I told my husband I would not complain anymore. I didn’t mean forever. I might’ve meant that day or evening. No, I think I said too much about it – about gratitude and rejoicing and how I needed to regain some things. Darn. Now I’m stuck. Ooops, I just complained.
Now I get it why old people become grumpy and stuck in their ways. Your body hurts just getting up. You need naps. Predictable is attractive because the variables in life can be overwhelming and frankly you get tired. What if I get cold? Sick? Lose money? Get a flat tire? Miss a flight? We find out life isn’t fair, that stuff happens no matter how carefully you plan. Dreams are detoured, hope short-circuits. So we complain. And it’s okay for about five minutes. But if you’re still whining five weeks later it’s a big red flag. You should either move to Long Island or call a Whaaaaaa- mbulance.
Before I flew to Korea in 2009 to visit my son, his wife and my granddaughter who was turning one, I put my self through a mini- boot camp. I had just come through the other side of surgery, chemo and radiation treatment and I felt pretty wiped out. So I walked, I swam and I practiced doing without some things I thought I could not do without – like two pillows; one puffy, one floppy. I even switched sides of the bed and practiced drinking my coffee black. Yikes.
It proved delightful. When we traveled up and down the country of Korea, sleeping on floors at times with no pillows, I felt free. And okay maybe a little sore in the morning, but not bad. When you look at those wrinkled wiry old Korean woman, napping on a 2 x 10 after squatting in the hot sun for 8 hours drying peppers so they can work 8 more before going home, it humbles you. You dare not even wince. It made my boot-camp look like a spa.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2 ESV
I think James was saying two things. One: expect trials, and a variety. Two; expect joy when you stay the course. He goes on to say,
“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” v. 4
Sometimes steadfastness looks so…boring. But the longer I serve God the more I am convinced that this is where He stands and takes notice. Not at the big events, the sell-out revivals and concerts and crusades, but when we are all alone and no one would blame us if we walked off the field and quit and left this God-forsaken land. Yet nothing grows and matures by uprooting and going somewhere where no one knows you. That’s like adding a third pillow. Behind the gold medal is endless tedious hours of shooting a ball or walking a balance beam. But how do we maintain our steadfastness without falling into a spiritual rut? How do we face the furnace without running let alone complaining?
Count it all joy…
Many years ago, I spent a summer out on Edisto Island. Then, my grandfather’s cousin, J.G. was still alive, and ran a 400-acre cattle ranch. I offered to work for my keep and J.G., then a young 66-year-old rancher who worked from the pre-dawn silence to beat the stifling South Carolina heat, until the cicadas sang past the sunset, was my boss. He taught me how to cast a shrimp net, how to bale hay and how to use a seed caster. I remember driving out into the middle of a huge newly plowed field in the middle of his property and being handed a seed-caster, a canvas bag that you slung over your shoulder filled with grain seed that sprayed out of the side as you cranked a handle. Simple.
“Okay, let’s go!” he said and began walking in the brown dirt towards a horizon I could not even see. When we reached the end, we turned around and walked the other way, all day, stopping to fill the bags occasionally. At first I wanted to cry, looking north, south, east and west and seeing nothing but a big brown desert. My twenty-year-old legs had a hard time keeping pace with this man, in the overbearing midday sun, but I noticed that he looked down as he walked, his neck brown and worn as an old saddle. He stopped every now and then, spying something in the caked overturned dirt, and bent down to retrieve a treasure– an old piece of pottery, or glass or an arrowhead; pieces of history from a land that had been settled by Indians, Spaniards and a family that had all died together, most likely from a plague, their overgrown grave markers still visible in a grove of trees in the middle of the field. He’d call me over and we’d stand there marveling at a clay shard, imagining a past rich with human history. After lunch, I actually wanted to go back out to the big field.
J.G. taught me something about work that day; that if you keep watch in the going, in the moment, you can find treasure. If you look too far ahead, you’ll faint from despair. I remember visiting a tuberculosis clinic in South Africa. The hard benches in the middle of the cement room were lined with sick Africans, waiting patiently for a treatment that likely brought little relief, if they had any medicine that day. A nurse stepped in front of them as they prepared to open and prayed with lifted face to God; that He would heal them. Then she thanked Him and that set off about five minutes of the most beautiful sound I have ever heard on this side of heaven – voices lifted in true praise and pure worship, their weak lungs pushing out a song that caused me to weep as I sat there knowing that heaven had thrown open a door and poured out God’s glory upon a pitiful medical clinic that could offer nothing but a long wait and little expectation of relief. But they saw the moment and they rejoiced in it. And I worry about cream for my coffee…
I said I wouldn’t complain and I meant it. But wouldn’t it be a delight to God if I instead rejoiced? If I could bend down in the midst of my barren field or broken heart and find a treasure?
I went back to Edisto a few weeks ago, meeting my son, his wife and now two daughters there. The weather was cold and rainy but we decided to embrace it. I was just happy it wasn’t snow.
Brooklynn and Olive are six and four now. It didn’t matter at all to them that it was rainy and cold, They still chased the waves, found a family of starfish (I never thought of starfish as adorable before), and sang songs to Jesus from our condo balcony in the rain.
Jesus – the Author and the Finisher of our faith. The only one who sees the horizon, who needs to. Our part is to just stay steadfast, to move forward, sowing precious seed.
When they bury a child in Africa, they engrave a sunrise for birth and a sunset for death. I like that. Someday, the sun will ease down over our field and our work here will be done. Some fields are longer and harder than others but we will be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
“Blessed is the man who stays steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12
That’s the gold medal. And before I toss it at Jesus’ feet, I will thank Him for every trial he gave me. Help me Lord, to rejoice now, for the joy before me and for the treasure along the way.