I treasure Mondays. It is the only day of the week that I am not expected to appear anyplace other than home. Mondays are my long writing days, and I strive to keep my ship in the quiet of this harbor. Up early to read my Bible, followed by breakfast with our daughter, followed by a long walk, and then I get to work. It is lovely.
Last Monday arrived on the heels of a full, full weekend. Those types of weekends are not my specialty, and while they are unfolding, I grow tired on the inside. So last Monday, after an exceptionally busy weekend, I lingered a bit over coffee with our daughter as we kicked off our family tradition of filling our home with Christmas music beginning November 1. Said music swirling, we penciled a few plans on the calendar for the holiday season. I then finished a few household chores that had been neglected since we had scarcely been home for days.
Consequently, I was late beginning my walk. Then, while exercising, I happened upon a couple of good neighbors, and chatted with them for a few minutes. By the time I reached the halfway point of my walk, nearly an hour later than usual, I was treated to this scene in the chilly air:
The slower start due to a crammed weekend, unfinished work, and unexpected conversations, turned into this breathtaking gift. Perfect in the dazzling sunshine, sparkling waters, and chilly November air. A gift I would have missed if things had unfolded according to my own agenda.
We are all marked by some type of suffering, varying in degree yet remarkably similar in that such things are unwanted, unbidden, and a painful disruption to our lives. The weight of suffering feels at best annoying, and at worst crushing. We are each hefting some sort of wound. I am learning to search for the holy, the good, the greater purposes of God as I follow the path carved out for me by his Almighty Hand.
There is no magic cure: one…two…three steps to thriving! conquering! escaping hardship while living your best life now!
Hold that mentality up to the light of Scripture, and watch it wither. Such false hopes are grotesque masquerades. They are lies, gripped by the undiscerning, who do not scour the scope and sequence of the Bible. Disciples who study the breadth of Scripture see spiritual growth and maturity through suffering time and again: think of Moses and Joseph and David and Job and John the Baptist and Christ Jesus himself.
Yet as Christians, we are not left joyless or hopeless in our sufferings. In fact, if we remember that we will be marked while enduring in faith, we will grasp that we are becoming more like Christ (Philippians 3:10). The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, and infuses us with his joy amidst suffering.
This then fuels our desire to be present in our own lives while also engaged in the lives of others, carrying our own trials and lamenting with others in their sufferings as we share burdens. We are called to press into, to accept, and to endure well God’s interruptions, which ultimately reign over our carefully crafted plans.
Our oldest son, Caleb, is deeply kind and generous. A fierce sports enthusiast and competitor, he sheds that jacket on the ballfield, and shepherds his wife and son and others with his tender, pastoral heart. He is earning his MDiv now, and on the occasions that I have been able to hear him preach, I am undone by the way in which our son, whom I once taught, now teaches me.
I treasure notes tucked in my Bible from his sermons, and especially one that was centered in the book of Romans.
From my penciled notes:
A Cross-Centered life = Cross-Centered Days.
How wonderful is that? And how terrifyingly true. When I drift, it is usually because I am having Kristin-centered days.
It is similar to what Elisabeth Elliot once said:
To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss. The great symbol of Christianity means sacrifice and no one who calls himself a Christian can evade this stark fact.
This note from our son’s sermon brought another story to mind.
Years ago, during his undergrad, there were several seemingly unending semesters of hardship, when we were not certain if Caleb could afford to remain in college. My mother’s heart ached as we helped as much as we were able. Caleb worked multiple jobs, slept little, and ultimately slogged his way through.
Caleb collects change. Every spare coin is tossed in a coffee can which he stores on the floor of his car. During those undergrad years, that coffee can of change was precious; used for gas money or hot coffee or a sandwich. With money beyond tight, he needed every cent.
One day, while driving to one of his jobs, he passed an elderly woman on the side of the road. She was limping terribly, struggling to walk in the heat of the day. Caleb turned around, pulled up next to her, and offered her a bottled water and a ride. Tears streamed down her face as she thanked him profusely and eased into the passenger seat. She told him of her multiple health problems, and substantial poverty.
He drove her safely to her doorstep, prayed for her, and then handed her all that he had: the entire coffee can brimming with change.
A Cross-Centered Life = Cross-Centered Days way-of-living is costly.
Caleb had been marked by suffering and wasted not a speck of it.
Autumn illuminates the brilliance and beauty of death. Death to our preferences, our way, our rights, our selfishness. The beauty of the colors signals that winter, with all of its frigid air, gray skies, and barrenness is close at hand.
Our pain and suffering hold stunning purpose, as we obey and bow in Amen to God. He works all things for good, but that does not mean that it feels good in the moment. We would do well to remember the patience with which nature unfolds in obedience to its Creator, one season at a time.
It takes prayer and practice to relinquish our grip on our well-laid plans. Our human weakness defaults to sprinkling ourselves with selfish grandeur and splendor rather than purposing our souls to kneel humbly before Christ, holding steadfastly to him through our sufferings. He understands suffering and sympathizes with our weaknesses, with scars as proof. Scars he prayed, in his humanity, to bypass. Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours, be done (Luke 22:42). Those scars rescued each and every believer.
So I am remembering the breathtaking scene I captured by photo. So lovely: the slant of light upon the glowing, dying foliage as the leaves prepare to cascade earthbound. The beauty is a mark of suffering, an end of this life as we anticipate the blossoms of spring.
And as the world hushes in the stillness of winter, remember that God is working underground still: healing, softening, and restoring the hearts of his people who obey in faith, waiting and trusting in him.