“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
James 1:2-4, NLT
Bright and sunny with a soft breeze. The morning is breathtaking like this. Refreshing. Perfect for a brisk walk.
I pulled on my exercise clothes, and tugged and tossed my then rambunctious two year old around on his changing table until I could wrestle him out of his pj’s and into a yellow pair of shorts, white tee and bright blue crocks. Gratefully, color coordination is not a prerequisite for our morning routine.
We headed to the back patio as usual to get the old jogging stroller I’d found at a discount, on-line thrift store. Jude rushed toward it, excited to head down the familiar path that we took three times a week together around the neighborhood.
Exercise for me.
Thrill-ride for him.
He loved this walk for many reasons. There were high-spirited dogs to see as they barked from behind their wooden fences, stones to gather for tossing into the creek bed and, best of all, downhill runs that would offer him the chance to experience the faster pace he craved.
These hills couldn’t come soon enough for him. The flat ground in between opportunities was always too long for his liking. An interruption. Momentum is what he was after and downward slopes offered them. He wanted me to let go of the handlebars and run along side of him instead of pushing from behind him. He liked the autonomy and energy of being propelled down to the base in full speed.
On this morning, as soon as we started out from our concrete driveway, he immediately asked me to “let go” so he could “go faster”. He pointed to the uphill crest in front of us and leaned forward in youthful, enthusiastic anticipation.
“Let go, Mommy!”
I looked at the graduating elevation in front of us. He had his directions mixed up. He couldn’t coast on an incline. Backward maybe but not forward. I tried to explain it; told him that he’d have to wait for the decline to get the speed he was looking for. I explained that he’d have to wait until the hill turned in the opposite direction. An uphill climb required hard work – maybe not as much for him, tucked away in that comfy stroller – but certainly for me. I’d be the one pushing and panting (near collapsing) from behind. If velocity was what he wanted – the kind that allowed me to jog hands free beside him, the kind that accelerated our velocity, he’d have to wait until this ascending journey became one pointed . . . down.
I assured him that on the other side of the summit, where the curve of the paved road seemed to meet with the sky, he’d get what he wanted – a full-speed race down to the bottom. Yes, a down hill journey would set the perfect stage for that kind of momentum.
“Things are looking up!”
That’s what we say when the downturns of life take the direction we’ve been hoping and praying for. We much prefer the “up hill” portions of life – the seasons where circumstances are headed in an optimistic and positive trend. And rightfully so. None of us would choose the more difficult “down” times over the easier to manage or at least easier to accept cresting of the “up” ones.
We like for things to look up and yet sometimes, the spiritual momentum and full speed faith that we need and that God desires for us to have is easier to be acquired when things are down – not what we’d prefer or ultimately desire. There is an element of eagerness in our seeking and searching for God that organically picks up the pace and intensifies in speed when things aren’t going as well as we’d like.
By no means am I suggesting that we can’t see spiritual growth when things are good. God can work in every distinct season of our life. But sometimes, seeing spiritual growth while going uphill is harder to come by and requires more intentionality and deliberate work – like pushing a twenty pound toddler up an incline during a morning walk. Momentum is the gift of a downhill journey.
Often we sacrifice the spiritual growth, matured character and forward movement that we were created for on the altar of good times. Is there a possibility that in our drastic attempts to keep ourselves and our loved ones from experiencing the “downs” we are being robbed, and robbing others, of the environment necessary for speed to be gathered, distance to be covered and quickened faith to be cemented into place?
So maybe, instead of detesting the “down times” we should anticipate the high speed work God must be preparing to do in us while we are passing through them. Maybe, just maybe, the warp speed with which He wants to propel you to the next dimension of your calling will be best achieved on this side of the hill of life.
Of course, we must not ignore the tenderness of another who is facing a “down” phase of their journey. We must cry with them and pray for them. But, we must also encourage them, and ourselves, with a joyful, holy reminder that we are likely being propelled onto a new spiritual plateau – one in which we will be able to trust more fully, believe more abundantly, expect more wholly and percolate with a newfound spiritual passion that whips wildly within our hearts.
Things looking down, my friend?
We’ll pray that things will look up again real soon but until then . . . open your arms, throw your head back, rest in knowing that He is near and . . .
. . . prepare for the ride of your life.