“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Over lunch recently, as is our custom, my husband Mike and I were discussing the things we had been pondering of late. On this occasion, the story of Jesus and the disciples in the boat came up – you know the one, where Jesus is asleep and a storm comes up and threatens to overwhelm the boat. The fearful disciples wake Jesus and ask ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ Jesus’ gracious response is to command the storm to ‘Be still’ but then he turns to his disciples and says ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
This story got us thinking that so often our plea or prayer to God is the same as that of the disciples – do something to change our circumstances, to make it ‘safer’ or ‘easier’ or ‘less frightening.’ In fact, a faithful follower today is often seen as one who is ‘believing’ for a change in circumstances but, as we see in this story, Jesus actually rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith in pleading for a change in their circumstances.
So, how do we respond when it feels like we’re passing through a storm that threatens to overwhelm us? What do we do when the circumstances of our lives keep bringing us what we haven’t asked or hoped for? How do we live well with a constantly shifting tide of events beyond our control that ebb and flow throughout our days? Sometimes it can feel as if we’re drowning and then when we do get some stability an unexpected wave can knock us off our feet once again.
It’s a given that life is hard. Jesus himself couldn’t have been more clear…
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Jesus tells us that we will have many trials and sorrows but goes on to say that there is hope. We do not need to be subject to the suffering that comes our way as humans not because that suffering will be taken away by God’s magic wand but because God always provides a way through the darkness of our trials to light.
It’s easy to get caught in the net of willing, praying and imploring our situation to change and when this doesn’t happen we become disillusioned and disappointed. What if God is offering us something that is far richer and more lasting than a change of circumstance? Perhaps within those difficult trials is hidden the path that will lead us to more of the abundant life we’re created for. Perhaps the brokenness that difficult circumstances offer leads us to greater wholeness and truth. Parker Palmer beautifully says…
Once one has eyes to see it, wholeness can always be found, hidden beneath the broken surface of things. (from On the Brink of Everything)
He goes on to talk about how our Christian default can be to want to rise above our circumstances, assuming this is what Jesus offers when he says that he’s overcome the world. Another way to see what Jesus offers in the overcoming is not to rise above but to engage with – on the ground, to get in amongst the mess and see the beauty on offer. Not to remove the situation from us or us from it but to get into it and welcome it to do its work within us. Perhaps within an intentional surrender (as opposed to resignation) to the difficult trial we face we are freed from fighting and released into allowing, welcoming and accepting. Within this space is the gold, the deep transformation, the place where we can know healing and freedom. Doesn’t it feel good to not have to fight every difficult or unwanted situation but to see it as a gift? As containing something we need? Yes to hold onto hope for change but right next to that to choose surrender and accept the grace to trust as you do. God doesn’t bring the difficulties but He does know how to bring great good from them. As we surrender we are saying that we trust God to work things out, to trust that all will be well even if the situation doesn’t work out as we hoped it would, even when the outcome isn’t the one we wanted. We’re giving space for God to enter in and gift us with new life, hope and healing. We’re leaving room for mystery, for being okay with not knowing and we’re relinquishing our need to understand.
Life is hard, behind each big wave comes another even when there’s a gap. We can either spend our energy fighting the waves or we can lean in and let them take us on a ride, somewhere new and unexpected, beyond where we currently are. To let them take us to a truer version of ourselves, to a more loving us, to a new way of being. There is no situation or trial that is beyond God’s ability to meet us in with understanding, to grace us and provide for us the fullness of love, compassion, acceptance and hope. It is here that change happens, deeper, richer and more abundant than a change of circumstance alone.