New Year's Day. Outside it is -16C, -28C with the windchill (4F, -18F). My husband bundled up as though it is -79 (cold no matter what measurement you use) and went for a walk. Now he's lit the fireplace beside me and is shuffling platters of Christmas cookies on the coffee table to find room for his acrylic paints. At 3:06 p.m. there is only a bit more than an hour of sunlight left; not that it's all that sunny anyway. It was, but the sky is now aluminum-grey--or maybe it just appears that way to me since I can see only a small swath of sky below the awning of my living room window and above the tall trees and houses across the street. Usually, colder weather means clearer skies, something I love about winter on the Canadian Prairies.
I'm sitting here, in my favourite chair--short enough for my legs and wide enough for the rest of me. It's upholstered with Victorian brocade but my feet are resting on a green, leather-covered backwoods stool with the bark still on the legs and crossbars. From here I can survey my kingdom. The fire behind me to my left, Tom on the couch against the large picture window, still-lit Christmas tree beside him and beyond that, the front entry way. Tom hasn't picked up acrylics for a long time--his medium is usually water-colour--so he's sorting through what he has and getting organised. Pallet on his lap, well-worn tube of black paint being smeared on it, large, insulated grocery bag beside him holding who-knows-what. "May I use your discarded water bottle for my brushes?" Sure. PBAs won't do them any damage.
Aside from the rustling, rattling and sighs from the painting corner, and the gentle crackling of the fire, it's quiet here. We have four sons but none of them are present. Mikael took his life over a year ago and left a huge gap of silence. Konrad got married six weeks later and lives 1000 miles to the west of us. Erik moved 1000 miles east to be with his girlfriend. Mons officially lives here but we've been seeing only glimpses of him as he breezes in for a bit to make a salad for a pot luck, play the piano while his clothes are in the washer or fix a computer, scanner, printer, camera or other electronic device without which we cannot live--though I still can't sync my phone to the laptop. The rest of the time he's presumably with his girlfriend who is on Christmas break from her Master's study of Economics. Mons plans to start his Master's degree in the fall and has applied to all the top schools. We wait eagerly to see who will not only accept him but pay all his expenses while he studies. We live with optimism.
Optimism. It's connected to hope. Paul said that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character hope; and hope does not disappoint us. That's a promise to hold on to. Suffering and hope are inexplicably linked and inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. The more we suffer, the more we have reason to hope--not that we look to increase our suffering, for that would be foolish, but we can look at what suffering we have with optimism and know that as we persevere in the midst of it, trusting God, he uses the sand-laden wind to smooth and shape us and our character. (I wonder if that's why I'm so round instead of angular and bony.)
I said "sand-laden wind" but God calls it fire. Our God is a consuming fire and when we allow ourselves to get close enough to him, the garbage gets burned up. It's what fire does. The cool (or hot) thing is that it doesn't matter how much garbage is in us, God will burn it all up, so long as we stay near to him; and regardless of what is left, little or much, he shapes it into something that will best reflect his brightness, his glory, his being. This is why Paul and Peter could say that they rejoiced in suffering. They knew the joy of being near the fire. Fire hurts. Suffering is painful. It's excruciatingly painful. It is mind-numbingly impossible. Yet, when we are weakest, God's power and strength is greatest.
This is part of God's upside-down kingdom. We move toward the fire to be whole. We die so we can live. We give it all away so we may possess everything. He calls us to the anti-intuitive: turn your cheek, love your enemy, invite to dinner those who can't reciprocate; allow the thief to take your jacket and offer him your new shoes as well; when the Roman soldier demands that you carry his load one mile, or the boss tells you to work overtime without pay, offer to walk two, or to stay even longer. I don't want to do that. Paul says we use weapons that don't conform to the standards of men but have divine power.
I think of my marriage. I have a heap of self-protective walls I've built. I want to be closer to Tom but with every step forward, I push him back. I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'll get hurt, scared I'll lose my freedom, terrified I'll be run over and squashed into nothingness. Perhaps what I need to do are the very things that are the scariest. Jesus said we need to take our cross and follow him. What is our cross? The cross is our means of crucifixion, the means of our death, the means of a tortuous death. Can I step into the place of my greatest fears and pain and stay there willingly even if it means I will lose everything? Even if a part of me will die? Even if it kills me? Or feels like it will?
Here I sit, still in my favourite chair four hours after I started writing. The fire is still burning, Tom is still painting, the only thing I can see outside is the neighbour's lit up window surrounded by darkness, the silence is broken by the noisy washer downstairs cleaning me something to wear to church tomorrow. I am tired but at peace. God has given me much to think about.
Scripture referred to:
Romans 5:1-5 perseverance, suffering, hope, rejoicing
Hebrews 12:29 God is a consuming fire
1 Peter 1:6, 7 suffering, refining, rejoicing
Acts 5:41 suffering, rejoicing
Matthew 10:38, 16:24 take cross
Matthew 5-7 upside-down kingdom
2 Corinthians 10:1-4 standards, weapons
2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 weakness
To find more passages on these subjects, go to www.biblestudytools.com and enter a word to search for such as refine, refining or refin*