And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
The difference in what?
The difference in a tribulation and a frustration. I guess I've subconciously lumped them together as the same thing, but really they aren't, and identifying them in my mind is helping me walk through my days. No, I don't have things perfect, and yes, I still get irritated and often let it show, but I sense His work within and know He is producing something on this subject. So, I lay myself before Him, a willing student.
It all began in these verses, zooming in on this word:
tribulations: Greek word thlipsis, a noun, which means "a pressure, anguish, burdened, persecution". It's used to describe the afflictions of those hard pressed by seige and the calamities of war. It's also used to describe distress as intense as a woman in childbirth.
The reason I can say that is because I have experienced tribulation a few times and I know how intense it was. I can also attest that they did produce the things promised in these verses, resulting in HOPE; however, they were more like a calamity of war and pressure from attempted seige by the enemy. I felt the intense pain like that of childbirth and can think of about 6 different true periods of tribulations, and they will forever be written upon me.
In every one of these circumstances I had to
- Chose in faith that God was good.
- Chose to believe in faith that, yes, all of this matters.
- Chose to believe in faith that God would strengthen my bond with Him in it.
I could have thrown in the towel in any one of these tribulations and chose to do things my way, but what would that have proven? It wouldn't have taken away the pain. It would have proven nothing. These verses promise us profit from the struggle, and the profit from doing it my way would have been nothing.
Last year, on New Year's Day, my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. How ironic? Not a happy new year. Todd and I were just getting our feet back under us from what had been a three year battle. The enemy had tried to take us out. He didn't want us serving in ministry and had us on the ropes many times, but we were walking out victorious and just beginning to see hope when we got the new year news.
It had been a very long day sitting at the hospital waiting for surgery, waiting for diagnosis, watching my family one by one process the pain. Listening as my dad asked some very hard questions and trying to answer him honestly, with any glimmer of hope. It was dark and cold outside as I walked to my car. It's all so vividly painful I remember exactly what I was wearing, exactly how I felt. I climbed into the driver's seat, started the car, and broke down.
And thoughts came.
Thoughts of giving up. Throwing in the towel on the God-thing. It took too much strength to hope in Him. What did it matter anyway? The Spirit spoke gently, reminding me that believing in moments as these was a choice, but the pain and exhaustion from battle screamed so much louder. These thoughts terrified me. In ministry, I have seen too many succumb to them and walk the wide road. I didn't want to be another statistic, so I proceeded with much spiritual caution. These moments, sweet friend, are why it is so important to know His true character and know His truth even when everything you feel is screaming the opposite.
My view of suffering prior to studying these verses was that, as a Christian, I should have a "better attitude" about tribulations, but that's not it. In this tribulation I knew that this didn't fit, who in their right mind rejoices at cancer? Having a better attitude is something that leaves the situation up to me and doesn't provide a window to see Him working, it's merely judged by my feel-o-meter. And my feel-o-meter was all over the place. The truth is, my attitude doesn't necessarily need to be better about the situation, but really needs to be more grateful for what lies ahead - eternity. More grateful for the foundational work He is doing in me and my dad this side of it. He is already working in us for that final state!
I will lose my dad to this. But, I would have lost him anyway.
I have to remember, as much as I love Dad, the life I have had with him here has been imperfect because we have only experienced it in an imperfect world. The life we have had together cannot compare to the one I will live in eternity with him and our Father.
This is a tribulation. It has been intense pain, it has been like a war seige. It is well beyond a personal preference or a personality clash.
I am learning that when I navigate a true storm, I tend to cling to God; but the things that I wrongly call a storm tend to be the things I seek a recue from my discomfort for, I'm not really seeking God in them. I'm seeking to have things my way in them.
I'm also learning the adjustments I can make.
- I can stop mislabeling things as tribulations and trials that are really an issue of my personal preferences.
- I can look at a situation and determine easily if it is really a war level battle or if it has the intensity of birth pain, if it doesn't pass that test, it's not really a big deal. I'm just making a big deal about it.
- Check where I am placing my hope. My hope cannot lie in how I want people to act or treat me or others around them. They won't ever do it this side of eternity because they are just like me, broken people with broken eyes in a broken world. That's where grace comes in, I expect grace from God when I see things from my broken eyes, so I should also extend it to others and remember He is doing foundational work in them just as He is in me. My hope lies there - eternity, where all of this is complete. Ever thought about that ? No one will get on your nerves there 😉
Although this has been an intense past year, He has been near. He has reminded me that this life is VERY short although the days sometimes seem long. He has given me greater hope in my hope anchored beyond the veil.