Since graduating several years ago, my life hasn’t exactly gone as expected.
I spent a year serving overseas with Power to Change. I struggled with depression during my time there, and my return back to Canada didn’t fix things. I was diagnosed with “moderately severe” depression that Fall, and healing proved to be a slow process.
The unexpected happened again when I had to break off an engagement and relationship of two years – something I never thought would happen to me. I still at times struggle with residual guilt and feeling like it’s a stained blemish on my life.
Combine these unexpected turns with my ongoing struggle with sin and inadequacy and the stresses of life, and my life really isn’t what I thought it would be. In fact, at times it’s kinda ugly.
When you are young, you tend to view things as entirely good or entirely bad. In general, if life is pretty good, you feel on top of the world, and optimism is natural. As you get older, you have to learn to accept the good with the bad, otherwise you will ignore bad things in your life for the sake of false optimism, or you will despair to the point of hopelessness even when there’s a lot of good around you. I have found myself the latter at times, and as life takes unexpected and harsh turns, despair can find me very easily.
My heart was heavy when I recently heard Sunder Krishnan speak seven simple words, “Jesus always saves the best for last.” I just about cried as the words left his mouth. How beautiful those words are to someone who has been where I have.
The reminder was much needed, and his point is objectively true. Heaven is in store for me as a repentant follower of Christ. Therefore, the disappointments and failures on this earth will be as close to hell as I will ever be. Even in this life I expect that God will grow my gratitude, the fruit of his labours in my life and the resulting joys of Christ refining my soul. Even though the ugly and evil may keep creeping in, I take comfort and joy in knowing the best is yet to come.
Having this assurance puts my difficulties in context and propels me forward to persevere. It fills my heart with thanksgiving to know that not only is the best still waiting for me, but that even the difficulties in my life have been for the betterment of my character. I can honestly say that so much apparent “evil” has been used for so much good. This is because God is good to me – and tangibly so.
I remember reading John Piper’s Desiring God. One phrase in particular sticks with me now: “Getting through trials and difficulties solidifies our faith when we see that we have made it through to the other side and we still believe.”
At the time I read these words I remember being angry with God. I was confused at why my life was the way it was (or why I felt the way I did), and was questioning why he would let me suffer in the seemingly pointless ways that he did. I still don’t have answers for everything that happened and still have occasional flares of bitterness over them.
But with gritted teeth I’ve fought to keep faith that the best is yet to come for me, even when pushing through all of my failures and disappointments. I’ve seen that no other worldview or way of life can give me hope for my future amidst my trials the way that Christianity does.
I have to remind myself that Jesus promised difficulty and suffering in this life, just like he went through himself. I’ve learned to just trust and know that God can empathize with my pain. I take comfort in the fact that I can be sustained by God’s grace and provision even in my darkest moments.
Like any muscle, with proper exercise and nourishment, faith grows firmer through the trying fires. So when life is hard, don’t feel like you always need to just get out of the situation or change everything (or maybe anything). Sometimes you just have to push through. God is using it to make your faith in his promises for your future stronger.
While faith should grow firmer as we persevere, another beautiful work of perseverance is the softening of a heart. While I am still sometimes bitter, irritable or angry, deep down there is a growing understanding that these are the hardships of life. Each one of us goes through these challenges and God indeed brings us through for our growth and transformation. Difficulty has deepened me, as it should.
It was the Puritans who said, “the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay.” They were illustrating the gospel’s effects on the elect and non-elect. In our case, while faith should harden as we persevere, our heart should also tenderize. This does not mean our heart weakens – quite the opposite. Like healthy muscles, true strength comes not only with size and firmness but with flexibility also. I know that I need this flexibility of a spiritual heart. It gives me resilience and trust in God even when things don’t work out the way I had hoped. It keeps me flexible to adapt to whatever God wills.
Perseverance seems to humble and ground me. When further difficulties come, I am, in some ways, less affected. When I am insulted or slighted, my maturity gives me the wisdom to not make too much of it. And in growing humility, I understand that I too sin against others in word, thought and deed (Ecclesiastes 7:20-22). And yet Jesus has totally forgiven me.
My strength becomes a gracious strength. My responses become self-controlled instead of reactive or defensive. My empathy for others deepens, even when I disagree starkly with someone. I will never be perfect in this life, but I am being perfected by God’s gracious work that he will one day complete (Phil. 1:6).
I shouldn’t be surprised that perseverance produces these fruits in me, given the biblical promises that trial will come and will refine me (1 Peter 1:3-9). I suspect I will see more and more of its benefits as I encounter difficult seasons of life. This is truly the grace of God, as unexpected or unwanted as it can be!