This winter I have been struck by the beauty of the bare trees…by how we can now see behind them and through them…and especially by how their inner structure is now revealed. When trees are fully leafed, we only get rare glimpses of the branches or of what is behind a tree. In winter we see everything above the ground. Only the roots are hidden.
Winter is a time of deprivation. Of cold weather. Of snow and ice and bare trees. Any time of suffering in our lives might be labeled “winter.” Suffering exposes our innermost self in how we deal with pain and grief. It shows how we cope with the unwanted deaths, job losses, illnesses, disasters—all our reactions are laid bare by suffering, just as trees are laid bare in the winter.
Do we trust that God will take care of us? Will we be able to say, like one of my readers last week, did, “Living with cancer forced me to come face to face with God and say, Lord you are in control. I have had more peace with cancer than ever before.” Will we notice his presence in our suffering? Or will we be angry at God for not answering our prayers the way we wanted him to do? Will we refuse to grieve, to let in the pain? Or will we grieve our losses thoroughly? Will we cling to the past or embrace what is in our lives?
Suffering and pain are part of our lives here. They touch everyone. I’ve begun to look at life as God’s school for human beings. And the main lesson is that God is in charge of the whole universe and the sooner we get on his side and learn what he is trying to teach us, the sooner we will be fulfilled. How we learn that lesson will show if we are able to help the Lord usher in the kingdom.
The second lesson to be learned is to love: Can you love when your spouse dies, when you’ve lost your job or are sick and can’t work? Can you love when someone has abused you? Can you forgive them? Can you love when you’ve lost your home due to a hurricane? When nothing seems to go your way? Can you grieve all your losses, empty yourself of your resistance to them, so that God can fill you with love? Will you stay with God no matter what?
And if we can love, no matter what, and we can trust God to take care of us, no matter what, then, we can be really helpful to God in bringing in the kingdom here on earth. As long as we’re tied to the past in any way, in not being able to admit our part or to forgive someone else, as long as we’re trying to hide our guilt and shame about what happened to us or what we did, as long as we have not grieved thoroughly for what happened, as long as we cannot accept all that we are, we cannot be really helpful to God.
It’s the partiality of what we do, or doing things in God’s name without love, or trying to look good in His eyes—which God sees clearly in us—that means we are not loving God with all of ourselves. It’s because we can’t even love who we are and what happened to us that we can’t really love God. Or the opposite is true: if we can’t love God with all of ourselves–God who loves us unconditionally–how can we love ourselves?
So, to recap, the first life lesson that we need to learn is that God wants all of us. He knows exactly who we are and what has happened to us and what we’ve said and done. Still he wants all of us in love. It is only ourselves who will not accept this major lesson in the school of life.
The second lesson is that God still loves us, forgives us, wants us on his team—no matter what is in our lives, no matter our limitations, no matter our past. It’s our undivided selves, accepting everything that we are, that can be useful to him in bringing in the kingdom.
The third lesson is that God will use our pain and suffering, now healed, transformed and redeemed to help others. The kingdom is the place where God’s work gets done for everyone. Once we can accept his love for us, all we can do is to pour it back out into the world for the sake of our neighbors, for God’s sake.
So, if life is a school, then we’d better get on with it! Let’s focus on the basic question; can I love no matter what? Every good step we take down that road will yield a surrendered heart, a tolerance for suffering before unknown in us because now we know that it is in our own best interests. It’s almost as if we say to God, “Bring it on! See if you can top last week’s problems and how you’ll help us solve them! Show us what we need to know in order to love! Highlight my attachments, my presumptions, my expectations, my preferences, so that I can give them up to you! My main goal is to love you, so let’s get to it!”
When there is that kind of openness in us to whatever comes in our lives, then we know that we have made great strides in learning how to love, in allowing God to love through us. Then in good times and in times of suffering our innermost self will be giving out love, love, love. The underlying structure of our selves will be exposed to be love, not fear, anxiety, shame and guilt. “Winter” will no longer pull us off the track of loving God.
Questions to ponder for the week: Can I accept and love all of me, even the challenges and pain and suffering in my life? Am I willing to accept all that life brings me? Can I see that God loves all that I am, has walked with me through all of my life, loved and supported me no matter what? Can I bring my whole self to God in love? Can I give my all to God and let him lead me, no matter what? Or do I still hold back some of myself, still flinch when things I don’t like come into my life, or spend time in resistance? Will I ask God’s help in loving him with all of myself?
Blessings for the week: May we be the children of God who love him with all of ourselves. May we every day bring more of ourselves in love to him. May we love ourselves, our whole selves unconditionally.
*****I’m doing more research for my book. If you have had the experience of God revealing to you what your purpose is, would you write me in the Messages and tell me what that purpose is and how it came about. I would greatly appreciate your help. I’ll use it in my book, but the writer will remain anonymous.
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. Look under Patricia Said Adams.
I have an essay published in an anthology of writings by Christian authors, entitled “What Can We Learn About Suffering From the Exodus Story.” The book is entitled Let Hope Arise by Authors for Christ and is available on Amazon.