Crucible: a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new (Merriam-Webster.com). What’s your crucible? Are you there?
My kids and I dove into a Bible story the other day, where God rescued his people from Pharaoh’s impending doom. He’d rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and Pharaoh allowed them to leave captivity. The people left, headed home, facing days and nights in the hot desert, following a pillar of fire toward the unknown. They ended up on the sands of the Red Sea, a body of water flowing for miles in both directions. And then Pharaoh and his 600 men and their raging chariots raced to recapture them. The Israelites freaked out then, as I think most of us would. They projected their fear, they cried, they whined. And God replied, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:15-16). Essentially, God told Moses to tell the Israelites they couldn’t go over it. They couldn’t go under it. They couldn’t go around it. They had to go through it. And to stop whining.
Just like the classic picture book of “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt,” the adventurers had to face a challenge bigger than they understood.
You, oh incredible wayfarer, will face challenges bigger than yourself and bigger than you understand. It’s the plight of mankind. It’s your job. Don’t ask, “Why isn’t this easier?” Ask instead, “How can this make me better?”
The good thing about these challenges is that they make us into our best selves. Challenges aren’t just part of the story; they’re the story.
1) Challenges show us God’s bigness.
On this tiny planet, as this one tiny soul, I often don’t see the big picture. I’m one puzzle piece, you’re one puzzle piece, and sometimes we lose sight of the whole puzzle and all it entails. But God’s there, with this big love for us. In the fire, beside the wide sea, and under the grinding weight of the mortar’s pestle, God stands right there in the middle of the crucible beside you, with the strength, grace, and power to go on. He’s an endless source of strength, and he offers it to his people. In these challenges, we get a mere glimpse of how he can fuel us.
2) Challenges teach us gratitude.
“My struggles are my own unique manifestations designed specifically to give me the opportunities to love and accept myself fully” (Jill Coleman). Seeing a challenge, obstacle, or hardship as an opportunity to raise a hand in gratitude teaches stability. Accepting challenge as a chance to love is part of why we’re here. The apostle Paul mentored his friend Timothy with these words, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Being grateful in adversity proves faith. How much faith do you have? How grateful are you for the rain? How grateful are you for the wall you just hit? Are you grateful for who you are so that you can be in this place and time to face this challenge? Are you ready?
Practicing intentional gratitude exhibits a willingness to level up.
3) Challenges make us stronger.
“In the days of the sailing vessels, this is the way they chose a tree to make a mast: They did not go to some sheltered place where the trees were protected from the elements. They went up into the mountains where the soil was thin and rocky. They found a tree that had been buffeted by the storms and beaten by the winter winds. That tree, that hardened tree, they cut down for the mast of their ship. So suffering hardens and strengthens us” (Robert Shannon).
In being a wife and mom, I’ve found strength to be a power. Maybe that sounds silly, but I feel like there’s still a big train of thought out there than women should be soft and weak. And I’ve never been able to be that. I love lifting heavy weights and pushing limits, because when I lift those heavy weights, life feels simple and free (and super sweaty hot). I love the feeling of picking up my twenty-pound weights and not struggling to do so. I love being able to do interval sprints and not pass out dead on the ground. I love that with a consistent daily grind over the years, I’ve built up my strength in a tangible way that I can see for myself and nobody can take it away from me or deny it. I love that now the effort has proved itself. In the beginning of trying heavier weights in my work outs, I couldn’t hardly finish a twenty-minute workout, the fifteen-pounders made me just about fall flat on my face (maybe they did one time), and the idea of ‘sprints’ was absolutely laughable.
But now. Now I know that trying harder challenges means I win. If one of my kids ever needs to be carried? I can carry her. If I need to help someone carry something? I can help. If someone else cries out, frustrated, saying “I can’t do it,” well then I CAN say, “Yes, you can.” Because strength manifests itself. People are drawn to it. People want to overcome. People want to be the mast of the ship, carrying their people home. Or, at least I do. I bet you do, too. And I’m excited about tomorrow’s opportunity to try again.
Are you grateful for the workout?
4) Challenges teach us courage.
Being that mast on that ship? Where will it take you? Oh my friend, it carries you into the vast unknown. With each challenge you face, with each fear you mow down, you build up a portfolio of proven records. It all builds up.
