Holding On

wonderful-beach-1500385-640x480Last winter was brutal in this part of the country (as in most).  Each morning for weeks after spring arrived I still  half expected to see traces of an overnight surprise snowfall, even though the trees had leafed and there was every indication that winter had retreated at last.  I would look out into the garden and see a glorious display of color and new growth.  It was definitely spring.  Yet, in spite of what my eyes were telling me, I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I was afraid to trust.

I am a very old lady with several major health problems.  The past few years have been hard for me physically.  There has been one trial after another: months and months of pain and being forced to be sedentary.  Now, although I am still not exactly vigorous, I believe I feel as well as I am able to feel.  I can manage.  Yet, I find myself still afraid to believe that the acute problems are over.  I find myself moving very carefully as if movement was a precarious thing to do.  Once again I am a little afraid to trust.

The end result of prolonged chronic pain is that emotionally, physically and spiritually, I am drained.  I feel as if I had used up every ounce of energy.  I find it hard to think.  I find it hard to feel any emotion, either positive or negative.  I am a blank; just holding on to being truly human by a thread.  I am glad to see friends, but the effort of conversation exhausts me.  I go through my devotions by rote; the Lord seems very far away.  I certainly don’t feel Him in my life; I don’t feel much of anything.  However, in this instance, in spite of what my senses tell me, I have hope.  I have been through this before.  My switch is simply set on “auto-pilot” as I recharge before the next set of circumstances which will challenge my faith and compel me to make new decisions about His will or mine.  I know I can trust Him, because I have learned that, unlike the weather and old human bodies, God is always faithful and constant.

I don’t want to give anyone the idea that I am miserable and unhappy.  I am just tired: worn out from the pain, tired of constantly having to push myself to my absolute limits in order to cope.  When I was younger a flat period like this would have sent me into a panic.  I would be beating myself up because my spiritual life appeared to have become passive rather than active.  However, I now know by experience that our Father understands.  He is graciously giving me a little time-out.  I know that He is still standing by, waiting for me to catch my breath before we begin the next uphill climb together.  I can’t complain about my circumstances ~ many, many years ago I asked Him to make me like His Son, and I still have a long way to go to understand His suffering and isolation.

Anyone who thinks that being a Christian is comfortable because we have all of God’s promises on which to stand is naïve.  I have found that although He is a good Master, He is not a pushover.  The yoke is easy, and the burden light ~ but it is still a continuous and sometimes difficult choice to be in submission to that yoke.  He allows us to make the decision about how much of ourselves we give Him.  If we tell Him, “Just this much” He may not push us further.  However, if we open ourselves to Him and say, “Take me as far as You will”, then we may find that the challenges to faith get harder and harder.  He does not insist; He does not get angry, and He will supply all our need of every kind as we take each step.

Sometimes the path will be relatively easy, and we will have no difficulty seeing Him and enjoying all our blessings in Him.  Sometimes, however, the path will be difficult.  He may seem to have hidden Himself, or the choices before us may seem too hard, or even unfair.  It is harder at those times to continue to feel the joy of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We wonder if we have been deserted.  We wonder if He still loves us, or why would He allow all this pain or frustration or fear.  It is in these times that we must fall back on faith; memories of past grace and mercy, and continue to trust Him even though the present and the future look grim.  We trust Him for our eternal salvation; we must continue to trust Him with our lives.

In reading about the life of Paul and other disciples, I can’t help but compare the quality of their faith to my own faith.  Would I have been able to go through Paul’s experiences and still continue to be unwavering, still completely steadfast?  Paul describes his life to the Corinthians: To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed and beaten, and homeless.  And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat.  We have been made as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things until now.” (I Corinthians 4:11-13)  He was beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned and finally executed ~ all on the basis of faith in a Man he had never met ~ and yet his faith only seemed to increase rather than diminish.  How can I compare my tiny discomforts with a life like that?

How much does Christ really mean to me?  Is my faith merely based on my having joined a church or having repeated a creed, or having been baptized?  Is it a way of life into which I have been born and which was practiced by my parents and grandparents before me so I have just accepted it as customary?  Is it a culture which promises a comfortable and safe existence and which gives structure to my life?  Or, is it something so fundamental to my existence that I cannot imagine being without Him?  Am I sufficiently grateful for the constant abundance of God’s grace and mercy toward me?  Is it true of me that “to live is Christ and to die is gain? (Philippians 1:21)

Do I really understand that faith in Christ is not just assenting to the principles of thought and living that I find in an ancient book; principles attributed to a Man Who lived 2,000 years ago?  Real faith is not just a social culture; it is not just a style of living.  It must be the absolute core of my life.  It is to be what I believe with my whole heart.  It should drive every thought, control the parameters of each action.  I want Christ to be integrated into every aspect of my being ~ every word I speak, every choice I make.  Paul’s wish for the Ephesian Christians was this: that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height ~ to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3: 16-19) That is also my wish for myself and for every other Christian.

Over many years I have learned that even when He seems to be gone, He is still there ~ only silent.  I have learned that although I can temporarily shut Him out, He does not go away.  His intent toward me is never evil, never unjust ~ only a holy love which always wants to teach me how to be the best I can be, and to deepen and enrich my life with the things that really matter.  He understands me and knows my limitations, and so He waits patiently for my faith to grow and supports me when I am tempted to doubt.  I cannot imagine a life without God; I am so grateful to be His child.  No matter how much I still have to learn, He patiently perseveres to teach and train me, even though at times it may seem to be tough love.  I KNOW I can trust Him in all things, through every circumstance, and under every condition.  GOD IS LOVE (1 John 4:8) and He is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9).  My desire is always to be in confident submission to His will.  With Him at my side and in my heart, I can continue to hold on.

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