Sunday, July 26, 2009

Becoming the Rose

Let grief do its work, send sorrow or pain; sweet are thy messengers, sweet their refrain, if they can sing with me: 'More love, O Christ to Thee. More love to Thee. More love to Thee.'

~ Elizabeth Prentiss

"We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

So said C.S. Lewis, and I must confess that I haven't read the above quote in context, nor do I know in which of his books it is to be found. I came across it in a fiction book recently, quite by God's grace, for the moment was ripe for me to hear those words. The moment is still ripe, actually, and ripening more by the hour.

If you have been acquainted with me over the last few years, you probably know that I have a paralyzing fear of flying. Why is this relevant, you ask? How is this related to pain and suffering and God doing the best for us? It isn't really directly related to Lewis's quote, but I bring it up because this fear is so raw and real that it deprives me of all common sense and rationality. It's not an "Oh man, I'd really rather not fly" kind of fear. It's a heart-pounding, tears-inducing, please-hand-me-the-paper-bag-so-I-can-breathe-into-it-or-vomit kind of fear. In short, when I fly I'm brought face to face with the stark reality that life is, well... dangerous. And I'm not in control.

I don't like those feelings.

Here's the thing, though: I've flown twice in the last week, and it was the least scary thing I've encountered in recent days. I'm not saying I was perfectly at ease and didn't yearn for the paper bag once or twice. I wasn't. And I did. But compared to other events, the flying was actually small potatoes. The really scary stuff involved people and deferred hope and pain. The really scary stuff was about life on the ground, the place where I normally feel the most secure and safe.

Life is hard right now. We might not be able to have any children. People I love are hurting each other and acting selfishly. Other people I love are suffering physically and dealing with the frustrations of growing older. Lately it's been one thing after another. One bad thing after another. Lately I've wondered what lovely rose will blossom at the end of this thorn-riddled path.

If I believe God's promises, and I do, then I must trust that the beauty in the pain is the transformation of my heart into the likeness of His precious Son. But if I believe God's Word, and I do, then I must realize that the transformation comes through suffering. It always does. And there's the rub: I want to become the rose. But I need to walk through the thorns and thistles of a fallen world in order to get there.

The other night, as I lay crying in bed, Lewis's words came to me so strongly: "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us. We are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be." I was laying there in bed, shaking like a leaf, totally helpless and afraid. I was more afraid in that moment than I was the day before when I stepped onto a flying, metal box, scanning the seats for the nearest paper bag.

And it occurred to me in that moment that life is, well... dangerous. And I'm not in control. It's true whether I'm 36,000 feet in the air or lying in the comfort of my bed at home. It's the stark reality of living between Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. God might not give me the things I most want. He never promised that He would. He may decide to take me through the turbulence of loss and grief and suffering much more than I ever would have dared imagine. But He'll do it because He loves me, and He wants me to be like Him.

The best lies ahead of me, beautiful and radiant, born of redemptive love. The road there... that's another story. Prickly and painful, certainly. Uncomfortable and uncertain, probably.

Worth it? Definitely.