God does nothing by mistake. It’s never easy to admit that in the trenches of loss, but it’s unchangeable and true: God is always in control, and he is the only author who never makes mistakes. I, for one, have asked him to change my story and wondered (sometimes in the most obnoxious, whiny version of myself) why he has written some of the chapters I have been given. Surely a heroine deserves to get what she wants more often than not. (If you are an “NCIS” fan, insert a Gibbs slap to the back of my head here.)
The truth is I have far more often gotten what I wanted and not what I deserved, and I have always gotten what I needed. I have simply focused on what I didn’t get that I wanted instead of what I desperately needed: the grace of Jesus. God teaches us in each season of life to trust him, to rely on the truth that his grace really is sufficient for each moment. Every hard or impossible or glorious moment, he’s showing you himself. Are you looking for him? Do you see him waiting for you there? I don’t always look, and sometimes I look but don’t see what I think I should see. Not every moment of searching for God has been a glorious appearing. Sometimes it is slogging through the day and trying to remember that God exists. And sometimes it is a soul lifting time of illumination and vision and energy.
We have seasons through the year in nature (unless you live in Alabama…), seasons of life as we age, seasons in our emotions and spiritual lives. I love that God gives us seasons – cycles even. Every year, the earth will rotate around the sun, and every year we will have spring, summer, fall, winter. There is comfort in the pattern, and we know that one season will not last forever. Each season has a purpose, too; without winter dormancy, many plants will not produce fruit; without summer and fall harvests, we would starve through the winter. Each cycle depends on the stage before it.
It’s simple to see how stages of life build on each other as we grow older – “You are what you eat,” “We are what we repeatedly do…” Every choice has a consequence that will pay off somewhere in the future. But it’s less simple to appreciate season cycles in life. Emotional winter too often feels like failure, and we fear anything that isn’t eternal renewal or happiness in our lives. We fight to escape anything heavy or painful because that really cannot be what Jesus meant when he promised abundant life and joy. But we need every season in the cycle. We learn to walk through pain and still find the joy of grace, and we laugh and dance through the joy of happiness and renewed faith. We can work and be productive in the steady times, and each cycle should build on what went before and lay a stronger foundation for what comes next.
Grief can feel like a time-loop. As time passes, you feel you’ve moved on, until one day you’re neck-deep in pain again. But with each loop through the cycle, I have learned the patterns, which gives me the comfort of knowing that no part of the cycle lasts forever. I am still learning how to walk through each part of the cycle pattern without trying to avoid the pain – at least not all of it. I am an expert at avoidance. I can eat, shop, read, or otherwise distract myself, but I am short-tempered, angry, and pretending not be wounded. Feeling the pain and acknowledging it so you can keep walking through it isn’t the same thing as living in it, wallowing, and stagnating. Depression is a serious de-motivator, but you can’t really live there. You have to keep moving through the day, moving forward in your life… just moving. Get up, get dressed, and get out there and do something. I have to tell myself this every time the depression creeps back in. It would be simple to sit on my couch – easy to just stop until I hurt a little less. The problem with that approach is that my inaction doesn’t make the pain go away; the loss is always with me.
But each cycle gets better. I am able to move more quickly past the deep hurt and into shallower waters where it is sunnier and easier to breathe. As I am able to examine and acknowledge my grief, it becomes a little lighter each time through the deep end and less of it follows me into the next season. Spring and summer are more beautiful having lived through the winter.