Monthly Archives: October 2014

The discomfort of struggle

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“NO!  DON’T TOUCH IT!”  I remember quickly intervening before my four-year old son “helped” a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.

“You have to let it come out by itself,” I instructed.

“But it needs help!” he demanded.

“No, it doesn’t.  It needs to struggle its own way out, or it will die.  It needs to get stronger by working itself out of that cocoon – if it doesn’t, it won’t be strong enough to fly away.”

Obedient, but dissatisfied, he relented and watched the grueling struggle as the wriggling, writhing thing slowly – ever so slowly – finally emerged and spread its wings to dry.  With revelry, he squealed in exaltation when “his” butterfly finally took flight, under its own power, and left the safety of our observation tank.

But there was another butterfly in our collection that had yet to emerge, and I did not catch my son before he gently “helped” the next one out.  That butterfly never spread its wings.  It never flew away.  It never did what butterflies were meant to do.  We found it on the floor of the terrarium, dead, not long after.

I knew what had happened without him confessing, but I asked him if he’d tried to “help” his other butterfly.  Embarrassed, he denied it at first, and then with tears he said, “I just wanted to help him!  He couldn’t get out!”

So many times I am tempted, like my son, to take a short-cut through the struggles in life.

I want to “help” my kids figure things out.

I want to “help” myself by bypassing the hard things.

I want to “help” the friends and loved ones in my life out of the pain and suffering they find themselves in because I don’t want them to struggle.

But when I look back at the times in my life when God has revealed his character to me best and deepest, I can point, without exception, to the painful and difficult struggles I’ve gone through.

I could not have known God the way I know him without them.

Why then do I insist on looking to avoid the uncomfortable struggle of getting through them?  Would I trade knowing God deeply and richly for an easier life?  God forbid that I would ever say so… but isn’t that exactly what we say when we try to escape the hard things?

I know that there is joy when the hard things are over.  And there is a depth of gratitude that comes when seasons of pain are memories and no longer daily realities.  In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but love cannot cease to will their removal.”

But the joy and the gratitude are impossible without the pain that precedes them.

I would not be able to know how sweet joy can be without knowing the bitterness of bone-grinding difficulties.  And my gratitude grows as deep as the plumbs of my despair when I have suffered loss and seen that God is good.

The struggles we face – and we watch others face – can, indeed, be uncomfortable to watch, to endure.  But there is such beauty ahead if we will wait with patient anticipation of the strength and character he will mold in us through them, if we will just trust Him.

By all means, help when it is necessary – but only when it is absolutely necessary.  And that is likely much later than we are typically comfortable with.

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What do you want?

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I asked my two-week old baby that question once.  I know – it’s a dumb question to ask of a two-week old.  But even as I knew the absurdity of asking her, I also knew I had run out of ideas.  I was desperate.  I was exhausted.  I was grasping at straws.  I held all 9 pounds of her up and looked at her eye-to-eye,  and with all the restraint I could muster pleaded, “what do you WANT?!?!”

She kept crying.

I’m not really sure how, but we got through it.  She’s 30 now – and no worse for the question.  At least she doesn’t remember it.

It’s not an entirely bad question, though – really.   (OK, I don’t recommend asking someone who’s only means of communication is crying…)

But we ask it all the time.  What do you want for dinner?  What do you want to do?  What do you want to be?  What do you want to accomplish?  and on it goes…

“What do you want?” can elicit a myriad of responses.  Deep things.  Shallow things.  Immediate things.  Long-range things.  Proper things…

We think about what we want all the time.  From the moment our consciousness transitions from being asleep to being awake what we want drives us.  I want to sleep more so I hit snooze.  I want to get out of the door on time so I get up.  I want to eat something because I’m hungry – or don’t want to be at an inconvenient time.  I want to not eat because it’s “nasty” first thing in the morning (at least that’s what my teens say).  I want to wear this.  I want to go here.  I want to remember that.  I want to finish what’s on my list.  (I want to start what’s on my list!)

All of these wants can race through our minds before our eyelids open, but it continues all through each of our days.

“I want” is almost as much a part of being human as “I think.”  We neither consider nor act without some ‘want’ prompting us.

And yet, when we seriously ask each other the question, “What do you want?” we are often met with the same crazed look my two-week old infant gave me so many years ago.

Aside from wants of the immediacy of the next 10 minutes – or day – what do you really want?  Inherent in the question is, “what is it that you want in your life more than anything?”

What are your goals?  What are your longings?  What are you passionate enough to base your decisions on?  What is so important to you that you would sacrifice other good things for?

What do you really want???

This is a question I’ve been pondering recently as a result of our women’s Bible study.  When I’m thinking through the wants that motivate me, the range of answers is vast:

I want my house clean – and I’d really like it to stay that way for a stretch of time.

I want someone else to make dinner.

I want time to read all the books on my list.

I want to learn French fluently.

I want to lose weight and be in better shape.

I want to have deep friendships.

I want to be appreciated.

I want to love well – and I want to know that I am well-loved.

I want to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength – and I want to know what that really looks like.

I want my kids to love God the same way.

I want to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your Master.”

What ends up bubbling up to the top of our lists reveals where our hearts are.   The beautiful thing is that God knows we are frail and made of dust – as he was with Abraham, he is patient as we learn to want for our own lives what God wants for them.

I’ve already made some decisions based on the priorities of these things in my life.  I wouldn’t die on the hill of desire to keep my house clean (which, I suppose is why it’s still on the list…), but I would on the one that demands an answer for how to learn how to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.   I’m pretty hopeful about learning French better – but I’m dogged about teaching my children to love God.  These things motivate me to be sure.

But when I’m really honest about my wants during the course of an ordinary day, lesser wants tend to have a bigger voice amidst all those wants clamoring for first priority.  I want to be lazy sometimes more than I want to be industrious.  I want to be crabby sometimes more than I want to have a joyful heart.  I want to criticize sometimes more than I want to encourage.  I fall short… a lot… of what I really want.

Thankfully, we serve a Great High Priest who intercedes to God the Father on our behalf – who can change our prayers of “I want what I want” into “teach me to want what You have planned for me” by changing our hearts.

Lord, teach me to want what you want.  Teach me to want You.