During tough seasons of life, I have found that I adopt a hard shell to protect myself. Life conditioned me to expect the unexpected, and it is helpful to be prepared in advanced. When life shifts and I don’t really need the additional protection anymore, I don’t shed that shell. It hangs around long after the weather changes from winter to spring, seeds sprout, and new life arrives. And the longer it hangs around, the thicker and tougher it becomes, and I am desensitized to the good things that have emerged with the change in the weather.
The Christian life is peculiar in this way. The Lord purposes the trials of life to refine our character (James 1:2-4), but the same trials He uses to make us more like Him can also make us callused, bitter, cranky, depressed, mean, pessimistic, and delusional if we are not careful. Still, is difficult not to become any of these things. It is so hard to resist the evil in front of us and believe that God is always good and that people can be kind if they want to be.
It is normal and very understandable to develop a tough shell or any of these perspectives, but it is dangerous. We’re become desensitized to the Lord. We fail to recognize all of the good things He accomplishes during trails and the miraculous ways in which we change for the better. When more enjoyable seasons arrive, we don’t embrace them. Promises come to pass, and we do not perceive them. Rewards will come our way, and it takes a long time for us to realize that the Lord has given a good gift. Or, we know a blessing has been handed to us without any effort on our part, and we shrug our shoulders at it, unthankful and jaded by the past.
All three of these scenarios have happened to me more often than I would like to admit, but the most recent occurrence was a form of the latter. Less than two weeks ago, I was told that my office would relocate to another space in the same building. I’ve had a number of offices over the past few years, so I do not put much thought into moving anymore—I travel light and relocate. This time, I noticed that the office was the best one I’ve ever had. The window is bigger and gets an excellent bit of sunlight all day, and there are large, built-in bookshelves, two chairs, and a sofa. When I am in this space, I feel like my mind can breathe. Still, I did not consider this blessing, and accepted it only as my new station because, who knows, I might have to relocate soon. But the other day, I stopped, and I realized that I have been given a good gift. I gave thanks because this office is wonderful, and regardless of how long I do or do not stay in it, it has already been a blessing to me.
As I considered how long it took me to tell the Lord that I appreciate my new office, I felt ashamed, and I realized that the last few years have made me callused. Sometimes, what we have prayed for is staring us right in the face—we live in it and breathe in it and can touch it—yet our sight is inhibited by the residue the problems of this world, and we miss these manifestations of the Lord’s goodness. Sometimes, we intentionally reject the Lord’s blessing because we are callused and bitter. As a result, we shun the promises that are rightful ours and free for the taking.
How do we avoid this? How do we prevent bitterness after countless disappointments from people who know better than to do what they did—particularly when those people are Christians? How do we decide to use discernment to trust some people rather than not trust anyone at all? How do we see God’s goodness in all seasons rather than become so pessimistic that we focus on the long shadows that are cast even when the sun is high and the skies are clear? How do we remain compassionate? How do we live in this world and maintain our faith?
I think one of the only answers to this question is being determined to see God’s goodness even among the not good, and finding reasons and ways to give thanks at all times. I believe that it is consistent and ever present thanks that will open our eyes and reveal the unfathomable goodness of God so much that we will always see and experience countless evidences of His mercies. It is hard to maintain this mindset, but it is possible.
So, matter what happens to me in this life, I do not want to experience the world sheltered by a hard shell and with a permanent scowl on my brow. I do not want to reject what the Lord provides. And I don’t want to damage my testimony and cause the world to believe that there is no benefit to being a Christian because the only inheritance they observe is the frustration, anger, bad attitude, or insensitivity I exhibit. My God is too good to me for me to reflect the evil I have encountered in life rather than the light the Lord has shown me is real and so desperately wants to shine in times of darkness and in times of harvest.