When God uses something terrible for good
What were you like when you were sixteen? What did you have planned for your life?
How do those plans match up to where you are now?
When St. Patrick was about sixteen, he was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland, and enslaved. I have no idea what teenage Patrick had hoped to do with his life — but I am certain that he did not dream of being taken from his Christian home and forced to work for pagans. I can only weakly imagine what he must have been feeling and thinking as he lost control of his plans.
Yet later in life Patrick looked back on his capture and enslavement as a good thing. What?!
It wasn’t because he thought raiding and enslaving were good things. It wasn’t because he learned to love his work of shepherding. Patrick looked back on his enslavement as a good thing because of the way God used it — even the most terrible parts. In his Confession Patrick wrote:
It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith…After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time…
…I remained on in Ireland, and that not of my own choosing, until I almost perished. However, it was very good for me, since God straightened me out, and he prepared me for what I would be today. I was far different then from what I am now, and I have care for others, and I have enough to do to save them.
Eventually Patrick escaped slavery, and he returned home to his family. But soon God sent him a vision of the Irish people pleading with him to come back. So Patrick returned to the land of his enslavement, this time on a mission from God: to help the Irish people know the truth and love and grace of God. Now the man who had been enslaved in Ireland is the patron saint of that same country. God used the terrible experiences in Patrick’s life to create something good and life-giving.
We all had plans for this last year — and I’m sure none of us had planned to be part of a global pandemic, to quarantine, to do school virtually. Like young Patrick, our plans and our sense of control were totally yanked out from under us.
Last week, during Morning Prayer, we marked the one-year anniversary of COVID coming to the U.S. with this prayer:
Wonder Worker, in this year when everything changed, when we felt worried and weary, when we wailed and we wondered, you gave us a promise…Nothing can separate us from your love. And nothing will be wasted. With you at work, light, life, love, and liberation always win. Amen. [from Illustrated Ministry]
“And nothing will be wasted.” That line in particular has stuck with me.
This past year has been full of changes of plans, full of fear, full of cancellations and loneliness. Most terribly, this year has been full of sickness and death.
And nothing will be wasted.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you…
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3a)
If God is for us, who is against us?…Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31b, 35, 37)
Nothing will be wasted, because God is for us. Nothing will be wasted, not even the most terrible things. If God can use Jesus’ torture and excruciating death for the good of the world, we can trust that God will find a way to use even our worst experiences to create something good and life-giving.
Young Patrick did not know that his enslavement would be used for great good. Our sixteen-year-old selves didn’t know where we would end up in 2021. And today, it often feels like we don’t dare plan or expect anything at all. There are so many things happening that seem irredeemable. But we know many holy stories that remind us that God is powerful and creative enough to turn all things to God’s good purpose.
From a prayer of St. Patrick:
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me…
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me.
March 17, 2021
Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay serves as university pastor at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and takes turns writing weekly devotions with University Pastor James A. Wetzstein.
- Archives of Devotional Writings from our Pastoral Staff
- “Some Lent!”
- (Your vocation here) of people
- A call to courage for 2021
- A charming tale for over-achievers
- A Lesson On Beans … and Being
- A New Place
- A Point of Privilege
- A season of anticipation
- A Time of Dust
- Acquiring a peaceful spirit
- Advent = Hope
- All will be well
- Anastasis: the Greatest Story of God’s Saving Power
- Another kind of darkness
- Are we willing to cross the road for one another?
- As if we needed a reminder
- Beacons of hope
- Better Together
- Blessings As You Go
- Can we learn to be happy?
- Carrying the COVID Cross
- Come and See
- Did Jesus really suffer?
- Doing without in a life of plenty
- Don’t miss this moment
- Exiles with Vision
- Fear not!
- Fear of the Lord
- Feeling at Home
- Finding Purpose in the Journey
- Finding Words for Times Like These
- Forgiving others – and ourselves
- Getting ahead with Jesus
- Getting down on Jesus’ level
- Getting through this together
- God is not overwhelmed
- Good Friday
- Grief & Graduation
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas — somehow
- Holy Week and Taking Out the Trash
- Holy Week: The aid station late in the semester
- Hopes & Dreams vs Life in the Wilderness
- How do you keep from giving up hope?
- How glad we’ll be if it’s so
- I almost slipped
- Imagining Eternity
- In a time of uncertainty, these things are certain
- In everything, grateful
- In praise of plans B … C … D …
- In the midst of grief, God will bring life
- Is there such a thing as being too forgiving?
- It’s a Three Day Weekend!
- It’s In the Bag
- It’s What’s Happening
- Jesus among us
- Killing off our future selves
- Knowing a Good Thing When We See It
- Lessons in fire building
- Let there be light!
- Let us work for real wellness in our communities
- Life Is a Highway
- Lilies and leaves and whatever else is beautiful
- Living in the Present
- Naming our demons
- O Lord, you know I hate buttermilk
- Of Fear and Failure
- On Christian Unity: When we’re not one big happy church
- On the Bucket List
- On the day after the night before
- Persistent and Extravagant
- Pray and Let God Worry
- Praying for Reconciliation
- Preparing for the world to be turned rightside up
- Recovering from an Epic Fail
- Reformation calls for examination
- Remembering among the forgetful
- Rest is Holy
- Right where we are
- Seeing beauty in brokenness
- Signs of Love
- Starting Small
- Still in the storm
- Surprisingly Simple: Breathe!
- Taking a Break from the Relentless
- Talking ourselves into it
- Thankfulness leads to joyfulness
- The Art of Holy Week
- The Funny Business of Forgiveness
- The Greatest of These is Love
- The Magi: Exemplars of Faith and Learning
- The Power of Small Conversations
- The Trouble with Mammon
- The Power of Taking a Sabbath
- The Spiritual Gift of Hindsight
- This can’t be done alone
- To be known
- You might be a Lutheran if…
- You will be in our prayers this summer of 2020
- Ventures of which we cannot see the ending
- WWJD? We already know
- Walking in the Light of Jesus’ Resurrection
- We had hoped
- We’re on a mission from God
- What do you do with your anger?
- What good is a shepherd?
- What is your base reality?
- What to do after you find your voice
- What to do on the day after
- What we know and what we don’t know
- When bad things happen
- When God uses something terrible for good
- When heaven & earth click
- When joy and sadness live together
- When stress overwhelms
- When the promise of resurrection is hard to believe
- When you offer up your broken cup
- When we are moved
- Where God will be found
- Where is the good shepherd carrying you?
- Wilderness Journeys
- Won’t you be my neighbor?
- Year-end time management: Keeping the main thing the main thing
- Your Valpo roots will help you grow into your future