I Need a Big God
by Todd Burpo
I’m that small-town guy who is more comfortable getting my hands dirty working on a garage door than typing on this computer keyboard. I would also rather respond to an emergency pager or fire siren with my fellow firefighters than walk out on a stage to face a crowd of people.
When a family is crying together in pain or outrage at the hospital over the bed of a family member, I have a sense of belonging. It might be uncomfortable and painful, but something inside me says that I belong among the “dirty” situations—the traumas and struggles of life. It’s not just the sense of being needed or useful that takes me to those places. It’s also a sense of understanding. Pain is the humbling equalizer of humanity. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, we all eventually experience it. One way or another, all our hands get dirty.
So, I work with people and get dirty. Not just that, I am dirty! I live there amid the emotions, pain, and questions that everyone else struggles with, too. Life is hard, and the quick, clean, Disney World-style happily-ever-after solutions people throw around just downright offend me at times. This is especially true about the cheap, pat answers that come from some Christians. It’s as if they live with a blind disconnect between this world and their “faith” world. I’d rather we all be real about these things.
My journey has been difficult. It’s been crooked. Sometimes I feel like I’m moving in circles, not knowing how to get above life’s challenges and see the meaning of it all!
And then God.
Yep, just him. God has a way of stepping into my mess and bringing me what I could never grab ahold of by myself.
I know that some of my life’s story has been put on public display because of the book and movie Heaven Is for Real. Talk about awkward! I’m guessing that God is still laughing at me as I squirm even now just thinking about it. I do have to say that I am still amazed at actor Greg Kinnear’s portrayal of me. I don’t know how he observed me so quickly or if God gave him special help or both, but he showed my struggling fairly and downright realistically. The real Todd Burpo has issues—lots of them.
If you are like me, you have wondered out loud about the source of life’s problems. I’ve been crushed personally at times, seeing people deal with hurts far greater than my own. Because of them, I live with a sense of gratitude that my problems aren’t so bad in comparison.
So, what gives? Is it me? Or is it God? Or is it beyond me to even understand it all? But what do I do when God doesn’t do what I thought he should have done?
One thing I’ve learned is to look for his presence in the pain. Instead of just trying to get an answer to make things make sense, I look for his presence in the stuff that doesn’t make sense. If I look for him and am sensitive to it, I find him there in meaningful ways. Apparently, God gets his hands dirty just like I do.
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