This season has been full. Full of incredibly good things. But full, nonetheless.
Around this time last year (really into January and February), life wasn't as full. I was taking fewer classes, nannying less, and spending less time with the little amount of friends we did have. I was not counseling yet, and Words Worth Noting had only just begun. After a couple of days snowed in, I found myself in a low place.
That low place was scary to me. I was struggling in my time with the Lord and didn't really realize it, but this greatly affected everything else. I was not actively ministering to anyone. I found myself thinking mostly about myself which bred worry, despair, and helplessness. And all the days that were dark and snowy outside only made me turn inward even more.
But then spring came. Ben and I started exercising regularly (something so necessary in my stewardship of my physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, and mental life), we found a church home, the Lord blessed us with friends, I started counseling, and the shop began to pick up. I began finding delightful freedom in my relationship with the Lord, and He taught me MUCH about Psalm 23 during that season.
Fast forward to this season. I shared a little about the craziness recently, so I don't want to overload you with the details again. But here’s a glimpse – 78 hand-written journals in 4 weeks. That could literally be enough said, but add that to papers, finals, friends, nannying, and being a wife, and one might just find herself on the brink of a breakdown, or at least exhaustion.
I found myself pondering the differences between this season and the one mentioned first. One so full, one so lacking. One in plenty and one in want.
Here's what I know to be true of both - my faith was and is being tested.
The Lord promises that testing will come. Testing allows for faith to be proved genuine. Without it, we might go about our lives innocently thinking we believe the Truth when in reality – the stuff that we give our lives to, our desires and hopes lay elsewhere. In my time with the Lord recently, I was studying Luke 8:4-15 - the parable of the sower and Jesus' explanation of its meaning. Twice, Jesus mentions that testing and the need for perseverance will come. So I came out of theological land (which I love) and came back down to earth (quite literally), trying to understand this explanation in light of the example itself – seed planting & growing.
When you think about a seed, what does it need to take root, to grow? Because I’m no farmer (though my Grandaddy was) or gardener (I live in seminary housing/don't love getting dirty ha!), and it’s been a while since middle school science, I did a quick google search. In order for a seed to grow, it needs: water, good temperature (warmth), and good soil.
(pictures found on google images/I wish I could take pictures like these!)
Jesus says our hearts and receptiveness to the good news are the soils. Does His truth get planted down deep in us? Deeper than the initial joy of salvation as we nurture that seed through knowing God through His Word? Is His truth protected by prayer and belief from the worries, pleasures, and riches of this world that threaten to choke it out? Are we producing fruit from the heart? How will we know unless testing comes?
Here’s where the warmth and water come in. Both are necessary for growth. Sometimes, the sun is shining and the rain comes and goes, and the environment is juuuust right for that little seed to sprout and bear fruit. Sometimes, the heat and rain are few and far between, and that seed holds on for dear life. But sometimes, the heat and the rain beat down, and it might seem like more than the little plant can handle. Here's the thing - we aren’t in control of circumstances – God is.
Water and heat are both necessary for growth, whether in abundance or in absence. Jesus likens this to trials. Trials are opportunities for growth and for faith to be proved genuine. Most of us think of trials on the low end of the spectrum - losing everything. But what if blessings and "immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine" also try our faith? What if the abundance of heat and rain are meant to expose the roots, as well? When despairingly hard times or overwhelmingly good times come, what’s in our hearts, rooted deep down – whether good or bad – finds its way to the top.
Our responses prove the depth and nurture of that seed – whether we are taking in God’s Word and letting ourselves be molded and changed by it, savoring the goodness of the Lord, delighting in His presence, working through sin and brokenness, communing with and depending on Him, or whether we are trusting in our own wisdom, seeking our own glory, overlooking and justifying our sin and ways, growing consumed with worldly concerns, depending on ourselves and our abilities. What's going on deep in the heart bears fruit accordingly.
So it's our hearts and our beliefs, not our circumstances that get the blame (or the joy for that matter) for our responses – those circumstances are just the water and the warmth making a way for growth.
So testing and the need for perseverance will come. Water and heat will come, in varying measures. The question the Lord prompted me to consider –
In plenty and in want, how will you respond?
Here’s a summary of my responses in this season:
Moments of immense gratitude
Moments of despair
Moments of wonder & awe
Moments of weakness & neediness
Moments of delight
Moments of helplessness
Moments of anxiety & craziness
Moments of yearning for more
Moments of deep humility
This season has been full. Full of worship and full of hard growth. Growth isn’t always pretty and clean. The Gardener faithfully pruned and is still pruning this heart of mine through extremely different circumstances and seasons and through His Word that I might bear fruit that lasts and that pleases Him - and that happens at the root.
[Much of this is adapted from Tripp and Lane's How People Change.]