My Story Part 14: Grace in Hindsight

For you have made me rejoice, LORD, by what you have done; I will shout for joy because of the works of your hands.

Psalm 92:4

It was 1995, my last term at Mount Allison University. I was going to graduate with my BA in Religious Studies (and Political Science, as it happens), after which I’d be heading off to Acadia Divinity College to begin my MA in Theology. At the time, my plan was eventually to earn a PhD in theology and teach as a professor. That last part never happened, and even going on to do a master’s degree was hardly a given while I was at Mt. A.

My years at Mount A were incredibly formative for me. I’ve shared about that in earlier posts about my experience of being involved with IVCF and studying theology. Yet while in the midst of those years, what God was doing was not always evident.

Towards the end of my last year, while finishing up term papers and writing final exams, I recall having this nearly overwhelming feeling of joy, gratitude, and expectation. I remember going for walks and having this profound sense of God’s presence. It felt like the end of the most important season of my life to that point. No surprise, given what those years had been like. I had changed and grown so much. To put it another way, God had done so much in my life.

One memory in particular stands out. You see, our IVCF group met in the basement of the Mount Allison chapel. I had also been involved with the chaplaincy ministry a little bit. I often went there to pray, too, to come before God with whatever frustrations or anxieties were bothering me. So the chapel, which, incidentally, is absolutely beautiful, was an especially meaningful setting for me.

And I remember being in the chapel one spring evening during my final days at Mount A, filled with three years of memories, in awe of all that had happened, and having tears pour down my face.

Was I sad? Upset? Hardly.

Imagine being hit all at once with the realization of what God has done for you over the last few years of your life. Because if we’re honest, we know that God is at work, but we don’t always see or understand how in the moment. Sometimes it takes hindsight. Even then, sometimes God needs to open our eyes.

That’s what happened to me on this evening. All the joy and gratitude I had been feeling for a few weeks overflowed into one of the most profound experiences of thanksgiving I have ever had.

All I could say was, “Thank You.” But believe me, it was a deep and full hearted thank you. Because it was all grace, unmerited favour, sheer gift, God’s doing.

While in the present we aren’t always aware of the significance of what’s going on or what God’s doing in us and around us. But there are times when he graciously gives us a glimpse, when he lets us feel the weight of his providential care and supervision of our lives.

Truly, there is something wonderful about being able to look back and see how God has been at work, to realize how he has been mysteriously and lovingly protecting, guiding, and shaping you.

And this includes the bad stuff, the struggles, the pain that we deal with along the way. God is there too. My time at Mount A, as significant as it was, wasn’t perfect or only an endless highlight reel. There were moments and experiences that, well, sucked. No matter what age you are or what’s going on, life can be hard.

Yet, honestly, I’ve also learned that some of what was difficult to deal with at the time proved to be God’s means of protecting me from something or preparing me for something. Only with hindsight, though, did it become possible to understand that God was even at work in the disappointments.

Each one of our lives can indeed be, as the psalmist says above, the work of God’s hands. When we come to the end of ourselves and realize our need for God, it’s like he immediately sets out transforming us so that our desires and priorities radically shift. He makes it possible to learn how to look back and see his movements in our circumstances.

I’ve always loved these words of Charles Spurgeon: “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”

Spurgeon is absolutely right. Much of the time in the present moment we cannot trace God’s hand in our lives. We don’t know what he’s up to or how we are growing spiritually. It’s then that we learn to trust his heart—by learning to lean on his promises and his character.

Yet, there are moments, such as the one I had roughly 25 years ago, when God pulls the curtain back just a bit and gifts us with hindsight to see the work of his grace in our lives. When that happens, treasure the moment and be thankful. And when life is proving troublesome and challenging, look back to that same moment when you saw his hand. Doing so will help you, as it does me, trust his heart.

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