A friend was telling me that a few months ago, she was sitting in the window, basking in the late February sun and remarking that it felt like spring. Her guest from the South was aghast – how can any weather that includes waist-deep snow drifts ever feel like spring? In fact, this particular March was marked for us by one of the most intense blizzards I remember in quite a while.
I live in a part of the world where spring doesn’t come quickly. Spring comes slowly, after snow that always feels like it lasts much too long. It is not heralded by daffodils poking sweet faces into sunshine. It is marked by mud and enormous-looking piles of filthy snow.
I’ve noticed, however, that I start to feel the hope of the promise of spring when I find a spot on the living room floor in the late afternoon that is warm from the sun’s rays. When I can hear water dripping down the rain spouts. When the weather is too wet for snow boots, but too cold for rain boots. It’s this strange, in-between of already, but not yet.
I’ve been reflecting on how much this longing for spring can also mirror seasons of the heart. In motherhood, there can be long and dry periods of intense loneliness, doubting whether any of our efforts in parenting are having any effect. We can experience something similar in friendships, in church relationships, with parents or siblings or spouses.
It can even happen with God. My soul cries out to God, why have you forsaken me? Why don’t you answer me when I call to you?
Sometimes I get caught up in looking too much at myself in my struggles. I turn to introspection to find the reason why I’m struggling with a sense of failure. I feel I’m failing to serve my friends well, to love my husband, to meet the needs of my children.
The reality is that I need to turn my eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. The One who came and became righteousness and justification for us.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but 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. Romans 5:1-6 (ESV)
About a month ago, I was smack in the middle of a long stretch of an intestinal virus with all my kids. It was the nightmare kind – one child would come down with it, and about half-way through their bout, another would fall sick. One would get better just in time for another one to fall ill, and then the first one would catch the virus again. There was a lot of laundry, very little sleep, and almost no productivity as a homemaker. I happened on the above verses in Romans around the middle mark of that stretch, and it totally changed my perspective on everything.
I started to realize I had a choice every time I heard a cry in the night – will I carry the gospel of self to this child, or the Gospel of peace? Will I be impatient, cranky, and snappish, or will I be gentle, patient, and kind as I administer water and fluff pillows and set up a bed for them so they can be close to me, the source of their comfort?
Suffering through the flu with my kids was producing endurance and teaching me that I could, in fact, survive on very little sleep and still love on my closest neighbors. Endurance was producing the characters of patience and gentleness, helping me to wake up in the middle of the night with kindness on my tongue. Character was producing hope – that I would one day sleep through the night again, but also that God was not finished with me, and that he could perfect his will in me through these hard times.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)
Sleep deprivation is suffering. Getting up for the umpteenth time in the middle of the night is endurance. Rubbing a little back and whispering with kindness on your tongue is character. Have hope!
Hope that in the midst of these bleary-eyed, teary trials, God is working good in you. Each time you get up and stumble to find the weeping child, gently tuck in, deliver a glass of water or another dose of Tylenol – you are bringing the Gospel! So count it all joy.
Maybe this isn’t your particular trial – but I am sure of this: you are going through something hard, and you can deliver the Gospel to that situation.
Suffering looks like hardship in the everyday, normal trials. I can get distracted in the everyday and think that what I’m struggling with isn’t real suffering. I can belittle myself or excuse my sin by justifying my struggles as inconsequential. I can get frustrated that the small interruptions are just in the way. But C.S. Lewis put it so well when he wrote,“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”*
I need to continually be reminded that my faithfulness in the small, hidden things will be the testing of my character so that when the truly big trials come, I will stand true.
So here it is – my hope of spring in my current battles. There are no daffodils peeking out at me. There is still not very much sleep. My hope rests in God alone – that he is working good in and through and for me, that he loves me with an everlasting love.
*from a 1943 letter from C.S. Lewis, included in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis