A lot is swirling in my spirit right now and I may not make much sense here, but I feel the need to try to make sense of some of it by just getting it out in writing, even if it ends up a disjointed mess… and seeing where the writing takes me.
Just heard a talk on the topic of endurance, which is interesting since that’s the title to a book I’m reading about astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year living in space. A fascinating book – seeing how he went through so many challenges and deprivations, and he is a completely non-spiritual person, doesn’t seem to have any hunger for God. A total mystery to me, how that could be, but, whatever. That’s not my point now.
ENDURANCE. Doesn’t your inward self just groan – even a little bit- when you hear that? My lazy flesh certainly does. Because you’re never called to endure lovely, happy, comfortable things – it’s always the difficult stuff that you have to endure. And yet, endurance is important to God in the formation of our character. There are so many verses that mention it. There’s that one from James that I wrote about a couple months ago. “Consider it all joy… testing produces endurance….Let endurance/patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Ah, yes. It’s important for our maturity. We need to “do hard things” in order to be stretched, to grow, to gain confidence, to see His faithful provision in making a way through for us.
I see this in raising children; I’m trying to train my eldest especially these days, as he is fast becoming a young man – you can do this tough thing. You can take on more chores, more responsibilities, a more complex piano piece. He wilts: “It’s toooo harrrd.” I know I am doing a disservice if I coddle him too much, let him take shortcuts. “I KNOW it’s not easy but you CAN do it. Just *don’t*give*up.” And then I have to turn around and laugh at myself when I find myself wanting to whine about an irritating situation that I am sick of enduring. Oh! What’s good for the children is good for the mother. It’s like God is saying, “Remember what you’re trying to teach your children about doing hard things? How they need to grow up and mature and move up to the next level of responsibility and character? This is what I’m trying to teach YOU.”
Endurance feels negative, initially. It presents a picture of gritting your teeth, toughing it out, hanging on by your fingernails, waiting for the pain to be over. It feels focused on the present suffering. But after tonight, I don’t think that’s a fair representation – I don’t think that’s how God wants us to see it. I think about the verse that talks about Jesus: “…who, FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM, ENDURED the cross…” Yes, the cross was pretty much the worst suffering ever endured. But He went through it BECAUSE there was something joyful, beautiful, WORTH IT on the other side. Endurance isn’t just about waiting out the problem – it’s an arrow, pointing to something else. It’s about trusting that there’s something BETTER coming because of the suffering. It’s a tool that God is using to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in our hearts… ” that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in NOTHING.” Wow – those words have weight, “LACKING IN NOTHING.” The world is crying out with needs. He offers us a way to be complete, whole, fulfilled, wanting for nothing.
We don’t usually choose the situations we are called upon to endure. No one chooses to live with depression, Parkinson’s, cancer, a loveless marriage, physical limitations, allergies, a childless womb, loneliness, a family member who seems to perpetually frustrate or disappoint us, hereditary traits that seem to confine, temptations that dog us. And yet, these are the gifts God has given to us. They don’t seem like good gifts, after you open the box. You gave me WHAT?! What were you thinking, God? I don’t want this! It may have even looked really good at first… You marry your sweetheart – and they turn out to be addicted to gambling, which turns your marriage, and your life, into a living hell. You want to have a child, and he is born with disabilities. You invest yourself in people, and they betray you. You thought you were getting something good – and it ends up a living nightmare. You thought you were being so careful and wise and choosing safe paths for yourself and making sure that you surrounded yourself with good people… and you STILL ENDED UP IN A MORTAL CAGE MATCH, fighting a relentless, seemingly unchangeable circumstance. Shouldn’t life be a non-stop conveyor belt of delightful gazebos, turquoise bicycles with baskets, and charming Japanese lanterns in the evening!? That’s what we’re trying so hard to make it – a life out of a magazine. But God only gives good gifts, and so these things, these situations we are called to endure, these are His way of turning us from our false ideal of the good life – the gazebo/bicycle/Japanese lantern life – to what we really need – utter dependence on Him.
And, personally, I think there are going to be a heap of Japanese lanterns in heaven, so we’re really not missing out on anything, in the long run. Just gotta endure, for a little while longer, for the joy set before us.