Suffering

Easter Wings

I love poetry because it forces me to look at the beauty of words and the way we use them. I was looking for poems about Easter, and John Donne is typically my go-to poet, but this time, I began with George Herbert. His poem “Easter Wings,” particularly its last line, opened my eyes and centered my heart. “For, if I imp my wing on thine, / Affliction shall advance the flight in me.” Amen. Isaiah 40:29-31 reveals the same truth: reliance on God through suffering leads to a unique renewal of our strength.

Easter is all about this juxtaposition: suffering and strength. Jesus became weak by taking on flesh, yet he was strong to complete the mission he was given to suffer and die in the place of sinners and then to conquer death through his resurrection. Jesus’ strength in suffering is now given to us through faith in him; we experience the glorious exchange of his strength for our weakness. So now we do not face suffering without hope. We put one foot in front of the other–sometimes slowly–knowing that Jesus walked this road before us, and his Spirit lives within us, empowering us to press on until we arrive in our forever home with God.

Easter Wings
George Herbert

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,

Though foolishly he lost the same,

Decaying more and more,

Till he became

Most poore:

With thee

O let me rise

As larks, harmoniously,

And sing this day thy victories:

Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne

      And still with sicknesses and shame.

Thou didst so punish sinne,

That I became

Most thinne.

With thee

Let me combine,

And feel thy victorie:

For, if I imp my wing on thine,

Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

The Best Way Out Is Always Through

Robert Frost wrote in his poem “A Servant to Servants” in 1915:

He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through…

The life of faith is one plodding footstep after another. John Piper writes often of the winding road of faith in Christ, plodding along. “Plodding” is a good word for it — the mundane one step after another, the frustrating feeling of another winding curve, the marathon rather than the sprint.

However, we often pray as if we’re asking God to airlift us out of our circumstances and gently stork-drop us in a perfect, beautiful place where we feel like all our hardship and suffering is part of a bigger story. We pray like this because we feel useless or directionless or like our everyday living and working and existing is all we have. How many boring Mondays can we take when we’re supposed to be living on God’s grand mission?

Consider a few of the great epic stories of the last hundred years: The Chronicles of NarniaThe Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. Each of these series required a thousand small steps before the next big thing, and a million more steps before the final battle. How many steps did Frodo take on the way to destroy the Ring? (If only FitBits existed in Middle-Earth… though I’m sure Tolkien would have hated it.) How many classes with Snape did Harry have to sit through? How many normal days passed in Narnia?

The epic journey is accomplished in a million regular steps. Sore feet, sore legs, and weary hearts pursuing a goal ultimately reach their destination.

We, too, plod along. We go to work, school, church. We frequent the same places, eat the same food, read the same Bible. We want quick solutions and fear monotony, so a long journey gets old quickly.

As Christians, we long to be in a perfect place in the presence of our perfect God in heaven, but to get there, we take one step at a time. How do we make sense of our big hope which seems to conflict with the nothing-special days between now and the day we’re with God?

Think of all the times that God calls his people “through” instead of “to.” Isaiah 43, for example: “…when you pass through the waters… and through the rivers… when you walk through fire.” Or Psalm 77:19, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.”

Consider Jesus: he came into the world and lived like us for around 33 years. Jesus’ life is evidence of living through. Thirty-three years of life is not a quick in-and-out trip to atone for sin.Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus “endured the cross, despising its shame” because of “the joy set before him.” Jesus lived knowing that he would face the cross, but that the cross would result in the Father’s glory, restored relationship with beloved sinners, and the day when we will be with him.

We too have a joy set before us. God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and he’s told us a little bit about what will happen when he restores all things. But what he’s given us in Scripture is encouragement for our plodding steps, not a quick one-way ticket out of a sin-stained world. Knowing that God will win and restore our brokenness gives us hope for the journey through the tempestuous waters and the raging fires that we face. Knowing that God “will never leave us or forsake us” (Hebrews 11:5) gives us courage through a lifetime of Mondays.

To me, this means that when I feel like I’m going nowhere, that I’ve wasted days because I haven’t done enough, I’m actually doing the faithful work of plodding along, putting one foot in front of the other as I follow Jesus. God has called me to a lifetime of days and weeks and months, not just the big, important things. I walk by faith through mundane days and weeks and months because the destination is worth it.

The joy of being with God is before us, and while it feels like we’re stuck in a broken world, “The best way out is always through.”