The Good Catastrophe
In his essay on Fairy-Stories, J. R. R. Tolkien explained his undying faith in the consolation of the happy ending. Tolkien even coined a new word to describe this literary pattern - eucatastrophe. A eucatastrophe is that moment in stories where everything seems lost and defeat inevitable; then, out of the shadows, Victory arises to put Defeat to bed.
I went into college in 2009 thinking God was going to fan the flames of my faith that had grown stagnant at the end of high school. You could call it pride. You could call it naivete. The problem was that I felt like I had outgrown what youth group could teach me. In reality, we never outgrow the gospel. We never outgrow the Spirit’s work in exposing our weaknesses and then addressing those areas of weakness by applying the power of the gospel. That’s what I really needed.
The irony is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had no idea that I had let other things usurp God in my life. I had no idea that growth would look more like “devastation and reform.”
Fast-forward to January 31st, 2010 - I’m sitting in Craige North, alone. Outside you could probably find college students enjoying the rare snow day in Chapel Hill. Inside my dorm room there was quiet restlessness over what had unfolded over the past four months. Thousands of people around, yet feeling disconnected. A trying roommate situation that escalated to his citation for drug paraphernalia and a confusing drop-out explanation all by the first week of November. A few months earlier, my girlfriend of 2+ years was initiating a conversation about wanting to get married (I wasn’t ready for that). A month later and all of that is over.
Does that sound convoluted? Because it was.
So here I am, a freshman in college, alone in my dorm room, disappointed that it had snowed because it meant I wouldn’t be able to get a ride to church. It was a missed opportunity for some attempt at community. That morning, I read through John 7:1-13 where Jesus goes to the Festival of Tabernacles. And Jesus’ brothers want him to go put on a show; to make a name for himself (John 7:3-4). But Jesus declines because he has different motives. He chooses to come secretly rather than publicly (John 7:10).
I found that to be so strange. I remember praying that morning for Jesus to reveal himself to me. The past several months had felt like he was hidden among the crowd. But Jesus knew exactly what I was asking for. I was saying - Jesus, why won’t you show up in this place? Nothing is how I thought it would be. What a terrible turn of events my life has taken. I was supposed to have ‘arrived;’ whatever that means. Now I just want to go back...but I know I can’t.
After this moment of realization, I ended my prayer time and went on with my day. On Facebook that morning, I had a message from a girl named Cymbre White - someone I had met once at a church retreat I attended two years prior. She wasn’t even a part of the retreat. She didn’t know me.
Needless to say, it was an odd person to receive a message from. Here’s what she said:
1/31/10, 11:25 AM
I hope this isn't super weird of me, but I just wanted to tell you that I'm praying for you, and I hope you're doing well. I had a dream last night that we talked (which…I don't think we've ever had a real conversation...) and you were really upset about something. So, I hope things are going okay for you. I love you, God loves you.
This, of course, raised many questions. The biggest one being - what would compel her to actually reach out? It’s weird enough to have a dream about someone you don’t know, but you would never tell them about it. Regardless, no question that came to mind really mattered. The point was that Cymbre was right on every account. It was “super weird.” And she and I had never had a “real conversation” and still haven’t. My entire disposition during that season of life could have been summarized as “upset.” And she was absolutely right when she said “God loves you.”
You see, in an amazing turn of events, God made that very clear. The pain from those days has since subsided, but when you go through pruning you know it. In a sense, you can still feel the places where you’ve been pruned. But it doesn’t produce contempt. No. It produces greater love for the Gardener as He teaches you to abide in the True Vine - Jesus.