Cloud of Witnesses

I would consider myself, by nature, a cheerful person. I’ve always thought (somewhat proudly) that I am pretty level-headed and easy going, although in recent years (and after five children) I am starting to second guess that self assessment a bit. But all things considered, I don’t have a desponding personality, nor would I call myself a pessimist.

Nevertheless, if you have been following this blog for any length of time, you may have noticed a shift in the overall tone of my writing. As I myself look back over the last year or so, I can see that I am now more prone to paint in darker shades. Of course, it would have been difficult to wax despondent when blogging about doll-making or cake-baking. But since I have had to put those things aside for the time being, what remains for me to blog about is daily life. And daily life has been knocking us about of late.

It’s also, unfortunately, much easier to write when things aren’t going too well. A tale of woe is much more interesting to put on paper than a story about how everything is awesome. It’s no wonder books often seem to come to an end once things turn ‘happily ever after.’

I’ve thought about quitting the blog until I have something more encouraging to write- I wish perhaps, that I could tell you that we have made a ton of progress on the house or that one of the many difficult paths we have been treading has suddenly been made smooth. But it wouldn’t be true. Also, I can’t seem to give up the writing. So this is what you get.

As we have struggled along during this time, my continual prayer has been, “Lord, what do you want me to learn in all of this? What lessons am I to have engraved on my heart as I emerge (hopefully) from the other side of this rough patch?”
And some days, I feel as if I can glimpse a purpose to all of this craziness- sometimes sense the ways in which he is molding me to be more patient, more trusting, more faithful. And then there are the days when I just don’t make it through without throwing in the proverbial towel and going to bed in tears.

But I am privileged to be part of a wonderful church and in particular a Sunday school class whose teacher is remarkably gifted with words. He has the ability to paint pictures through stories that are at once funny, touching and convicting and he seems able to draw spiritual lessons from the most unlikely sources.
Yesterday, for instance, he was explaining to us how young men in the school where he teaches are trained to lift weights- how with enough practice and the proper technique, they are able to lift amazing amounts.
But with every student, there comes a point where they are maxed out. There is a moment where it becomes evident to those looking on that the limit has been reached, and it shows in subtle ways- turned in elbows- a leaning too far forwards- faults in training that might not show until the new and heavier weight was tried.
The same can be said for the spiritual life- when life becomes too heavy or unexpected burdens are added, we can suddenly see the faults in our training- the chinks in our armor, that we never knew were there.
This picture struck me forcibly, coming as I do from a background where I considered myself well-trained in spiritual matters. I always thought I was strong, but it has only been in the past few years that God has seen fit to start adding more weight- gradually at first, but then in ever increasing increments until my knees begin to shake and I cry out for mercy. I have begun to see how very weak I am. And each new trial seems to show not only myself, but also the devil all of my vulnerabilities and how he might prey on them.
I have listened to the tempter as he has turned my focus inwards, convincing me that I am alone in my struggles, that God has singled me and my family out for special hardships. He has taken the selfishness already present in me and expanded it in different ways. I have lately taken to wandering paths of self-pity before untrodden- my prayers that God would show me what he wanted me to learn barely audible.

As you may have heard, my birthday was last week and the celebration of that day left much to be desired. Thankfully, I managed to get a redo a few days later, inviting a few of my closest friends out to enjoy dinner with me. And as I sat there, drinking in adult conversation that can only truly be appreciated by those who spend long days with children, I was brought up short. For sitting around me were three women who have experienced, in the last several years, a remarkable amount of hardship and suffering- all varieties of trials and seas of sorrow that I haven’t even dipped my toe in. I watched them as they spoke and heard the evidence of the ways they have risen above their circumstances and each in their own way being witness to the mercy and faithfulness of God.

And there, literally staring me in the face, was the answer to my prayer.

“This is what God wants you to learn,” I told myself. “This is what he wants you to see. You have not been singled out for hardship, but instead have been called to join the ranks of those learning that painful but all important lesson that this world is not your home, but the place where you must live- by faith. And with those two words, the training of my youth kicked into gear and brought these others to mind.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Or, as the hymn that I had memorized before I knew what the hymn writer was even talking about-

Art thou weary, art thou languid, art thou sore distressed?
“Come to me,” says One, “and coming- be at rest.”

If I find him, if I follow, what his burden here?
Many a sorrow, many a labor, many a tear.

Finding, following, keeping, struggling, is he sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs- answer yes.

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