Plastic Bags and Hope

When my daughter was young, she loved to go on walks. She sat in her stroller without making a sound, looking in awe at the world moving by. One day, just as I was getting her ready to go in the stroller, she found a plastic bag and began crinkling it. I didn’t want her to put it in her mouth, so I took it from her and told her that instead of playing with the bag, we were going to go for a walk.

She threw a fit.

 With her limited understanding, she couldn’t comprehend that I needed to take something away from her—something that could harm her—in order to give her something better. It wasn’t until I placed her into the stroller that she calmed down.

Later that afternoon, I put my daughter in her crib for a nap. I planned on an hour or two of peace and quiet in order to finish a few things. But that day, she didn’t nap.

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I threw a fit.

My fit may have looked different than my daughter’s—I wasn’t crying or clenching my entire body—but in my mind, my frustration was intense. I desired those quiet hours so much that I placed all of my hope in naptime. When I didn’t get it, I reacted like an immature child.

When asked where we place our hope, most of us would give the correct answer: we hope in God. But when we look at our reactions to the inconveniences and stressful situations in life, it becomes clear that our natural tendency is to place our hope not in God but in a healthy child, a productive morning, even a bowl of ice cream eaten in peaceful solitude. These things become the “plastic bags” that we love to hold and can’t bear to lose. When God starts taking one of them from us, our grip on it tightens and we question him. Would it be so hard for him to let me have just this one thing?

While on this earth, we’ll never be able to fully understand the reasons why God allows us to suffer, whether in big or small ways. My daughter couldn’t explain why her mama took away her treasured plastic bag. Based on her reaction, she thought I deprived her for no reason. She didn’t understand I only took one thing away in order to give her something better. She thought her way was best, and we like to think our ways are best.

But God’s ways are best, and he has so much more in store for us. His word tells us that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17) and that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). We can’t begin to imagine what that glory will be like. Our minds aren’t able to do so. But we can trust God and believe that what he says is true.

Rather than feeling frustrated with and questioning him when he takes something we want, we have to take God at his word. We have to start with the fact that God is good and if we love him, he will work all things together for our good. If we believe that, we can assume anything he takes from us was taken in love for our good. It’s only logical, then, that we’re eternally better off without whatever was taken away.

God allows us to experience inconveniences and discomforts so we can turn to him in faith. Without his intervention, we wouldn’t feel our need for God as strongly. When he takes one of our plastic bags away, we have to find something else to place our hope in—Christ. Instead of looking for short-term happiness, we begin to look for long-term hope. Overwhelmed by sickness or noise or work, we have to look further than today. We have to look to the resurrection and the glory to come. And that’s where we find true hope and true joy. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).

Who would choose a plastic bag over the hope and love of God? Whatever he might take away, we rejoice, knowing that what he has in store for us—now and eternally—is far better.


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Esther Engelsma lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband and daughter. She is the author of How Can I Feel Productive as a Mom? and serves her church as an administrative assistant.