The house is quiet today. And peaceful. The windows are open. The curtains are blowing. And some sweet smell from some flowering bush is filling the house. I don’t know my plants well enough to name genus and species. Just sweetness.
The contractors will be back tomorrow to finish up some odds and ends in the bathroom, then back again in June to do a little more to the fireplaces and build a couple of shelves for baby things. There is a bit of painting to do inside. A bit more outside. There are flowers to plant, grass to seed, some deep ruts in the yard, left by large trucks, to fill. And of course, curtains and pictures to hang. But the house is, nevertheless, by and large, done.
And it’s lovely. It’s whole. It’s what it was always supposed to be: a home, filled with life and light and the hope for days to come.
A year ago, it wasn’t any of those things. It was dark and broken and dirty. It was causing me so much anxiety that I developed an acute case of stress laryngitis. A year ago, it was hard to see the point of it all.
In my better moments, I’d close my eyes and see what I was working to create. I would go back to the plan for this house I had inside my head: the light pouring in through French doors onto crisp white tile, a baby playing on the floor, friends standing around the kitchen island, uncorking bottles of wine.
In my worse moments, though, I thought that vision would never become reality. I couldn’t see beyond the mess. I would become trapped in a moment, desperate, depressed, and full of doubts about what we were doing, trying to restore a home that was collapsing, rotting, leaking, and broken from the inside out.
In those moments, I was ready to throw in towel, or, more specifically, burn the whole thing down.
It was….an experience. Living in this house, living in the mess, was a singularly awful, miserable, no good, very bad, not fun for anyone adventure that I’m not eager to repeat. So, pretty much like it is with all suffering.
Like with us, desperately wanting a baby when no baby will come. Like with the young wife, mourning her husband who was taken from her too soon. Like with the old husband, watching his wife decline before his eyes. Like with the dad, standing by the bedside of his child dying with cancer. Like with the married couple, embracing abstinence because another pregnancy will put the wife’s health in jeopardy. Like with the teenager, sitting alone at lunch time. Like with the old woman in the nursing home, who the outside world has forgotten.
It sucks. It all sucks. It sucks through and through.
But, as my house is reminding me today, the suffering is not the end. The mess is not where the story stops. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. If we let grace into it, it becomes just one part of the journey, one sliver of our eternity. With God, suffering becomes part of the process of making us whole, of teaching us patience, mercy, kindness, trust, faith, fortitude, detachment, hope, love, and meekness.
We live in a fallen world, where everyone suffers. There is no escaping it. Not for anyone, no matter how perfect their Instagram feed looks. Everyone hurts. Everyone struggles. Everyone at some point or other carries a cross that they didn’t ask for, don’t want, and don’t feel strong enough to carry. That’s just part of what it means to be human. It should be in the dictionary as part of the definition. It’s that fundamental.
No one, however, has to struggle alone. God is always there, wanting to be invited in, wanting to accompany us, wanting to cover us with his grace so that our moments of deepest pain can become an instrumental part of his work to restore our souls and make us who he always intended us to be. Like me with this old house, we can’t always see that. In the moment, we can’t always feel it. But he is there. As sure as he hung on the cross and died for us in our sin, he is with us while we hang on our own crosses, loving us and giving us the grace to do what would otherwise be impossible.
God doesn’t make us suffer. But he does allow it. And he does use it…if we let him.
We don’t have to. We can shut him out or walk away or throw off the cross in a fit of pique, choosing to disobey him rather than suffer with him. If we do, he’ll still love us. He’ll still (when possible) give us another chance. But it’s easy to make a habit of throwing off crosses, and that’s a dangerous habit to cultivate. It means we run the risk of letting the story end there, and never getting to this.
This is the end. Or a good approximation of it. This is what comes after the mess, after the work, after the suck. Peace. Rest. Beauty. Order. This is why we cling to the cross. This is why we trust in the cross. This is what we close our eyes and try to see when we’re hanging on the cross, tempted to hop off and find something better. Which we never will.
The mess is just a moment. It is a hard excruciating moment. But it’s still just a moment. The rest is eternity.