New Years Eve we sat here in this same Arizona backyard with some dear friends and reflected on the year past. "Next year will be better. It can only go up from here!"
To our surprise, it went down.
The first day of the new year we checked my husband into the hospital. His stay lasted four days with a severe case of pneumonia. We have often asked the question, "Why, Lord? What are you trying to teach us? What are we supposed to be learning from these trials?" But we know the answer.
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us…" (2 Cor. 4:7)
"Jars of clay" is a description slightly unflattering, but very true. It seems the more I long to be invincible, the brighter my frailty is put on display.
In Mesquite, Nevada, my boys and I strolled through a graveyard (I know, it's kind of morbid). We read the gravestones and patched together pieces of lives past--war heroes, children, cowboys, mothers and more--whole families buried together. Once vibrant and alive, now turned again to dust.
Ironically, I was struck by hope because the One with "surpassing power" gives life to ashes.
When the God-Man, Jesus Christ, came into our world to redeem the lost, new life broke into our dying world. My "jar of clay" is being renewed from the inside out. I feel the pain of sin and it's consequences, but each stroke against me corresponds to a renewal inside of me. A renewal begun and sustained by the Almighty.
I know that there is glory in my future. Glory that is weighty. Glory that is eternal. Glory that is beyond comparison. With each small affliction we are being prepared for it. As the Apostle Paul says:
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
The other night as Clint was drifting off to sleep, I suddenly had a very pressing theological question for him. (I seem to do this to him far too often...but then again I have to take advantage of the perks of being married to a pastor!) He graciously woke himself up and spoke with me about what it means for God's glory to have weight. I wondered if God was resting too weightlessly on me. But if God's glory truly has weight to it, it should press down on us. We should feel affected by it. This is a glory that demands our attention and fills us with delight. It takes effort to seek God's face, but those who behold it agree that there is no earthly comparison. And as Pastor John Piper says, "beholding is becoming." (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18)
I don't enjoy difficulties or love affliction, but I have confidence in God's promises for the future. If each affliction renews and prepares me for His glory, I cannot long for an easy life. If nothing else, this difficult year has taught me something about finding pleasure and joy not through ease of life, but in the face of Jesus Christ--the only One that completely satisfies.