“God saved my life that night for a reason. It wasn’t by accident. He didn’t make a mistake, but he had a plan and a purpose for me, and he just wasn’t done with me yet.”
It took years for Joey Kelly to say those words. After witnessing the murder of his aunt and cousin at the age of 12, Joey wrestled with anger toward God. Surely God must have gotten it wrong. Surely God let the wrong people die that night.
Few of us can relate to the pain of having a loved one murdered, much less seeing that crime happen before our eyes. Joey cursed out God and turned to drugs and alcohol as a way to lash out. By all human standards, his actions were understandable. I have no idea how I would react if something like that happened to me.
If my reaction would be anything like how I responded to other painful situations that entered my life, it wouldn’t be pretty.
When a family member broke my heart and lied to me, I clung to unforgiveness for years. When I was robbed and beaten in front of my house, I developed debilitating anxiety. When a man I loved broke off our engagement, I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts.
I’ve wrestled with my fair share of anger toward God through all of these situations. God, why did you give me this family member who hurt me and lied to me? God, why did you allow me to be assaulted and robbed? God, why did you take away the man I was going to marry?
Anger is a natural response to pain and grief, and for years I felt justified in my anger toward God and other people. But then, something changed. In 2014 when I started going back to church, my eyes began to open to a surprising truth—that God had a purpose for all the painful circumstances in my life.
This didn’t all happen at once, and I probably won’t know the full purpose of these instances in my lifetime. But slowly, I began to see how God had a plan for my heartbreak. Through the circumstances I mentioned and many more, I learned how to forgive, how to show mercy, and how to find joy in the midst of sorrow. Most importantly, I learned how much God loves me in spite of how little I loved Him back.
That doesn’t mean I’m free from my struggle with anger. And as I said before, I have no idea how I would react if I walked through something like what Joey had to walk through. But when life’s setbacks challenge my trust in God, I have to remind myself of what Joey learned after years of anger and grief: even the most painful circumstances have an incredible purpose.