Never once did the authors of the Bible instruct or show the necessity of fear and letting it win. No, in fact, the Bible displays the opposite. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God made you powerful. God made you loving. God installed within you a sound mind. He dwells within you, and you are worthy to take on this challenge. Maybe you just needed to hear that. Very often, the things you fear are the paths you need to take in order to be your best self.
5) Challenges offer us a life greater.
“You’ve got to try this new show!” “You’ve got to get this soap!” “You’ve got to visit Venice; it’s beautiful!” In this context, a friend will probably be recommending something to you because that friend cares, with enthusiasm.
You’ve got to take on this challenge, because on the other side awaits a life greater. You’ve got to do these hard things, so that you see the beauty in the madness. Don’t miss this opportunity for greatness. Don’t miss these steps, small or scary as they seem. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
What’s your best life? Being in God’s will. What’s God’s will? For you to intentionally live a life grateful for the challenges he presents to you. No better path exists than the intentionally joyful path. You’ve got no reason to be sad or to complain or to give up. When you hit a wall, look up. Look around. Celebrate what IS, because it’s a glorious adventure.
There is only the journey toward God’s heart. And this journey is a life greater.
What if we didn't measure life in years or days or months or pounds or inches or dollars? Imagine if we measured in deep breaths and hope and smiles and hugs and satisfaction and realized potential?
What if mankind's existence and success was based on something other than making money or having the newest tech? What if it was about knowing the song of the seas, seeing the colors of the sunsets or the trees in the autumn, or tracing the path of the stars, or merging with the heart and mind of the great Creator? Perhaps, and indeed, it is.
Symbols do not accurately display sense and touch and the way your heart lifts to music. Numbers, strokes of a pen, do not convey the beauty in a glint of sunlight tumbling across the pages of a worn novel. Numbers are boundaries. Numbers are limits. Numbers are the accounted for, known evidence. Numbers are not possibility. Possibility cannot be accurately predicted or stored or weighed.
Sometimes those reports come in, filed away, showing numbers and lists and detailed accounts of What Has Been or What Is or What Lacks.
Find a way to laugh in the face of lacking. That’s how you fight dread. That’s how you wrangle unsatisfied expectation. During my third year of college, I spent a lot of time running. I worked out almost every day and I ran every day. I didn’t know what I wanted or where I was going. I ran to flee the doubt, I ran to escape what I called The Hope Monster. Terrible name, I know, because I’ve never said the name out loud before, because how ridiculous and lame does it sound? Who is afraid of hope? Who is afraid of possibility? Oh my friend, it’s a masked fear. It's not the hope we dread, it's the darkness behind it. At that point in time I was realizing I didn’t know what I wanted To Do with my life, who I wanted to be with, and in fact, didn’t know who I wanted to be. (I’m still figuring that out.) As I ran, I fled the unknown. But you cannot outrun the unknown. It’s always there. Fortunately, the unknown does not have to be scary. The unknown does not have to be a dizzying whirl of delightful, uncategorized options.
We rage against chaos, against fear, against lacking. We fight with shields of faith, with a bright smile founded in love, and supported by hope. We pierce the darkness with love, with knowledge of One who loves, and who makes a way for light.
Train hard today to fight the battles you need to win tomorrow. You don’t know when they will come, but they are coming, so hustle. In fact, you don’t know if tomorrow even exists. So: hustle. Now. With whatever tools you possess.
Grit cannot be weighed or measured. Kindness flutters freely, weightless and yet encompassing each soul brought to this realm. Our finite minds cannot contain it but we can control the portion we give to others. And it too cannot be priced, or proportioned, or marginalized.
The numbers don't matter. The numbers don't make a soul free. There's one number to keep track of, and that number is spelled Y-O-U. You do your freakin’ best. You keep trying. You work for good. You believe in the good you can do. You trust the omnipotent Creator, so vast we cannot comprehend his size or merit or reasoning, and walk as his treasure. He gave you life, which is the most valuable thing we have. We cannot originate it. Only the great Creator can. You, living creature, are a rare commodity in this enormous universe. With every breath, every blink, every swallow, every rippling beat of that tenacious, miraculous heart, you are an asset. You are a priceless addition to the cosmos. A delight. The whole cheesecake. With the sprinkles on top.
So the fight is against the doubt. The darkness ebbs in, marauding as numbers and limitation and broken gadgetry. In the same way you cannot contain sunlight, so too hope saturates. It floods the earth, in every bright smile. All it takes is one. One.
And one by one by one into infinity we unleash the torrent.
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