Let now the hard soil of our souls be tilled, And let us not resist the needed change. Let not another be unjustly killed. Let what is common now become most strange. Lord, show us our responsibility And lead us in compassion. Let the cries For justice not end in futility But further freedom as our pray’rs arise. Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak, And slow to anger with no room for sin. Let those with power learn to live as meek, And let this lifelong journey now begin. Teach us to meet all souls with love and grace As we now learn to welcome and embrace.
Over the last number of months, I’ve met a strange combination of events that have produced a state of tension within my soul. On one hand, I’ve faced more disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement than I can remember facing before in life. My plans and God’s plans for me did not agree, and I wrestled long and hard (and still do) to discern what faithfulness looks like for me at this time. The season has been uncomfortable, embarrassing, and isolating.
On the other hand, I’ve seen fruit from the steady plodding of previous months and years. I received a Master of Theology, marking roughly the mid point of my pursuit of a PhD. I passed the one-thousand mile mark on an app that keeps track of my running. I’ve finished reading books I set aside months ago. I’ve made progress on some new projects I’m excited about. I’ve been encouraged. The season has brought affirmation, support, and hope.
Seeing both types of experiences in the same season confuses me a bit. One moment, I feel like I can’t do anything right; the next moment, I’m affirmed in the work I’m doing. One day, I feel lost; the next day, I feel content and secure. I feel hopeless and hopeful, lost and found, faithless and faithful. I’m learning to rely on friends while worrying that I annoy them with my needs. I’m learning to boast in my weaknesses while wishing I could grow out of them. I feel a bit like a living paradox.
During this season, some biblical passages have come to life in fresh ways. The tension between suffering and steadfastness, between death and life, at play in 2 Corinthians 4 holds new meaning as I’m stretched by the trials and joys of this time. Hebrews 12 also challenges and comforts me as I see afresh how God is disciplining me, a painful process, to produce the fruit of righteousness, a pleasant result. I’m learning to hope in and rely upon the Lord, thinking often of him as my Shepherd (Psalm 23). I’m learning to long for the Lord, realizing in new ways my need of him (Psalm 63).
As I reflect on this season, I confess that I desire its end. I want to move past this present state, to learn the lesson and be done with the trials. I don’t enjoy living in the tension. But I recognize that lessons are learned through the testing of faith, that sanctification is accomplished through the long seasons of discipline. So I pray for faithfulness, for endurance, for hope that will not put me to shame. I pray for the Lord to accomplish his work in my life and for him to sustain me on the path he’s called me to walk. And I trust that he who began the work will not fail to complete it (Philippians 1:6).
Joy to all the world, to ev’ry creature:
God has come to dwell with his creation.
He who knows us – ev’ry fallen feature –
Put an end to our great separation.
Now his presence leads to our rejoicing
For he turns our mourning into dancing.
In the depths of darkness, we are voicing
Victory: the kingdom is advancing.
Joy now grows in souls steeped in the Spirit,
Joy still true when trials stand before us.
Steadfast, nothing e’er can steal or smear it.
It now fuels the everlasting chorus.
On our journeys, this is holy leaven:
We are strengthened by the joy of heaven.
Haunted by the fear of what comes after
That hard resignation of all hoping
In all plans of mine, the feeble groping
For a road that will not warrant laughter.
Rip a wall down and remove a rafter–
So it feels when dreams begin to crumble.
“All is lost!” – the thought when you but stumble.
Can we lose and not despair thereafter?
Faith and patience: bittersweet but proven.
Bitter, for they bid us leave our hiding
In the safety of our sight and timing.
Sweet, for we, though limited, yet move in
Sov’reignty’s provision, e’er abiding
In his goodness, t’ward him ever climbing.
Harsh battle cries and cries from battle blows
Break full upon the ears by helmets hidden.
The enemy’s assaults—always unbidden—
Besiege the soldiers. All around them, foes
Fling flaming arrows ‘gainst the humble few.
These few still march, past bodies spoiled and sodden,
In search of captive souls. These, the downtrodden,
Still march, unbroken, victory in view.
They taste their own blood, wear blood not their own,
Press forward by a blood more diff’rent still.
They war to see the day the war will cease.
Though sore-afflicted, fire burns in their bone.
They march with life no enemy can kill,
Their ev’ry step in war, a step t’ward peace.
I remember finding a used copy of A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis in a back room of a house-turned-flea-market in Natchitoches, Louisiana while I was in college. The price was less than two dollars, I think. I was beginning to venture into the world of Christian thought, and my hunger for truth was strong and wild. Lewis’ name rang a bell in my mind, recalling memories of his Narnia stories. A Grief Observed, if memory serves me well, was my first taste of his nonfiction. I hadn’t a clue what that short book would do to me.
For what do I wait when I wait?
Do I lack the strength to complete
The journey before me? Does fate
Require more merit? Oh, this heat
Makes me restless. How long must I
Stay, unmoving as the process
Purifies me of worldly dye?
How long, O Lord? For I confess
I long to run. This surgery
May mend, but how it hurts me so!
I wonder, would you murder me
To purge the sin which lives below?
(Perhaps tis so.)
When can I go? When will this end,
This sanctification, this flame?
You who eternally transcend
My thoughts and ways, your holy name
Is both my hope and bane. I break
Before your unrelenting hand
Which works to my foundations shake
Until I trust in your command.
So have your way in me, I pray.
Though I may never comprehend
Your purpose, let me near you stay,
O God, the absolute, my end.