Many years ago, I was having lunch at a famous Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and experienced flowering tea for the first time in my life. If you aren’t familiar with flowering tea, it is exactly what its name infers. It is normally a mild tea that contains an actual closed flower in it that, when steeped, opens and blooms. It makes for a truly gorgeous cup of tea.
With the recent deaths of both my mom and dad, it has been a challenge for me to not close myself off to things around me. When we endure trouble and difficult times, it is so easy to curl up and just want the world to stop for a while. Believe me, I get it! I realized yesterday morning that it has often felt like I am waking up from a very long dream but paralyzed in some way. Today, however, I can’t help but think about how God has provided so many things in my life to help keep me putting one foot in front of the other, even if it’s only an inch at a time some days. Throughout all the turmoil, He has continually been walking me through every single moment of every single day. So what does this have to do with an interesting cup of tea?
Flowering tea cannot be done with cold or even cool water because the flowers just won’t bloom. It takes extremely hot water to cause them to open up and reveal their colors. I can’t help but think of how this is also true of our lives and the trials through which we walk. Sometimes it takes enduring extremely difficult and even painful times for our hearts to open and begin to bloom again. Sometimes it is through the heat that we are forced outside the shadows and into the light. If asked, most of us would say we much prefer comfort to pain, yet pain is a result of growth. There is a pendulum that swings between the growth from pain and the healing of comfort, and both are needed in their respective times. Too much pain in life and we will collapse; too much comfort and we will atrophy. If we give up in the middle of the journey on which we walk, we may never see what could have been.
Merriam-Webster defines endurance as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged, stressful effort or activity.” We’ve all had at least some measure of experience with endurance. Enduring, by nature, will wear you out, but there is something beautiful that happens when we push through life’s pains and find the stamina to keep going. When we endure, we are gifted with golden moments in time that we would never experience if we just gave up. Sometimes these moments come at the end of a journey, but often they come all along the way. God not only has a way of strengthening us through ways we could never imagine, but He also provides respites for our weary souls as we travel onward.
Recently, I shared with someone that sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest (instead of the forest for the trees). It is easy, as a person of faith in times of distress, to say God is in control and we know He is working everything out for our good. Although true, that perspective is like a view of the forest. It is great to step back and remember that God is always making a way through our situations and emotional turmoil, but it is just as important to sometimes step forward and take notice of all the little trees that make up that forest. Those trees might be the people in our lives, organizations to which we belong, the beauty of nature, a text from a family-member or a late-night conversation with a friend. For me, there has been a grove of trees in my life over recent months within the church I attend, and I would venture to say that most of the people involved haven’t a clue of their impact on my journey, or how God has used them as a salve to some of the broken places in my heart. I look at these individual trees with wonder in my heart tonight. I am in awe of how my Heavenly Father continually weaves together a net of His grace to hold me up through individual people and experiences. Yes, the forest of His overwhelming love and grace in taking care of us is a beautiful scene to behold, but each of the trees that make up that forest are unique and special when you look a little more closely. It is in the balance of these two perspectives that I fall to my knees in gratitude to the One who knows the end from the beginning and how to handle every turn of the path along the way.
God is good even when life isn’t. Joy and happiness may be related but they are not the same. We read in James 1:1, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” You might be wondering how that is even possible! This isn’t about being happy in our trials, but rather finding joy in the fact that our trials are evidence of God working in our lives. Just like an athlete who endures the stress and pain of training so he or she can run a race with maximum strength and efficiency, God is allowing our trials to strengthen us to run the race that is set before us (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is this perspective that allows joy to flow through us even when we are struggling. We read a few phrases later in James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James is referring to what he said in verse one about understanding our trials from a different perspective, that we should (and can) find joy in the assurance God is working in our lives and strengthening us. If we can’t seem to be able to do that, then we simply need to ask God for wisdom necessary for that higher perspective, and He will give it to us.
The best thing any of us can do is to recognize God for who He is and to understand who we are in light of that truth. He is worthy not only of our praise and worship, but also of our trust and faith in the way in which He is directing our paths or the paths of those we love. Storms may rise but we so often need to simply be still and let God move. We need to have a conversation with ourselves that reminds us of the truth that God is in control and there is no need for worry. A dear friend recently shared with me the words to an old hymn, and although the poetry of the original lyrics is so beautiful, it is the message the writer is giving to her own soul in times of distress that moves me to tears and inspires my heart. I share them with you in the phrasing I speak them to myself today. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side. Patiently bear the cross of grief or pain. Leave it to God to put things in order and provide, because in every change, He will remain faithful. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend will lead you through the difficult and painful paths to a joyful end. Be still, my soul for God has taken it upon Himself to guide the future as He has the past. Don’t let anything shake your hope and confidence. One day you will see and understand the mysteries you have now. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He lived here on earth. Oh soul, be still when dearest friends depart and everything is darker in the valley of your tears. Be still and then you will better know His love, His heart who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears. Be still, my soul and remember from His own fullness, your Jesus can replace everything He takes away. The hour is growing near when we will all be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow will be forgotten and love’s purest joys will be restored. When change and tears are past, we will all finally meet and be safe and blessed.”
Whether we are walking through times of distress, grief or pain, there is beauty in what God is doing in us and through us. There is a purpose in the fires through which we walk, and God is always working through the searing pain that flows around us. Every trial we endure is as that glass of flowering tea, and the extreme heat we may sometimes feel will destroy us is the very thing necessary to set us free to bloom. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. I pray for stillness for your soul, that it is reminded we can rest in the arms of our Father and trust Him. We can feel a blessed security not only in His promises, but in the truth that neither He nor his promises will ever change because He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is overwhelming when our souls are stilled and our vision is cleared. I am so grateful for that clarity, and I cannot wait to see the bloom of the flower this season of life brings forth.