Growing in Seasons of Hardship
Our lives are full of many seasons, according to Ecclesiastes 3. It speaks of a time for life and a time for death, a time for war, and a time for peace. Some seasons are filled with times of blessing, and it can seem that nothing can go wrong. Other times we go through hardship and it can seem that nothing can go right. In hard times, even good things that happen can be overshadowed by the feeling of loss or hopelessness.
It can be easy in difficult times to question God’s goodness or, for some, even if there is a God. Seasons of testing are hard. They can seem endless and make us weary.
My wife and I have just passed through a season of hardship and I’d like to share some things God has taught me during this time. If you follow our blogs regularly, you may notice that this will be the first blog written since my mom’s passing in December. Her passing, while unexpected, unfortunately was one of many losses and setbacks that we faced in 2014. The season started with the tearing of my ACL and meniscus in late December of 2013 which led to knee surgery in May 2014. As a result, I was out of work for one and one-half months, and had limited mobility for months after that. Medical bills piled up, and some planned mission trips were cancelled. I’ve also had difficulty breathing and sleeping normally due to nasal polyps flaring up every month (may need surgery). The hardship continued with the passing of Kelly’s grandfather on April 28, 2014, then two weeks later we lost our beloved dog Rascal, whom we had for 15 years. My knee surgery was May 1st, and I was unable to travel to the funeral. As the months followed we continued to receive word of dear friends who passed away – some who were very young. Then, on October 8, 2014, my mom, who lived with us for eleven years, fell backwards in the kitchen and had to be rushed to the hospital. For the next two months, my wife and I took turns providing care for her as she was in and out of the hospital. On top of that, she began having trouble breathing and could no longer lift herself. On November 22nd, she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. She spent two weeks in ICU on a ventilator, with each day we hoped she’d be breathing on her own and off the machine. On December 9th, she unexpectedly passed away.
The counselor at the hospital said that we would be dealing with what they call compound grief. That’s when the grief from multiple losses add up on top of each other, making the weight of them even greater. She said when dealing with compound grief, it’s easy to slip into depression. She told us to go out and do something to distract us, like see a movie. Unfortunately, most of the things we tried didn’t help. After 11 years of taking care of my mom, we quickly realized that most of our activities were linked to her, and no matter where we went or what we did, we would be somehow reminded of our time with her or some activity we planned on doing with her in the future.
We thought 2015 would be a new year, but we quickly were hit with the unexpected loss of another dear family member, among other things.
During this time, everything seemed hard. Emotions were fragile and it would have been easy to just give in to despair. Yet in each situation God reminded me of three things:
- Keep an eternal perspective. 1 Peter 1:24 tells that us that all life is temporary – it fades like a flower. While we mourn loss, any loss is a stark reminder that we’ve been only given so many hours to live – so we must make the most of them. How do we do that? By keeping our sights set on the eternal. All our activities on earth will either fade like the flowers, or they will have eternal value. We are encouraged in Colossians to “Set our minds on things above, not earthly things.” It was those who set their minds on eternity and shared the love God with my mom many years ago that allow me to know that my mom, while no longer on this earth, is not gone, but simply has transitioned to be home with her true love – Jesus. We too can share that hope with others.
- We are not alone. The thing that can discourage us the most is to believe that while we go through hardship no one can help us – or that we must go through the pain alone. It’s easy for us to internalize our pain and not want to share or even sometimes acknowledge what we are feeling. Pain and depression, like mold, tends to flourish in the darkness. While we can’t allow ourselves to dwell on our hurt, we also can’t deny it. By denying it, it grows within us like mold – and much like black mold it can do internal damage to the point we need reconstruction. As dark as it may seem at times, you are not alone – God is walking with you. He is not only with you, but can cover you. In Psalm 91:4, it states, “He will cover you with His feathers; you will take refuge under His wings. His faithfulness will be a protective shield.” While this may sound like protection from just outside forces, it can also apply to internal forces as well. As a loved one wraps their arm around you so you know you are loved, He will wrap His arms around you. He has also sent His Spirit to comfort us – John 14:16. When depressing thoughts came to mind, His spirit would remind me I am not alone. I could feel His presence and be guided by His words. Stay open to His Spirit, don’t let your heart grow cold, instead open your heart to His loving arms and allow Him to wrap you in His presence. For in His presence there is joy and strength.
- Our hardship can be used for His Glory. Even in the darkest times, if we are open to His Spirit God will allow us to be a vessel for His glory. When we visited Kelly’s grandfather in hospice, it was beautiful to see God work through her. Yes, she was grieving and it was hard, but her sensitivity to the lead of the Spirit allowed her to encourage others and share hope. Also, the experience of my mom’s passing has allowed me to come along side others who know the same pain. In times of grief it is difficult see opportunities that God places before you – and even when He does – the thought of reaching out to others can seem overwhelming. However, when we are open to His leading, it not only allows us to share in one another’s burdens, but it also brings healing to us.
Just remember, while there is a time to mourn, and we all mourn differently, it is not God’s desire to turn our mourning into despair. He truly understands how we feel – we know this because He had to give up His only begotten Son – and He also desires greatly to comfort us in times of loss. Stay open to His Spirit’s gentle nudging. Try keeping an eternal perspective, know that you are not alone, and be open to understanding that even hardship can provide opportunity to glorify God through helping others. Hard times don’t have to turn into hopelessness, instead they can be opportunities to grow deeper in your relationship with the Father. If you have dealt with hardship recently, I hope this encourages you.