2021 has been like unwrapping a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law.
He gave a gift to my sister, who loves presents. She tore off the paper to find a box. With a chuckle, she pulled off more tape to open the lid of the box to find another box. A softer chuckle escapes and she rips off more tape to open the next lid to discover, yet another box. An irritated huff escaped this time until, ten rounds later, another box covered in red and green plaid paper held her gift.
We began the year with anticipation. Thinking, surely we couldn’t face the same struggles as the one before, or that life couldn’t possibly become more challenging. So we held the gift in our hands, unwrapping it eagerly expecting our present.
But it was another box to unwrap.
Disappointment invades our hearts. We didn’t want to have to figure life out again, we just want everything back to ‘normal’- the emotional climate taking a toll on our relationships and our wellbeing. What we watch, and what we read, fuels contention, animosity, and fear, causing us to lose sight of things of first importance.
In his commentary on the book of Acts, RC Sproul writes, “one of the most difficult virtues to acquire in life is the ability to handle disappointment and the frustration that inevitably comes from unfulfilled expectations.”
(Isn’t that the truth!)
Where we set our hope has a huge impact on us and how we respond to adversity. As we look back on a year gone by, and forward to the one ahead, we can ask, where is your hope placed?
Expecting the Easy Way
Seated at the counter, my youngest daughter’s head bent over her bowl of applesauce. As I look closer, her spoon set aside, she’s licking the contents out of her bowl. I pointed out to her that I’d given her a spoon for that, she told me, “Mom, I'm just too tired to hold the spoon.”
Looking back on the year, we’ve faced another round of uncertainty, as the world continues shifting. We’re tired of the news, tired of restrictions and tired of variants-just too tired to carry the spoon. Fatigue sets in like a lead blanket on our shoulders. We expected things to get easier, not more difficult. We hoped the struggle would simply dissipate, yet it remains unmoving.
The apostle Paul writes to the Philippian church with a grateful heart after sending Epaphroditus with aid. He reflects that he’s, “learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13). His circumstances weren’t easy, even though he was exactly where God wanted him to be!
There’s a calm acceptance in the midst of life’s pressures and he uses the word contentment to point to the sufficiency of God in all things; not his own strength, smarts, or opinions. He was experiencing peace and joy, believing God's good purposes for him and the strength of the Lord to carry him through it all.
This attitude can sit in contrast with our own experiences of frustration with life, but it’s an encouragement for us as we enter another year without the easy way we may have been longing for.
*Where have you expected life to be easier?
*Through the challenges you've faced this year, how have you relied on God's strength?
*Where is the Lord growing your love, peace and joy in the midst of life’s pressures?
The Way of Hope Just as the shepherds stood terrified, frozen in place, staring into the sky before the shining glory of the Lord, the disciples too stood gazing upward, as the Messiah slipped away into the heavens. An angel gave them both a message; to the shepherds-you will find him, and to the disciples-he will come back.
The astounding grace of the gospel is the discovery of our Saviour and His promised return to make all things new. Every wrinkle in our plans points to the fact we are not in control of this world. God is. Every dissatisfaction we face reveals our heart’s desire for our own way. Every fear that creeps in reminds us of our own flawed ability to love, in contrast to God’s perfect love.
These complicated seasons of life provide us an opportunity to sift through what we truly believe about life and faith and strengthen our resolve that, by the grace of God, we can live fruitful lives for His kingdom.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” [Isaiah 55:10-11].
May our trust in the Lord deepen as we enter this year, as we hold onto the providence of God and His good purposes for us, even when we have to unwrap our expectations.