Last fall my husband's grandparents packed up their longtime home and moved to a smaller ranch house to be closer to family. Declining health and mobility made it a necessity.
Grandma Joan was especially sad to be leaving behind her garden and many flower beds. As a sentimental gesture, I took clippings from her beloved hydrangea bushes in hopes that I could nurse them through the winter and present them to her as a late housewarming gift this summer-- you know, bring a little bit of old to the new.
Well, as luck would have it, a few of those clippings did survive the winter and have been speaking to me ever since. Let me unpack that a bit.
Have you ever had a phrase or a thought resonate with you and you just couldn't shake it? Even if you're not completely sure why? Occasionally this happens to me and I always find that it's the Holy Spirit's way of starting a conversation with me. And so it was with a little phrase from 1 Corinthians 4:16 "Though outwardly we are wasting away..."
I watched those clippings appear to languish as the cold weather settled in and stayed long past its overdue exit (in my book). For a minute, I was convinced they were goners, but just when I was about to scrap the experiment, (quite literally) I started to see the tiniest hints of new green leaf nodes. Something was happening after all!
"Though outwardly we are wasting away..."
Ever since, I have given a great deal of thought to this matter as I have watched their progression from fragile fledglings to viable, blooming bushes. It kind of mirrors this most recent season in my life. I like to say it feels akin to being plunged into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim or being forced to learn a new language by sheer immersion. It is NOT pretty...it's pretty uncomfortable!
A sweet friend of mine recently encouraged me with these words from her mentor. This tumultuous road you're walking right now--it's just a season. It will not last forever
And while that is true, I remember thinking, "But it sure would be nice to know when I get to turn the page on this season", like when you turn the page on your calendar knowing spring is just around the corner. Unfortunately, sometimes seasons in life tend to stick around like a lingering house guest well-past their welcome. There is simply no light at the end of the tunnel.
That got me thinking.....
If I knew when the end would come, would I allow redemption to do its work in me or would I just muscle through with the grim strength of gritting my teeth until things bore some semblance of normal? With a bit of shame, I surmise I would do the latter.
The hardship and the seeming endlessness of this season have ironically also been it's saving grace. The nature of the uncertainty forces me to question if I want to stay as I am, running from pain, or do I lean into it in order to experience transformation?
Being pressed long and hard will inevitably have one of two effects. It will either completely harden one's heart or it will soften it. Shining a spotlight on an attitude or a belief that needs to be challenged will either send us retreating back into the shadows, or it will spur us to confront our giant, sending it to its ultimate demise. We get to choose which will be the case.
The same sun that hardens clay also melts butter
We have to stop trying to avoid hardship like it's the plague and start embracing it like it's the life-giving catalyst that God intends it to be. Though we are creatures of comfort, I have come to realize that comfort rarely serves us. In reality, we do our best growing when we are forced out into unfamiliar and unaccommodating territory. Or is that just me? I'm just a smidge embarrassed to say that for all the growth I say I want, I am rarely eager to pay the price of admission when the cost is my comfort.
Hebrews 12 says, "Endure hardship as discipline, God is treating you as His children...No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Notice it doesn't say that it produces a harvest for those who have merely faced it, but only for those who have submitted to it as in training. Gut punch.
"Though outwardly we are wasting away..."
When it doesn't seem like things are changing on the outside, but you KNOW they're being rearranged on the inside. Paul gives us reason to hope as he continues, "...yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." The outward evidence might leave something to be desired, but inwardly things are shifting.
Romans 5:3-5 declares, "We continue to shout out our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience, in turn, forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling short-changed. Quite the contrary we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!"
God is not playing fast and loose with our lives. Everything He does is in anticipation of and preparation for what He will do next! He is changing us from 'glory to glory.'
If I'm being honest, all the ways God has changed me and stretched me and grown me in the past has prepared me to stand where I stand now! Don't misunderstand me. I am far from perfect. But only because of what He has already done, am I secure enough to hear the truth and willing enough to respond to it.
If there is one thought I can leave you with, it's this. Make it your aim to be still and allow the shaping to happen--not apart from the pain, but rather right in the midst of it. Jesus himself extends to you the invitation:
"Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
He doesn't say he'll take the troubles away, but He does promise that there are life and peace to be had even in the midst of it...if we will invite Him in.
If it feels like He's taking it all apart, you can rest assured He will put it all back together. And the thing about Jesus is that He leaves everything better than He found it. He's doing it for me and He will do it for you, "Though outwardly we are wasting away."
Angie Reynold is a wife mom and daughter of God. During the pandemic, she has taken on the role of teacher for her two young boys. She enjoys reading and bakes. This deeply reflective heart-centered woman also finds time to write for our community.