Trying to Curb Your Own Series of Unfortunate Events

I’m on the tail end of a nasty cold that has as one of its […]

Josh Retterer / 1.24.17


I’m on the tail end of a nasty cold that has as one of its side effects existential nihilism. To add insult to injury, this particular bug coincided with an anniversary date of the loss of a parent. Reflecting over the 15 years since that event, a lot more bad stuff has happened. In other words, I’m getting ready to channel Richard Lewis, Curb Your Enthusiasm-style:

Richard Lewis: First of all, I’m getting old, I have that irregular heart thing and this is not a good thing, I’m a recovering alcoholic, this is all very bad for me.
Larry David: What, we’re doing the litany now? What else is wrong?
Richard Lewis: Yeah, I can give you the litany. Want to know what my cholesterol was? 272! Alright?

I don’t want to get all Lemony Snicket and warn you not to continue reading the rest of this post, so I’ll save you the gory details. Suffice it to say, in those fifteen years, love has won and lost, two other close mentors/father figures have died, career and finances have reversed…not to mention a spectacular lack of success in ministry. It’s bad enough that Lifetime Original Movies has an option on the story. My very own series of unfortunate events.

As God would have it, this is also the fifteenth anniversary date of something else. When the Lord gave me a verse: Joel 2:25-27:

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer and the cutter, my great army which I sent among you.

One of the things I have realized, as I’ve reflected over the last decade and a half, with this verse in my mind, is the deep and increasing sense of guilt and shame I’ve experienced since my loss. Strangely, I haven’t felt victimized by these unfortunate events. Sure, theologically speaking, I already know I’m not a victim, that I am, in fact, locust-worthy, that I need the Gospel.  But the real reason I hadn’t felt like a victim was different: I had blamed myself for the restoration not having happened yet. There must have been something else I failed to do, to learn, in order to be worthy of things being made right again. Not only was I responsible for the restoration, but also an efficient timeline!

In the midst of my suffering, I had added a new law, a task to complete, a favor to earn. I placed something out of the reach of the Gospel’s healing work. I had taken on the role of restorer, and ultimately, the hero. That’s not what the verse says. It says, “I will restore.” Different “I.” No wonder I felt like a failure! I was trying to lift a burden I could never hope to lift. What endlessly creative ways we have to try and get out of a need for a savior! This is why we constantly are in need of hearing 1 Timothy 1:15 on repeat:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Paul Walker writes in The Mockingbird Devotional that we shouldn’t minimize the reality of the damage caused by the locusts, but we also shouldn’t despair.

The destroyers did real and severe damage in Israel, His chosen people; they brought years of loss built on more years of sorrow. Perhaps you have experienced what feels like years wasted in loss or sickness or suffering, or years spent idly or in vain—years you wish you could have back. The good and comforting news is that those years, and all years, come from the hand of God. And the better news is that God does not waste time—neither His time nor yours.

My story isn’t done. Neither is yours. The temptation is to try and skip the pages we don’t like, and if I’m honest, I haven’t liked these last few chapters. The other temptation is to try and rewrite the story altogether. The good news is that mine’s already been written, fortunately not by me, and I’m not the hero of it. The problem with writing yourself as the hero is that heroes have to slay the dragon. Mine’s already been slain. So has yours.