Thursday, December 21, 2017

You've got to go through it

Do you recall the classic children’s book, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt?” There is a song too, often sung at summer camps, that depicts the story of 5 children and their dog who venture out into the wilderness in search of a bear. On their way, they encounter all sorts of obstacles – a river, mud, tall grass and a forest, to name a few. As they face each one, large and looming before them, they chant together:

“We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no!

We’ve got to go through it!”

Recently, I was having more mornings than I cared to admit where I awoke unsure whether I could “do life” that day. My load felt heavy and very few things were bringing we joy. I was existing but unable to engage. It was like I witnessing the world happening around me from behind a glass wall. Everything appeared muted and distant.  

I related to those kids in the bear hunt story, unnerved by my environment yet unsure as to how best to proceed. Just as the book characters surveyed the landscape before them, wondering how they would get over to the other side, I too wondered if I would ever get past this tough season. The “other side” looked awfully appealing but getting there involved enduring uncomfortable circumstances and it was tempting to retreat from whence I came and give up on hopes of forward progress.

The things I knew would help me were hard to muster energy for. Running. Creating order in chaos. Eating well. Writing. Connecting with others. Instead, I longed to curl under a blanket and eat ice cream and drink coffee (or maybe wine?) all the live long day. And some days I did. After delivering  my girls safely at school, I would strip back out of my too-tight-right-now jeans and don some pants with an elastic waste band, a baggy sweatshirt, and slippers. Getting dressed was my least favorite part of the day - my body, oh how I loathed it!

I wasn’t feeling well physically or emotionally. I’m wasn’t practicing what I preached. I’d reached the unhealthiest state I could remember being in ages. This was me.

And what I was experiencing was most definitely depression.

There have been many times where I have surveyed the landscape before me and I have felt totally overwhelmed. I have wished I could skip the messy jungle, dark, and filled with unknowns lurking behind every bush. Certainly, it would be easier to just fly over it, to launch myself through the air and land on the other side, I would think. Or maybe I could simply dig my way under the rugged terrain to avoid all the bumps? I could tunnel “down under” and pop back up when I’d crawled past all the obstacles and the coast was clear and the way was smooth again.

But alas, it’s not that simple with life, is it? As the bear hunt book reads,

You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You’ve got to go through it.

This very idea of “going through it” brings to mind the art of glass-blowing. I’m certainly no authority in this field but I have seen it done a time or two. In making a delicate piece of blown-glass art, first the artist must dip the blowpipe into molten glass. Like honey, this syrupy glass isn’t yet anything to behold. It moves and oozes and threatens to run off the end of the pipe as it spins. For the artisan to shape and grow the molten liquid into what he envisions, he must first put it in the furnace until it is white hot. Only after it had endured the heat of the fire can the artist begin blowing into the pipe. Out of the molten mass, a beautiful ball of glass forms and takes shape.

Glass-blowing makes a good metaphor for us as humans. At different points in our lives, like the molten glass, we find ourselves feeling messy and sticky and formless. We may be questioning our purpose or wondering if we are living to our full capacity. We might be lonely or hurting. Maybe we received a sobering diagnosis, or we are experiencing relational strife. Or maybe we find ourselves amid a painful season due to no fault of our own. Perhaps we were wronged or harmed and now we are sorting through the aftermath. These circumstances come at us like a hot furnace, burning, scalding. When we are in the fire, in the middle of the process, it’s hard to see the good. But it is only in these moments when we are stretched to the point of discomfort that growth can take place.

It is in the furnace, when we are white hot with pain and exhaustion and bewilderment that we become malleable enough for a gentle breath to fill us and form us and grow us. We can’t skip the vital step of walking into the fire.

You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You’ve got to go through it.

I know what it’s like to feel numb, to wonder if you will ever experience joy again. To take a stab at the things you once loved, expecting a spark, and instead to detect nothing. I know what it feels like to question what’s wrong with you, to be scared out of your mind that “this is just how it is now.” I know well the temptation to settle. To decide the river seems too vast to cross and opt to stay put instead. To set up camp and convince oneself the other side was overrated anyway. I know what it feels like to long for a painful season to end, to be ready to get on with the next one. On better days, I can remember that “this too shall pass.” I recall that I am mid-process, that I am going “through it” as the bear hunt book would say. But on the average day, I often want to hibernate under a blanket until it's over.

We want to skip the hard, refining work. We don’t like the furnace because the heat feels unbearable. The stretching that takes place there is uncomfortable, and we’d rather skirt around or pass over the parts of our lives that are painful or ugly. Yet here we find ourselves, in the midst of our present circumstances.

And it is in this very midst that God longs to meet us.

It is in these moments where we aren’t sure we can take one more step, moments when we are acutely aware that we are incomplete and broken that the Spirit intercedes for us “with groans that are too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). 

The verses that precede this passage encourage us not to lose heart. Romans 8:24 says “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Are you waiting for something? In this season of Advent, are you filled with longing? Are you in the midst of hard circumstances? I hope you will allow the breath of the Holy Spirit to wash over you and intercede “with groans that are too deep for words.”

It’s when you’re wading through the river, when you’re being refined in the fire that God meets and intercedes for you. It’s when you realize you are broken that growth happens. Brokenness is not the end of the story. We can’t hide from the broken areas of our lives. God is redeeming and making all things new. This is really the “other side” but he’s calling to us to a journey through. We’ve got to go through it.

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posted by kelsie