Everything in me wanted to attack. After how I had been mistreated—by a friend no less—no way did I want to absorb the pain. Quite the opposite; in my sinfulness, what I really wanted was for her to hurt too. I wanted her to pay for how she had wronged me.
On the other hand, in my anger and hurt, I really did not want to sin. I wanted to be careful not to say or do anything that would be un-Christ like. I wanted to be forbearing, gracious, and forgiving. But I was afraid that because of how hurt and angry I felt, my contrary nature would win out.
An Ongoing Struggle
This internal conflict is the reality of being in the Spirit, and also living in a broken and fallen world. Through faith in Christ’s redeeming work for us at the cross, we’ve been set free from the power of sin, yet the presence of sin still remains. This means we will continue to deal with these dueling natures within us until we are glorified. Too often though, it seems there is no battle; the flesh just wins out. Like Paul in Romans 7, I identify with the desire to do what is right, but then going on to do what I don’t want to do instead.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20)
In an age of public sharing, we see people lament life’s transitions. Moms post pictures of the moving boxes or the progression of their baby bumps with coordinated letter boards. They write about the sadness of the empty womb or express their struggle as they wait for a child’s diagnosis. We’re getting used to embracing the awkward and painful transitions of life by locking arms and coming alongside one another in the journey.
There is some good in this trend. Acknowledging and validating the messy seasons of life assures us we’re not alone. This gives us a sigh of relief. After all, Jesus wept with the hurting, cautious not to gloss over the hardship of struggle, pain, and death. But we have to wonder if positive affirmations and prompts to “look ahead” extend our gaze far enough for real hope.
I can relate to hard seasons of transition when our family size changes. When we had four kids three and under, one being a newborn, the days were incredibly long. One morning before church, my husband left early, leaving me at home with everyone else. I was determined to make food for a potluck we were attending after church. In a couple of hours, I needed to nurse, shower, change everyone’s clothes, and make a meal. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. When we finally made it to the potluck, I was so tired and frazzled, I misstepped and dropped the meal before placing it on the table. Seeing the dish shatter into hundreds of shards of glass on the concrete was an embarrassing representation of my heart during our transition to a new normal. I was a big, hot mess going a hundred directions, unsure of my usefulness in such a pitiful state…
These past few years have been hard on our family. I see the Lord at work, and while this is an anchor of hope, I’d be lying if I said this head knowledge always translates to my heart. I struggle to believe He’s near while everything in me feels abandoned. We are a family of deep intense feelers, and we all process our feelings in different ways. My husband and I feel remarkably underqualified in communicating our own feelings in healthy ways, while at the same time trying to figure out how to teach our children to do the same. In moments of desperation, I ask God why so much has to exhaust us relationally, and why He allows marriage and parenting—even with all of the joys—to be so painful. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s worth it to keep my heart in the fight.
A Necessary Cutting
A few years ago, my father-in-law, a retired forester, cut our azalea bushes down almost to the main stem. It saddened me to agree to it because they were so green and full. Or at least I thought they were. Cutting them seemed counterintuitive, but I learned soon enough that outside appearances don’t always reveal what’s truly below the surface.
Even though I was afraid cutting them back would do irreparable damage, I agreed, trusting his expertise. When he was finished, I saw the true state of the health of our bushes. What was left was nothing but dry, brittle sticks. I wondered, “What if we’ve cut away all the beauty and all we’ll ever have now is dead twigs? At least there were flowers on the outside!”He then showed me the evidence of life inside the branches and explained that since all the foliage on the outside had been cut away, the bush can now get the light it needs to grow.
One theme common to many great stories is the idea of the quest. Any time the author takes the character on a journey, you can be sure there will be some sort of growth and self-discovery to follow. Whether it is Huck Finn rafting down the Mississippi or Bilbo Baggins making his way through Middle Earth, quests make for exciting reading.Most quests and adventures include the same elements: the character making the journey, the place they are going, the stated reason to go there, challenges and trials along the way, and finally, the discovery. What was the real reason they needed to make this trip?
As Christ-followers, participants in God’s greater, grander story, we have quests of our own. This journey called “sanctification” can be a wild and wooly one. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could learn from someone else, who also went on a quest of her own? Sisters, meet Sarah.
We are introduced to this woman, originally called Sarai, whose name means “princess,” along with her husband Abram. She doesn’t seem like a candidate for a heroine; she’s just an ordinary woman, whose husband springs some news on her one day: Pack up. We’re moving.Whoa! I’m sure her first questions were the same as ours would be. Where? And why? And that brings us to parts 2 and 3 of our necessary requirements. Sarah is leaving the only home she has ever known and is going to the promised land. The reason was given to her husband. “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.” Was Sarah excited? Was she nervous? She was about to begin the adventure of a lifetime! Was this journey of hope and expectation going to be life-changing? What was at the other end? Would Canaan welcome these travelers?