In my own healing processes, I’ve tended toward two extremes. I’ve given in to my feelings entirely, allowing them to shape my perception of truth, and I’ve claimed the truth through gritted teeth, refusing to feel anything at all. It’s an area where old habits die hard. I distract myself with Instagram and too much Netflix and too many calendar commitments. I quickly brush over my own statements of sadness, disappointment, or fear with phrases like “But, it’s okay” and “But, I know God will use it for good,” hoping that rattling off the right truths will spare me the unpleasant feelings I’d rather avoid. My approach can quickly drift from one of endurance to one of blatant avoidance. Few things have spurred me on to a better way like this section from Calvin’s A Little Book on the Christian Life:
“For if all tears are condemned, what will we make of our very own Lord, from whose body trickled tears of blood? If all fear is judged faithlessness, what place will we give to that dread which according to Scripture heavily oppressed Him? If all sadness should be dismissed, how will we accept that His soul was sorrowful even unto death?
I’ve said these things about our experience of grief in order to keep godly people from despair –to keep them, that is, from immediately abandoning the pursuit of endurance because they cannot rid themselves of a natural feeling of sorrow. Such despair and abandonment will come to those who turn endurance into indifference. They will turn a courageous and faithful man into wooden post. Rather, Scripture praises the saints for endurance when we, though knocked around by evil circumstances, remain unbroken and undefeated; when we, though pricked by bitterness, are simultaneously filled with spiritual joy; when we, though oppressed by anxiety, breathe freely –cheered by the consolation of God” (79-80).
Calvin’s words remind us that endurance doesn’t ask us to deny our feelings but to submit them to the will of the Father, making it possible to endure through tears, endure in heartbreak, endure in the face of fear. How? By looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus endured not without tears of blood, not without sorrow even unto death, but for the joy that was set before him.
As a people for his own possession, we follow him there.
It is here, in enduring, that we learn to submit to the Father, who is always kind and good and generous and doesn’t always give us what we want. Here that we experience God’s mercies which meet us in our sadness, new every morning. Here that we turn our eyes to the endurance of King Jesus, who condescended to dwell with and die for us, that we might be reconciled to God.
So we follow the suffering Savior, knowing that it is for discipline that we have to endure, that God is treating us as sons (Hebrews 12:7-8). Knowing that the Holy Spirit, the Helper he promised, equips us to endure not only obediently, but cheerfully. Knowing that the joy set before him awaits us also.