In the midst of our storms, it is very rare (at least for me) to thank God for the hardship from a genuine place, but rather the struggle is to trust Him in it. You too? The days and weeks, months and years that pass after a hard season often bring clarity, and for that alone, I am incredibly grateful. (Though we can’t demand or expect to ever fully understand what God is up to…) Seeing beautiful, redemptive fruit grow out of cracked, dry and impossibly broken circumstances produces joy like few things can. I hope this post will encourage you to cling to the God of Hope, the God of all Comfort, the God who can restore and redeem all things. But at the same time encourage you – and remind myself – that we can also trust in the God who doesn’t promise answers, the God who leads us down dark paths for our good & His glory, the God who breaks in order to build. Being a child of God has brought some of the darkest and most beautiful things to pass in my life – and often they are joined together in some way!
Being a Christian means instead of saying ‘shame on you’ or ‘shame on me’, we can say – ‘me too’ and ‘you too’?? It means we can sit together, cry together, and live together, rather than fight, point fingers, grow bitter and sling stones. But we can’t do this. Christ makes this possible through us – when we walk with him, live in Him, and oftentimes, despite our best efforts or regardless of our many failures – He is the God who is WITH us, and desires that we be WITH one another. This is perhaps the biggest thing the darkness has taught me, especially as it was the most glaring deficiency in my life when The Storm hit, exposing my lack of and value for community. I was an island, and vulnerable to my own weaknesses and arrows from the enemy of our souls.
One of the most trying circumstances I’ve faced is the journey I’ve traveled to motherhood. I can hardly believe I am writing from the other side of that pain, and feel a little guilty knowing that others continue in that battle. Though our little guy is still so small, it is true that my heart has expanded and exploded with love, even as he has grown. Many of the things that God taught me along that journey, when followed through in obedience, also ushered in this great gift, preparing me for what He intended all along.
I’m always hesitant to give a ‘how-to’ but I do want to share some quick thoughts on a few things that helped me persevere in my dark seasons…
What does walking well look like, in hard times?
- humbly :: Often, but not always, God uses hard times to sift and sort our souls. The question is, how will we respond? This makes a huge difference in the intensity of the struggle – not that humility will always remove the struggle, certainly not – however resisting the work of God in our lives can often lengthen and intensify the pain we are experiencing. His discipline is for our good and His glory, but resisting the Potter’s work to mold, chip away, redirect, break, and rebuild only delays the good He intends through it all.
- happily :: In the Christian world, especially, I have noticed a common misunderstanding of God’s heart for us to really enjoy life, and pursue good and beautiful ways of doing this. Why would God create such variety of fruits and vegetables, incredible landscapes and animals, unique and interesting people, and a plethora of dreams, passions and interests among us? I don’t believe that was an accident. I am no expert at celebrating and enjoying life, especially in hard times – but it is truly a gift when we can delight in the blessings He sends our way. There is an artful balance in enjoying, but not idolizing, and we will get this wrong, perhaps more often than not! Thankfully, we can trust the heart of our Father God to not only send blessings at the perfect time, but teach us how to hold them with an open hand. Because when He removes a blessing, He is moving our hearts to find happiness in HIM.
- helping :: Firstly, I will clarify that I am not saying we need to TRY HARDER in hard times. God is not punishing us with hardships, and doing the ‘right thing’ or being a ‘good person’ is not going to suddenly make the clouds part and blessings drop from heaven. Yes, wisdom does often bring blessing and prosperity. But not always. There are no guarantees, except that God’s love will remain, and He will return. And it is so easy in hard times to become self-absorbed and think only of our pain and hardship. My mom has always been great at reminding and modeling the importance of looking to serve others in the midst of hard times, and this always gets my eyes off myself, while providing much needed perspective as the struggle continues.
- with honor :: I find great comfort in reminding myself that God allows hard times, but He does not send shame along with them – that is always from the enemy. God will point his finger on particular areas where He wants us to grow and develop, but oppressive and vague feelings of worthlessness and shame that cannot be tied to concrete issues are never from Him. Confess the sins, yes, but remind yourself that as a child of God, you are chosen, precious, and a valuable member of His kingdom plans! As I have grown in my knowledge of God’s heart being FOR ME and not AGAINST ME, I am able to rest in His arms, even as the storms swirl around me.
- healthy :: I must mention health and wellness (because, of course!) This is another big one for me, that I SO undervalued, unknowingly, until revealed by crazy life circumstances! It takes an intentional effort for most of us, on most days, to make healthy choices, whether that be in the area of nutrition, soul-care, relationships, exercise, finances, or a million other categories. My encouragement here is to keep making those healthy choices that we all know are important, even if it’s just small baby steps. Especially if it’s small steps! Choosing one healthy goal at a time works well for many, and remember to give yourself grace for the missteps as well. I am certainly not advocating a strict diet or rigorous exercise (or financial, or…fill in the blank) plan when life is swirling and sapping your energy and joy – but perhaps a refocus and renewed desire to make the next right choice. These small, intentional steps build on each other, and soon enough, you may just wake up to find that you are living a healthier life and loving it! I will also add that poor nutrition, lack of sleep, bitterness, unresolved issues, and no movement will lead to depression and compound any hardships you are already facing. Do yourself and those you love a favor and take care of yourself! Making simple but intentional wellness goals also gives me something concrete to focus on, when life seems out of control.
- hopeful & heavenward :: It is truly a fight in hard times, to hold on to hope. I have seen God shift my gaze from earthly things, to the eternal, in remarkable ways, and only by His grace. I can see now that had I not faced hard times, my gaze could have remained entirely on shifting circumstances, rather than developing a firm foundation in true and lasting things. This is ultimately what God is after – a heart that hopes in Him, and looks towards the great things He is preparing for us not only through the hardships, but in the life to come. The best is yet to come, children of God; let us never forget it!
May the God of peace, joy, and abundant life pour into your soul as you grow in the knowledge of Him and His work in and around you. He is truly worthy to be praised, and will patiently, but persistently pursue you until You are confident of His extravagant love.
I pray that something in these words might have encouraged you to keep pressing on, in the race of life? What would you add to these thoughts, from your experience and wisdom? Please share!
More in this series:
part two :: What the darkness taught (and is teaching) me
part three :: Loving well breaks the darkness (and a thank you!)