Tuesday, June 10, 2008

finding joy when the seasons of life don't end

Life is seasons. Part of wisdom is learning to live within the seasons God gives us. When we're young, we may picture our lives like this: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, marriage, children, middle-age, empty nest, grandchildren, retirement, old age.

But what do we do when a season of life doesn't end? When singleness, childlessness, an unhappy relationship, chronic sickness, a disabled child's dependence, or a spouse's mental illness, go on and on? When we're stuck in one of the difficult seasons of life?

When young, blonde, sweet-as-they-come Sarah caught Bill's eye, she thought it was the beginning of happily ever after. Sarah revelled in her role as wife and homemaker. She enjoyed cooking and decorating. She loved hanging out, playing games, and laughing with her husband. And she looked forward to what she assumed would be the next season of her life: motherhood.

But the season of motherhood never came for Sarah. It was many years before she realised that it probably never would. Soon after they were married, Bill began suffering severe and debilitating fatigue, weakness, and headaches. After a while he could no longer work. Sarah - this woman who wanted nothing more than to be at home - became the sole breadwinner. Years of doctors, experimental treatments, and special diets availed nothing. Bill only got worse - so sick that he often was unable to leave the house. Finally, Bill and Sarah were forced to move from the church and friends they loved so that they could live in a location that offered a better quality of life for Bill. Gradually, Sarah realised that they would never have a family. This was not the life she had planned. It wasn't what she wanted. She felt stuck in a season that wouldn't end.

Like Sarah, none of us would choose "a time to weep," or "a time to mourn," or a time of sickness - a lifetime of sickness. This isn't what Sarah chose. But it's what God chose for Sarah. Here, inside this truth, Sarah found joy.

No, Bill didn't get better. She didn't become a mother. She still lived far away from dear friends. Yet she came to realise that this life - one she hadn't planned for herself - was the very life God had planned for her. God had designed this long, unexpected, unwelcome season so that Sarah could best glorify him. He had allowed this trial so that he could show his goodness and mercy to Sarah in totally unexpected ways. Sarah found joy when she came to rest in the truth that God orders our seasons.

If you were to meet Sarah, her joy would be immediately obvious. It's a deep joy, infused with peace. And it displays itself in a genuine care for others and continual expressions of gratefulness to God. To be around Sarah is to catch a glimpse of the love and goodness of Christ. Sarah isn't just surviving. She's truly thriving, growing, and rejoicing in the season God has ordained.

This quote made me profoundly grateful (for the first time!) for the passing seasons of life. Even for children who grow out of babyhood - something I usually regard with clinging nostalgia. How hard it would be to care for a perpetually dependent child! What a joy that children grow and change, and yes, even leave the nest.

In a world marred by sin and suffering, it's a blessing that seasons end. That life-long pain, a difficult marriage, or a struggle with besetting sin, are finite. In such a world, even death is not just a grief and a horror, but a safeguard and a release. God puts limits on human happiness, but also on human suffering. They are not forever.

Knowing that seasons pass helps us not to not to cling to happy times, as if youth, or marriage, or children, were the end of our existence. It helps us look beyond earthly joys to what is everlasting. To hold them lightly, and give them up to God when it is time.

Knowing that seasons pass helps us not to despair in dark times, when tears and tasks seem relentless and unceasing. It helps us remember that their end is ordained by God, and his timing is perfect. That "weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (Ps. 30:5). That all seasons end in unending joy for those who trust in Jesus.

God give us strength to serve him in all the seasons of our life, that we may be those who serve him with joy.

The quote is from Shopping for Time: How to Do it All and Not Be Overwhelmed by Carolyn Mahaney and daughters, pp.22-23. Names have been changed to suit an Australian audience.


Belinda said...

Hmmm, just a thought- but it seems to me this post would better be titled "finding joy when the seasons of life end"- this seems to be what you are reflecting on really.

Emma P said...

Thanks Jean - loved it!

Jean said...

I'm keeping the title, Belinda, since I was trying to talk about the seasons that last so long they feel unending, maybe our whole life long. Also I want to encourage us to take joy in God during them, not just when they end. But point taken - all seasons end eventually, in the final season of joy in heaven, if not before.

Belinda said...

Thanks Jean!

Jean said...

Cool bikkies :)

Jean said...

I'm posting this on behalf of Rachael, who's having trouble with her internet connection:

Jean, have you read “My Seventh Monsoon” by Naomi Reed? She writes about the ‘seasons’ of her life, including some particularly troubled ones explaining how God worked through all of them for her good and his glory.

Jean said...

Sounds great!