Growing Better not Bitter

Yesterday I posted a little bit about how re-visiting the Roman Baths made me reflect back on all that had happened in the two years since I’d last been there. So much changed in that time, good and bad and everything in between.

What I am so grateful for, is that I can look back over the past couple of years and see how all the different things in my life have helped me to grow. I got baptised in April 2015, just over a year ago now – and I have seen how God has started to change my heart.

In particular, God has been so faithful in showing me how to work in a way that honours him. I remember being so consumed by my work back in sixth form. I worked hard but without freedom, how well I was doing impacted how I was feeling at that time. Easter term this year, exam term at Cambridge, was hard for me because a relationship ended and so much work was ahead. However, it turned out to be the best term of the year, a term where I experienced what it was to have my identity and security founded upon Christ. The faithfulness of God was incredible – I was at peace in the midst of all the exams and the heartache. I remember a week before my exams some very long, very negative feedback on a couple of essays. The second lot of feedback started, ‘this is another very problematic essay…’ (Cambridge code for ‘all of this is terrible are you sure you’re going to be able to sit a three hour exam in this in less than seven days?). If I had been given that sort of feedback a week before my A level exams the year before, I would have been so distraught! But amazingly (for me), even when I walked into my exams, whilst I was nervous, I wasn’t anxious.

In Philippians 4:7 the Bible speaks of a peace which surpasses all understanding. I am so thankful that I know this to be true. We do not have the capacity ourselves to be perfectly or steadfastly at peace, to rejoice when things around us are collapsing. But Jesus came to give life, leaving us with the Holy Spirit to grant us peace when we are restless and uneasy.

There is a hymn called ‘It is Well with My Soul’. It was written by a man called Horatio Spafford, a Chicago businessman and father of five. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed all his real estate investments. In 1872, his son died. In 1873, he scheduled a boat trip to Europe in order for him, his wife and four daughters to get away and recover from the tragedies. When some last minute business came up, he sent his family ahead of him on the boat. The ship sank and all four of his daughters drowned. It was on the boat to join his grieving wife in Europe that he wrote the hymn, writing,

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

How incredible that he wrote this as he passed over the very waters in which his daughters had drowned.

It is so easy, and even natural, to slowly be eaten away by the sadness and pain that comes our way in life and allow ourselves to become bitter. But, praise the Lord, through the power of Christ, we are able to grow better instead. Not shrinking in bitterness, but blooming as the love we receive through the cross transforms and renews us. Just as the withering or blooming of a flower is imperceptible to the eye, so too are the changes in our character.

This morning I was reading the parable of the sower in Luke 8 which compares seed which falls among thorns to people who grow in faith but are swept along by both the worries and the pleasures of this life, and ultimately find themselves choked by them. This is a reminder to us not to allow the distractions, the good and the bad of change through the years, to prevent us from becoming the people we were made to be. We were made to be made whole, so we are called to persevere in allowing this change to happen. (Also as an aside, would love to thank Jesus for validating my use of plant growth metaphors haha)

Praise the Lord for being the giver of peace and life, for enabling us to be transformed and be made whole.

May the church be a group of people always growing better and never bitter, learning to grow like the tree in Jeremiah 17:7-8 which is steadfast through times of change:

“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.”

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