‘For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water – but you brought us out into a spacious place’
Many of us can look back on our lives and see the process described by the psalmist: if you can’t now you will at some point. When we are going through the squeezing and heaviness, the fire and water, it is hard to imagine a spacious place – we are stuck in a dark, narrow, high-sided ravine stumbling forward on a rocky track with no view of the sky or the horizon: these are the times it is beyond price to know the Shepherd is walking alongside…
The psalmist says that GOD put us in these situations! God ‘tested, refined, burdened and imprisoned’ us – or at least ‘let’ that happen. Well – I decided a long time ago that I am not giving the enemy any credit or inferring that satan has power beyond what the Almighty permits – the beginning of the book of Job is so helpful on this point – so yes, I have to concede that my all-powerful, loving Father allows these things to happen in our lives for His own reasons… Or maybe He has limited Himself in how much He will intervene in this fallen world, looking for partnership with those He has handed dominion over to and Himself abiding by the law of ‘sowing and reaping’ I wrote about yesterday… but I’m not going into a huge theological debate about that here!
Having said that, in the New Testament James does make it clear that God is never behind the temptation to sin (James 1v13), though our trials and suffering may put us in a weakened position where the enemy takes advantage – tempting us to ‘curse God and die’, stop believing, give up – just as the devil came to tempt Jesus at His low point in the wilderness… and yes, it was the Spirit Who led Him there (Luke 4v1)! The point of the test seems to be to strengthen our character through perseverance (Romans 5v3-4; James 1v3), but in the midst of it, the thing we can remain sure of – and this is the word I am holding Him to! – is that the Lord promises to turn our struggles to good (Romans 8v28) It is only on looking back on it afterwards that we can finally see His redemption – meanwhile faith, hope and trust keep us hanging on, believing in His goodness in the valley of the shadow. God is more interested in bringing us to mature faith and completeness, conforming us to the image of Christ through endurance – ‘although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered’ Hebrews 5v8! – than in our comfort on the journey. Hmmm
At many points in my life I have felt like the woman in the story of Rumplestiltskin: she was locked up in a room with a huge pile of straw every night and told to spin it into gold! My life’s responsibilities have felt like that mountain of straw and I am supposed to make them into something worthwhile, beautiful, precious… Of course that is not the Lord speaking! But we do easily put that pressure on ourselves to perform, succeed and produce – to look good. Like you, I will get some Christmas letters telling me about how well various offspring have done and how wonderful the family holidays were, as if the past year has been an exam paper to be aced. I am pleased for my acquaintances, but if I wrote one of those letters about 2011 I don’t think it would sound quite so triumphant!
However, here at the end of this watershed year, I am internally aware of coming into a spacious place… which is amazing. It’s as if the Lord has taken my hand and led me out of that confined room with the pile of straw into a wide field where the sky is clear and the green stretches all around me – open space where I can breathe, full of possibilities and hope. No more anxiety over the keeping the plates spinning, getting through the daily grind; it’s as if I can now leave that behind – I have ‘my life’ back and can look forward. It’s been a bit of an adjustment and not a little overwhelming – I am not sure which direction to go and my ‘must organise all this’ mindset is only going to lead me into further bondage if I bring it with me. But I do sense an inner freedom, space to breathe and permission to expand – and this has made me feel happy… at least for now!
Happiness is fragile. It is, after all, just a feeling: the joy the Spirit gives is deeper and more lasting than that, being based on unchangeable truth. A definition of happiness is, ‘the feeling resulting from a consciousness of wellbeing or enjoyment’. I am very glad to feel happy, but at times I also feel sad: that is quite normal – though for me, I have spent too much time feeling sad all through my life, so happiness is a welcome relief and a treat. Thank the Lord, it is a shift in my thinking and a measure of recovery and healing – but it is also the effects of Prosac… so will it last as I try to reduce the dose? There’s no point worrying about trying to hold onto it – that is a sure way to lose it! The best way to keep it is to stay focussed on Jesus’ love and wonderful kindness in my life… and not worry about what happens when Sam comes home at Christmas.
Yesterday I read this, from Richard Rohr – which under the circumstances I found helpful becuase it ‘brings balance to the force’! “When we set out to seek our private happiness, we often create an idol that is sure to topple. Any attempts to protect any full and private happiness in the midst of so much public suffering have to be based on illusion about the nature of the world in which we live. We can only do that if we block ourselves from a certain degree of reality and refuse solidarity with “the other side” of everything, even the other side of ourselves”.
We cannot chase happiness, we must seek righteousness and His kingdom (Matthew 6v33). Yet there is healing and wholeness, joy and delight, to be found in the presence of the Lord on this journey through our suffering world and I am choosing to enjoy being in this spacious place even if what Yvonne Lyon sings in one of her songs remains true as well: ‘Strange, how you can be anything, with this freedom, with this freedom: still you find in the deepest place lies a burden, such a burden…’
My newfound spacious place is challenging as well as liberating: I am happy and blessed but also aware that my choices now are going to affect what happens next. It is only Jesus who can turn straw into gold, only the Lord who can save my son – but I have an opportunity to do my part to make a difference in this world as I walk out into this field with Him – stronger because of the path of perseverance we have walked.
How amazing is that? 🙂