By Chris Bates
Pruned through pain and loss
My father and some friends had a hunting lease in the Mississippi Delta. It was during my school years, so I was able to work on the property and hunt it often. During one season, I had some of the most incredible hunting experiences of my life.
During one special hunt, my friend and I went into a beautiful flooded cypress pothole before first light. We set up our decoys and got my retriever onto her platform. Dawn came and we reached our limit quickly. What happened next was one of most memorable outdoor experiences of my life: Ducks started parachuting into that small pothole by the hundreds. There was a clear blue sky, light frost on the tree branches — and my friend, my black lab and I sat still and watched as hundreds turned into perhaps thousands and the wing beats, splashing and calling surrounded us.
As it happened, my father and his friends decided to let the lease go. This seemed like a real loss to me. I had built memories there, devoted time and effort, included friends and hoped to hunt the land for a long time. In the years to come, though, I instead got to have more time with my father, brother and others at our main family camp that built more outdoor memories than I could have imagined.
To put it into perspective, this was a small loss compared to some relationships, grief experiences and even spiritual challenges that would later be far more significant. The resulting blessings and special times at our family camp were ones I could not have foreseen.
We do not like loss, pain or confrontation. It sometimes does not resolve our pain immediately when someone says that what we lost will be replaced by something better. As humans, we want to be able to quantify, and wish we could see ahead to what is to come.
C.S. Lewis said it well: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain and loss are opportunities, but they likely do not feel that way as we endure. James is straightforward in chapter 1 verses 2-4, where he tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” While being pruned hurts, it really can bring us closer to God and we can be better on the other side by enduring and persevering.
What helps us in the midst of challenge is having hope. We can walk across hot coals if we know there is something far better on the other side. The great news for Christians is that we have the ultimate reassurances.
First, we are assured of blessings, although they sometimes come in forms that are not what we have requested. Blessings, nonetheless, give us solid ground to be rooted in. In Jeremiah 17:7-8 it says to us, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Secondly, we are assured of salvation. Through our Savior, no amount of pain or challenge during our life here cannot be endured, knowing that we have forever (yes, eternity) by His side. Life on life’s terms can be difficult. During our earth time, we may have to endure tragedy, sickness, failure and opposition. When those occur, though, grasping onto hope can give us strength and deepen those roots by the stream. What greater hope is there than eternity as the Word depicts it?
Whether challenge is something like losing access to a place we love, or enduring tragic loss or chronic illness, be reassured. We can listen and really believe it when we hear, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” in Jeremiah 29:11.
Even if we are cut back and trimmed, we will ultimately be stronger in Him.
Chris is president and founder of Agora Company, a marketing, website and advertising company based in Jackson, and can be reached at Chris@AgoraCompany.com. He and his wife, Stacy, and their children live in Madison.