I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
-Jesus (John 16:33)
Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
-Paul (Romans 12:12)
My kids went swimming in rivers twice this past week. We try to encourage this sort of Man VS. Wild type of entertainment frequently. It keeps them connected to nature, provides infinite opportunities for exploration, and gives us parents some solid reasons to force them to shower at least once a month. On Friday they were out with friends and the day at the swimming hole was gorgeous. The sun was shining, the water was clear, and the setting was idyllic. Good times had by all.
Saturday morning looked like it was going to be a washout because of the passing storm, but in the afternoon the sun came out. Since we had family visiting for the day, my kids were excited to take their cousins back to their favorite river spot. We headed over as my children spoke of how amazing this place was. Clear water, fun rocks to slide off of, and a deep hole to swim over. But there was one thing we hadn’t thought much about. The previous night’s storm had changed the entire makeup of the river. We arrived. Instead of clear water, it was completely murky. Instead of white rapids, they were the color of, um……. brown trout.
Needless to say, my immediate response was NOPE. I was ready to pack up.
So often, things that once shined with beauty and brilliance look completely different after a storm passes though. The basic contour might be the same, but our experience of it is completely different. That worship song about God’s faithfulness feels different when my heart is broken over an unanswered prayer. Celebrating the victorious life on Sunday is hard when someone is drowning in debt. And certainly, the wonderful and radical vision of Jesus can look far less desirable when we’re actually in the middle of a situation that needs forgiveness or dealing with the fallout of a broken relationship. It's almost enough to make us decide to turn back from it all. It looks so different now. It feels less beautiful.
Back to the river. I was ready to head home. But the kids decided it was worth the risk. They had come this far, they weren’t going to let a disappointing appearance destroy everything. So they dove in. (Not really. DON’T EVER DIVE INTO MURKY WATER, KIDS). So they stepped in. And they began to play. And they experienced beauty in a different way, because they chose to move through the disappointment instead of completely rejecting it. And they found joy and meaning on this new side of it, too, as they adjusted. The rapids were still fun, the summer swimming was still refreshing. You could even make the case that certain fears were gone in the cloudy water. Those scary (harmless) 10 inch trout weren’t noticed anymore, so there was a new freedom from previous fears.
The kids taught us a great lesson that day. Muddy water doesn’t mean that swimming is impossible.
Without a doubt, our faith experience is different when the luster of a utopian reality fades. When you’ve been through the grinder, the world looks different. Suffering takes a toll. But we have a choice in those moments. We can choose to turn back, living in rosy memories of naive yesterdays, or we can lean into the adventure ahead, even though things are a bit cloudy. The hope of Jesus is not an idyllic life. It is a life that even though we have trouble, we know He has indeed overcome the world. It is a life of hope and redemption, where things that seem disappointing and disheartening become the setting for the most redeeming works of God in our entire lives.
Today, let’s look on the muddy rivers in our lives with expectation that our adventure with God is far from over. Let us not be afraid to still step in. And if we are prone to think that all the greatest beauty is behind us, let us remember that when the dirt settles, we will have an even deeper ability to recognize the many shapes of beauty.
Jesus, help me to keep faith, especially when hope is hard.