takes the candy bar and smiles. She opens the door, and in the magic of marketing a product, the daughter and mom hug, and the girl’s broken heart is healed under thirty seconds.

Again, I am sure we know the feeling of a broken heart because they are just part of life, and I know for myself that a candy bar is a big help towards any kind of healing. But, as much as a chocolate lover as I am, the healing of any broken heart does not happen in under thirty seconds.

When I am hurting, I have a lot of questions that I have to work through. Questions like: Why did this have to happen in the first place? Did I do something wrong to deserve this? Will it ever get better? How will it get better? When will it get better?

I can go on and on with my questions, and I just do not want general answers to my questions. I want details and specifics. Tell me exactly everything about when and how I will get better.

The mom in the commercial was right when she said that her daughter’s broken heart will get better. Her mom has wisdom because she was once in her daughter’s place.

Wisdom is learning from past experiences and then applying what was learned to new situations. Broken hearts do not last. Things do get better if we give it time. Life has its way of moving forward to other things.

Not to read too much into the commercial, but maybe the girl came out of her bedroom because she trusted her mom. Perhaps, they have a good relationship. Although teenagers can seem distant and off in their own worlds, I have read that they do want to connect with adults.

When we are feeling down, and if it does seem that the road ahead is dark, can we trust that there is a light at the end of the tunnel?

In Scripture, there are many times when psalmists mention the word, “pit.” Life takes us to the “pits” at times. In Psalm 88, verse 6, the psalmist says, “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.

Imagine finding yourself in a pit of troubles, and you are wondering how you got in such a mess. You ask your questions, “Did I mess up or did someone push me into this pit?” I mean this mess has to be someone’s fault, and we need to pin the blame on someone. Would you be shocked, confused, and dismayed that you found that God has put you there?

One of the difficult and often troubling concepts of faith is understanding how God who is good and is all about love can let “bad” things happen. And not only does He let them happen, but He can even make them happen.

When Job was in anguish, he knew that God was the maker of all things, so he was able to reason that God can give things, and He can take whatever He wants away from us. God can have us sink into any kind of situation, and this sinking can go so far that it seems that we are going down into a pit of ugly and horrific circumstances.

Also, in the Psalms, we find psalmists in their troubles asking God all kinds of questions. One psalmist asks why God left him alone in his times that seem so hopeless. Another psalmist in his weariness asks God how long he had to endure his suffering.

Life does seem like it is one problem after another at times. We do have troubles in this world, and as we walk on this planet, we will experience all kinds of situations. As true as it is that we do have troubles, it does not mean that it is all gloom and doom.

Charles Dickens wrote his novel, The Tale of Two Cities, about the French Revolution. In the opening of the novel, Dickens writes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, ....” The story tells about a time of chaos, conflicts, and despair, as well as happiness. It tells us of comparisons and contrasts between London and France at a time when the rich and poor clashed.

For Dickens, life was one way or the other; there were no in-betweens. But he knew that extremes could exist at the same time. This duality is all around us. In many places in the world, rich and poor live close to each other, but they live totally different lives. But whether rich or poor, families can experience joy and sorrow at the same time as a baby is born, but then a short time later, an older relative dies.

Birth and death are what happens with humans. And all the joys and sorrows between birth and death is what happens while we are living.

We like to label things as one way or another. We want to think that something is either good or bad. With some things, having categories works. But life is mostly more complex than separating out things. Life is usually a mixed bag of thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Any person is capable of doing the best of deeds, but also that person can do something that can terribly hurt another person by an unkind word or an act done out of selfishness.

Our situations in life can seem bad or good at first, and then they can turn all-around to something else as time goes by.

At any moment, we can experience the worst of something, but then we can see a glimpse of a ray of hope that all will turn out well.

Getting back to our psalmists, we see that although they had their issues, they always stayed with God and His promises to restore them. On the one hand, the psalmists naturally responded to their difficult situations. After all, they are human, and as humans, we will flinch, cower, grovel, and recoil when hard times come our way. Difficult and sad times can leave us to be confused, angry, and fearful. Even when Jesus heard of the death of his friend, Lazarus, he wept.

But on the other hand, we always have to remember that God has made us be forward-moving people. The psalmists had natural reactions to their situations, and although they stopped to weigh in and chew on their plight, they did not let their problems trap them into despair.

When we read all through the Psalms, we will see complaints about the hard times that humans go through in their lives, but we also see how these psalmists turn from their difficulties to what they know is their true and only help.

In Psalm 121, the psalmist does not tell us his troubles, but we know he is in need of help because he is looking for answers. He asks, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does

my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

We can see how the psalmist answers his own question. In times of adversity, we can ask questions. To ask questions is only human. Again, we can see Jesus’ human nature when he prays to his Father in heaven on the night when he was betrayed.

Knowing that the pain and suffering of the cross were before him, Jesus prayed to the Father to take the cup of suffering from him. But here, too, Jesus knew the answer to his concerns. He knew that he must follow the will of the Father to die on the cross for the sins of the world.

If we are talking about the ups and downs of life, we can see how this happens in Holy Week as Jesus goes from a parade that honors him on the streets of Jerusalem to Pontius Pilate’s court where he was mocked and beaten and then was sent to Golgotha where he was to suffer and die, but let us never forget the empty tomb that shows that Jesus did not stay dead but came alive again.

The worse always gets better. We believe that all things work for the good who believe in the promises of God. Many in the world do not understand how a God who is supposed to be of love lets and even makes “bad” things happen.

It’s true that this time of a pandemic is testing us. We may feel discouraged as we go through the moments, days, and weeks that are ahead of us. Like the psalmists, we need to stay with God and know where our help comes from.

In this Holy Week that is seeing many troubles currently in the world, we remember that we also see Jesus go to the cross to fight all that tries to harm us, but we also need to remember to go to the empty tomb and see Jesus as our risen Savior who gives us his victory.

Let’s see what we have because of Jesus and his work for us-He showed us and taught us about the kingdom of God, so we know that this kingdom is where we have our true citizenship. He gives us forgiveness for every sin. In our baptism, we are always remembering that we are children of God and have his every blessing. Jesus has taught us to pray for all things. In the Lord’s Supper, we know how Christ is in us and knowing how Christ is right here in our hearts and minds gives us confidence as we face a world that can dish out some difficult times.

There are hard times that might cause us to lose hope, but we know difficulties will wear out. We look at what overcomes all things. Today, we know God’s grace and power has brought us out of the pit of troubles that might cause us to fear. But the joy of knowing of our salvation in Christ pushes out all fear.

Maybe we do not get all the answers to our questions, but we believe that God in His wisdom knows what is best for us. Faith says that God’s love in Christ is here and that it lasts all the way to eternal life in heaven. Yes, for us who believe, the best is yet to come!

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