This year – 2016 – my prayer has been that God would grow me in steadiness. It was a prayer that I decided to continually ask of God after experiencing the first few months or so of post-grad life. What I knew of post-grad life to that point was that everything was ever-changing. I had moved to Asheville, a new city. I was no longer a student; I was somehow an adult. And that transition of identity, in a sense, was an unexpected one. Circumstances changed frequently. Jobs changed. I was part of a new church plant, so even my church family was ever-changing from week to week as we grew and became established. Nothing was constant. Only change was constant. And I was a mess.
I was up – anxious – and I was down – depressed – and I longed for my circumstances to be predictable, in my control, and easy. Even my awareness of my unsteady responses upset me. I was a true mess.
Winter 2016 came, and I was somehow a messier mess. As soon as I thought circumstances were predictable, something else would change. As I realized more how out-of-my-control everything was, I would sit in despair and pity. I continued praying that God would please grow me to be steady. He being my only Constant, I wanted to be like Him in a new way: steady. I believed He was making me steady. I couldn’t see the fruit of it yet. Others certainly couldn’t either. I was self-conscious, knowing that those closest to me knew how much of a mess I was. How could I be growing steady? But I noticed how trees in the winter are bare, but still alive. They’re rooted deep enough that come Spring, they will blossom. Leaves and flowers will be seen and enjoyed again.
And I felt bare like a tree. I felt vulnerable. People could see my bare-tree, vulnerable self. Depressed and anxious and unpredictable. People saw me. Trees in the winter are ugly and naked. I felt that way. But I started to believe there was beauty in that. Like, pruning. The bare mountain trees were actually beautiful. They stood strong, firmly rooted.
God was pruning me. Breaking me down. Allowing me – and others – to see my sin and selfishness. I wasn’t trusting Him. I wasn’t trusting that He is in control, and that is good. I wanted control. I needed control to be steady. I needed to have steady circumstances and be able to know what lies ahead of me, so that I could be steady. But this was a lie. Rooted in unpredictable circumstances, I was not bearing steady fruit.
When summer came, I went to New York City to partner with a church there for the summer. What hit me in the face while I was there – what God revealed to my growing spiritual sight and I could not avoid – was that SUFFERING IS GOOD. Day after day, I came to circumstances where I wanted to choose myself. I wanted to do what was preferable and easier. I didn’t want to do the difficult tasks, and I wanted to quit. Over and over, I would see this, but now with the awareness that SUFFERING IS GOOD. This is a chance to partake in the sufferings of Christ – which will grow me into His likeness! Day after day, I was faced with choices – will I choose to love myself, or will I choose to love my neighbor.
Loving your neighbor. I learned that this is HARD. And it’s GOOD! Suffering is good!!! Hard AND good.
I read The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes this summer, and if I could quote the whole book right now, I would. Go read it! WELL worth the two bucks.
Sibbes smacked me in the face this summer. But dang. It was a good slap. I painfully read more and more on suffering in the New Testament and from Elisabeth Elliot (who officially disciples me these days), and Spurgeon and Oswald and others, and I begged God to help me CHOOSE to love, CHOOSE to suffer, and to suffer GLADLY.
“I now REJOICE in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church”
This bit from Paul in Colossians… It’s just a tiny bit of the ABUNDANCE of examples of the people of God who have learned the value of suffering. Pruning. Breaking down. Suffering brings opportunity to grow! Opportunity to rid of self and root deeper and grow more fruitful in Christ.
Trusting God is against our nature. Hard. Not easy. It makes for an unpredictable, constantly changing life when I choose to trust Him instead of me. But I’ve seen that life is also unpredictable and constantly changing and hard when I choose me instead of trusting Him. Trusting Him – the Almighty one whose embrace is everlasting and brings this crazy sense of true security – is GOOD. He is the firm foundation to grow deeper roots in.
So it’s fall now. And leaves are starting to change color and fall down. In the past, I’ve seen this as dying trees, and I always dread the coming winter and never enjoy fall or winter. This fall, though, I am enjoying the weather, trees, and dying leaves like never before!!! THERE IS BEAUTY IN DYING. I’m learning this.
Die to yourself. CHOOSE to trust the Trustworthy One. Loosen your grip. Trust.
My circumstances have continued to change. I’m in a city that I didn’t expect to be living in: my hometown. And I still don’t know what my next step is. I have moments when I worry or freak out because I don’t have a solid plan or my plan falls through. I have moments when I have a pity party because my circumstances differ from others’. And daily, I’m having to choose to trust Him. And when I trust Him, I am freed from worry and selfishness; I am freed to love outside of me. I’m freed to love people which inherently means suffering. To love other people is to suffer. And it’s good!
God has been answering my prayer for steadiness by breaking me down so that I’ll loosen my own selfish grip and choose to trust Him who is better, constant, and true. Trusting Him means being rooted deeper and deeper into Him. The fruit that the Vinedresser and Vine bring forth in me – for it is truly a work of GOD – is steadiness. And thankfulness. Thankfulness for Christ who is my Life. Thankfulness for knowing Him more because He has granted me suffering.