There have been more than a few times in my life when something difficult happened and I thought, "wow, Lord, I really didn't need that." My Dad actually said this to me recently and the thought took on a shouting echo in the hollow spaces of my head.
I've been thinking a lot about Character lately... about how we attain it... about the road it takes to posses it... and its not a walk in the park, but more like a walk in a sewage ditch.... not a bed of roses, but more like a blanket of thorns. Unfortunately, the path to Character has no shortcut and the ground is uneven. Its hard to keep your footing. Its painful. It tears your skin and draws blood.
The first stop on the journey?
Suffering. This part sucks... lets just be real. It doesn't last forever but its the stage where you go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning and as the light touches your eyes- revealing their first few blinks- your heart gets a signal from your brain that calls to remembrance the reality of your difficult season. I always hate that feeling. Sleep carries such sweet denial... and the moment when denial gets shoved out of the way by the abrupt sting of reality.... yea, that moment bites. This is when you wish the blinking had never started, but that instead, maybe your brain could have signaled your eyes first to tell them that today would be a good day to stay closed....but this is not how we were designed I guess. The light comes in, the signals are sent out, and that is that.
The only way to make our way through this part?
Perseverance. Well, perseverance and Oreos. Okay, no- just perseverance. Its the next natural progression. In this stage, you consider your choices. Do I stay in bed and beg for sleep's comforting anesthetic to return... or is it time to get up slowly, walk to the door, and allow your fingers to test their courage as they reach for the handle and turn...? We must give credit to the small decisions that we make in perseverance, because they do not go unnoticed by heaven. Someone may look at the tiny choices you make to advance forward in the fight and not recognize the victory because they cannot see the battle within. God sees the battle though. God made Himself well-acquainted with the battle of humanity when he chose to make His entrance into this life through the birth canal of a virgin girl. What? is that too intense? Well take it up with Him then... not me. Would you expect anything less though from a God/Man who would later choose to leave this life with sharp metal pegging Him to wood as a hammer pounds repeatedly? I'm not being dramatic... its just what happened. One cannot pay such a heavy price, carry such a burdensome load.... without excruciating pain and sacrifice... its simply not possible. So we persevere with the strength of the guy who did that instead of flexing our own wimpy biceps in a haughty attempt that is predestined to leave us face down on the floor before we even take the second step out of bed. This stage takes a really long time. None of this really comes to fruition over night, but perseverance is especially time consuming. Endurance is key and Gatorade just doesn't do the trick. Part of successful perseverance is to draw our energy from His well and not our own. I think its in this stage that our faith becomes real. Its no longer ethereal but you can now almost taste it.... you recognize that its becoming tangible.
So when the crap hits the fan we think, Wow I really didn't need that...but we did. we SO did. After I get over the immediate reaction (which is: "Oh really, James... consider it joy? Why don't I punch you in the face and you can show me all the joy you are considering!!)... I take a minute- and then I actually do consider it joy... because it means I'm on the road- I'm on the road to Character and I can't wait until perseverance finishes its work so that I may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. Because this is what its all about, right? Being sanctified into the character of Jesus? If its hard to look at it this way, just consider everyday to be "opposite day"....because basically that is what living out the gospel is.... one big opposite day. Someone strikes your cheek?... well, just give them the other too. Have an enemy?.... let your belly just fill up with love butterflies for them (yea that doesn't really happen... its more like swallowing knives to love them, but I guess just pretend the knives are butterflies?) Opposite Day.
The icing on the cake is that Character produces hope... but this hope is not like any other hope. No, this hope "does not disappoint." Its the only kind of hope that doesn't end in our shame for having believed in it in the first place. That sounds like music to my hope deferred ears :-)
I'll come in for a landing with a little wisdom from my husband, Graham Cooke (OK...he is not my husband, that was just a test to see if you are a faithful reader of my blog... if you are not, *see previous blog ;-) Graham says that it is stupid that we ask for the presence of God... because He is already here. What we should actually do is practice this presence... to "Practice the presence we believe is present." My idea of the best way to do this is to take every thought captive and body slam that sucka down to submit to the knowledge of God. Uh Uh Lie... I don't think so! It's Opposite Day Playah, so you can put me on trial and try to bring me down all day long and I'm just gonna consider it a big fat joy fest...
"...but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And this hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" -Romans 5:3-5
So don't be afraid if life makes you take a stroll in a sewage ditch... and just go with it and curl on up to that fire with a thorny blanket... its good for your Character.
We were never promised that we would not suffer... but we do not suffer alone. We have a High Priest who can sympathize... in every way. He truly is so very faithful.
Trying to make every day Opposite Day,
~Mrs. Graham Cooke
P.S. Graham Cooke's actual wife, if you ever read my blogs... hopefully you have a sense of humor...