As winter apporaches each year, I like to watch our large maple in the backyard begin to lose its covering of summer green and take on a funeral brown. As the leaves drop, one by one all of the irregularities and defects of the tree are exposed. The imperfections are always there, of course, but they have been hidden from my view by an emerald blanket. Now, however, it is denuded and desolate, and I can see its real condition.
Winter preserves and strengthens a tree. Rather than expending its strength on the exterior surface, its sap is forced deeper and deeper into its interior depth. In winter a tougher, more resilient life is firmly established. Winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish. Instantly you see the application. So often we hide our true condition with the surface virtues of pious activity, but, once the leaves of our frantic pace drop away, the transforming power of a wintry spirituality can have effect.
To the outward eye everything looks barren and unsightly. Our many defects, flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections stand out in bold relief. But only the outward virtues have collapsed; the principle of virtue is actually being strengthened. The soul is venturing forth into the interior. Real, solid, enduring virtues begin to develop deep within. Pure love is being birthed.
(Prayer - Finding the Heart's True Home, Richard Foster: Harper Collins, 1992. p.66)
It is interesting to me the way God works. In this short section, I was hit by the recognition that difficult times (like those Tim and I have faced over the past year) are not just times to get past, but to find life in - to allow the principle of our faith be strengthened. But, here is the cool part: we also heard this in our sermon last week in the question "What if the trials in our lives are necessary parts of our journey of faith?" I am taking this as a sign that we should not lose heart in these trials!
I am so encouraged by this reminder. I am encouraged to look at this winter in our lives in a new way. While previously I felt as if we had something to learn (and we did) and in the back of my head felt as if we had done something wrong to have had our lives lead in the direction it has. I am going to let go of that thought and instead look ahead at how God is developing us from deep within. This winter can be harsh and cold - but I suppose I am choosing to allow it to strip away what is unneeded, drop the leaves that only serve to hide who I am, and live through it. Come out stronger on the other side.
here is the link if you are interested in hearing the sermon (choose 1/11/09)