The plant sitting by the door is drooping, bending low, almost touching the floor. I walk by the planter a dozen or more times, ignoring it until finally I grab my coffee cup, fill it with water and dump it all over the plant. The thirsty soil sucks the water like a sponge. I stand over the plant, my soul mirrored in parched dirt. Like the drooping plant, I too am weighed down and reminded:
There is really no way around the pain, but through it.
I work the dirt outside, planting my flowers, hoping the air and the sunshine will restore this brokenness, if only tape it up for awhile so I can breathe again. I throw my shovel into the dirt. The soil gives easily under the shovel’s force, but as I move through the garden bed, the dirt resists under the shovel’s weight. I turn my shovel backwards and slam it down, again and again until the dirt breaks up just a little. I pierce the tip hard into the earth, until I am able to dig a little deeper. The dirt spills out. Bulbs go in. They are ugly, knobby things, more like a head of garlic than beauty waiting in secret. Bulb planting fails to bring the usual pleasure of gardening, of newly planted flowers thriving, fresh from the greenhouse spilling over onto the sidewalk with color. Spring flowers must make it through the hard winter of waiting, of anticipation. It’s the same emotion behind the advent cry: “O Come, O come Emmanuel” when we wait for him to make all things new.
It’s the waiting that’s the hardest in times of pain.
We cry to the Lord to come quickly, to renew this broken world and heal our diseases. But as we wait, we grow dry and thirsty. As Charles Spurgeon once said,
Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.
I go inside to pray and the words and tears mingle, like steady drops of rain that fall, like unending questions with no answers. This is sometimes how prayer is; our emotions and words intertwined in questions and answers just like the Psalmist:
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
His presence is not always felt in pain. In our trials, God often feels absent. Even the Psalmist asks,
Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you in turmoil within me? (42:5)
These feelings, these senses lead me astray. If I cannot see or feel it, then I struggle to believe it is real and tangible. But faith does not rely on our senses—seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling—all the cues that tell me what something is, whether it is good or bad, real or not. Sometimes I see God in everything around me; other times I do not see him at all—I only see the hospital bed, the grave, the darkness of winter. But faith is believing without seeing. It is hoping when the soul feels despair. That is why the Psalmist goes from questioning his emotions (Why are you cast down, O my soul?) to hoping in God in the very next breath:
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (42:5)
Trials make the pendulum swing hard between the extremes of feeling God’s presence in the midst of trials (hope) to feeling alone (despair), but faith centers the pendulum in the belief that no matter whether I feel God or not, he is there.
By faith, not by sight–that is always the wrestling.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
So with faith eyes, I cling to the hope that God will make all things new and redeem this world.
With faith eyes, I believe my son is in heaven, even though I cannot touch his soft cheeks or smell his hair.
Like the garden in winter, I wait for the day when a small shoot pierces the ground and a flower emerges forth. I wait for the dry thirsty ground to be richly watered by spring rains. Like the bulb buried under winter snows, God’s promises do not rely on our senses to know he is there.
When we are beaten down, our souls bending low, that is when we most need to cling to his promises in the dark.
Our cold water when we are thirsty. Sorrow wiped away from tear-stained cheeks.
I inhale deeply and watch the sun stream down His mercies new.