Finding Hope in Hardship

Genesis 2:9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

As so much in this world, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were watersheds, instruments of blessing or cursing depending on how they were handled.  The tree of life was a permanent extension of Adam’s existence—if he was in a state of bliss, it was a blessing, but if in a state of degradation, it was an unmitigated sorrow.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a rich opportunity to grow deeper trust in God and greater character by choosing to align with God’s good will.  Every day we are faced with many opportunities to “choose life” as the Pentateuch phrases it, to take the pleasant, the hard, the confusing, the lofty, the embarrassing and use it to shape ourselves and our relationships for the better. 

Grace can take every situation and circumstance and turn it to good in our lives, turn our coal into diamonds, so that every occasion becomes a source of spiritual wealth for us.  God is always present acting in and through every moment to bless us.  This does not mean it will be easy.  The only way to build courage is to face into fear long enough to strengthen that virtue; the only way to build patience is to go without for long periods; the only way to build a forgiving spirit is to be placed repeatedly in situations of being mistreated.  But virtue building is never a choice for holiness against happiness.  Character is the biggest gift to one’s own happiness.  As courage grows, fear shrinks, giving greater freedom, power, and peace.  The same is true of all other virtues—they give their greatest blessings to the one in whose heart they find a home.

But unremitting trials can break us all down.  We must have resources of encouragement and support to give us the energy to stay true to our path.  For Adam, God was not enough.  He needed Eve.  Healthy relationships are not just a blessing, but a necessity.  We are unable to give a love we have not first experienced, and God himself knew that this grace must flow to us through fellow humans.  We learn to forgive by being forgiven and we learn humility by seeing it modeled, especially as children.  The challenges we receive are opportunities to grow, but we cannot take advantage of those opportunities without spiritual sustenance.  Seeking out spiritual support, which is to say self-care, is a moral duty both for our own sake and the sake of others we touch.

Lord, teach me to pursue spiritually sustaining friendships with as much vigor as I pursue godly character, and give me grace to find what I seek.

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