On a Saturday evening, we gather around my mobile table and begin to work on Tim’s school project, actually a whole family activity as the rule requires. This is the third year that we’re making it, each year a different theme. In the previous two, Tim had complained that our work hadn’t been featured. Hannah explained that those submissions which made it to the “Featured” board and earned house points were really done seriously, as in embellished to the max. This year, I’m inspired enough to make Tim’s project stand out.
His assigned holiday is All Saints Day. So, we sit down to work: Felix my husband applying glue, I arrange the moss over it, Tim endlessly chattering away. Hannah has done the hand-lettering earlier so she left. There is much work to be done and although I am enjoying it, I am also aware that I’m not supposed to exhaust myself. Already, I can feel my stiff back beginning to ache and feel heavy. Felix is cutting small strips of double-sided tape as I paste numerous pumpkins, Jack-O-lanterns, vines, and Casper-like ghosts, all of which Tim (except one vine which I drew for his model) has drawn and cut earlier, when he asks, “So, when is this project due?”
My lips twitch into a smile which I try to suppress as I give him the date, exactly three weeks away. I am fully expecting to hear his comment dripping with light sarcasm. And off it goes. “So, we’re working now like there’s no other day.” He shakes his head and adds, “And I thought it’s due on Monday.”
I burst into giggles. “I want to have a head start as I have other things to do like drawing a spider web and arranging cotton for cobwebs, etc.”
“Since submission is still ages away, just prop this project up in the garage to gather cobwebs, real ones, and you’ll be sure to win.” He throws back his head and laughs. Leave it to my husband to deliver powerful punches like that which throw me in stitches as well. I join him and realize how the Lord shifts our circumstances and brings us joy between the cracks, the breaks from illness and suffering. If we are willing to be all there in the life God has given us and embrace each moment with gratitude, whether blissful or hard, we will begin to have some semblance of a contented life.
This is a far cry from my Christmas and New Year and the months that followed when the cruel claws of sickness and suffering tightened their grip on me and brought me to the throes of death not only once. On New Year’s Eve, life and death wrestled hard against each other and I was sure that death would finally triumph. But just when I helplessly yielded my body to it — breath, precious breath of life! — flowed unobstructed. I was surprised and didn’t know what to make of it. Then I heard a voice in my mind, speaking and reassuring with authority, “Breathe! Just breathe! Inhale, exhale. Breathe in freely the abundant supply of air!” There was no oxygen source, just an electric fan blowing hard on my face, but I knew that the breath came from the Source of Life Himself. The ever-merciful God breathed on me and I recovered from that. Hallelujah!
Now, life finds me held securely in the Savior’s hand as He walks me through this season of life. He whispers, in the midst of my struggles as I look at others’ healthy lives, that I should stop looking out and start looking in, wielding all of me to be at the very heart of the life He has given me. But I want to say this, hopefully this one last time: when you go in and out of physical suffering through your days, when you don’t see the magnificent colors of sunrise as they paint the early-morning sky, and you see others waking up to glorious health and happiness, to think even fleetingly the difference between you and them, the blessedness and favor you believe are heaped up on them — THIS. IS. JUST. SO. HARD. TO. SWALLOW. You close your eyes and will the painful thought to vanish and whisper to yourself, “It is not true that I am not loved and favored.”
Yes, I may have all the reasons in the world to feel envious of others living healthy, happy lives, but the Savior is patiently making me see that there is absolutely no benefit in that. On the contrary, it will only sap any joy I hold. Looking at others’ lives and comparing ours with them is an exercise in futility. The Holy Spirit whispers that happiness will not spring from it but only when we focus on our own lives, on the relationships He’s given us — our own marriages, families, and homes — and nurture them with all ferociousness.
Although I know that focusing on our own could sometimes be depressing, especially when there is lingering sickness and suffering, truth is, it is all we’ve got, and whether we like it or not, we have to live it. Yes, pray for it, nurture it, plan for it, dream big for it, grow it, adorn it, light it up. Celebrate it! Make it beautiful in the sight of God for His kingdom and glory. Yes, make this one life, this marriage, this family, this home matter now and eternally.
The more we compare, the more we see the lack or flaws in our lives and the people in them and the more we become dissatisfied. If we keep this practice, we may become too critical of the people in our lives, creating friction or even damaging relationships and forfeiting our own happiness.
If we observe closely, we do not envy others because their lives are perfect. We envy them because they are happy with their lot. Forgive me for saying this, but we may not even admire their choice of spouses or we may observe their children as too bratty, lazy, or a little rebellious. But we are amazed to observe that they are genuinely happy. They sincerely like their spouses, whatever shape, size, color they are packaged in or whatever educational attainment they have. They are grateful; they are contented. I believe that is what we envy.
But the more we bathe our lives with gratefulness, the more discontentment and unhappiness are pushed aside until there’s no more room for them.
It’s okay to harbor deep longings for a better life, maybe one that is free from sickness and suffering. It’s okay to let the hot tears cascade down as we mull over the things our souls are ardently desiring. These don’t make our lives ugly, they make them real. But let not these longings drive us to envy or jealousy, but rather, to the throne of grace.
Our lives and our families are the vineyards of the Lord and, therefore, need our diligent nurturing. These — envy, jealousy, comparison, self-pity, bitterness, discontent — are the weeds that choke their otherwise healthy growth. They make our inner lives ugly. Once and for all, seriously weed out all vestiges of them. Until they are completely rooted out, we will remain unhappy and miserable. Do ourselves a favor: Let’s walk in the Savior’s light and love and never fall into the devil’s trap.
Sow for yourselves righteousness;
Reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the Lord,
Till He comes and rains righteousness on you. (Hos. 10:12)
(Photo credit: Perla Frisberg).
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Journey with Jesus,