Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Singing I Go

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above.
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
~Thomas Chisholm

The other week I was talking to my sister on the phone. Here in the upper Midwest, we've been having "record-breaking" bitter cold temperatures as well as a few bouts of snow even before winter has officially hit us yet. The snow descended prior to all of the leaves falling off of the trees, and we found ourselves shoveling before we managed to rake the remainder of leaves from the ground! That, combined with the time change and the "early darkness" sparked the conversation that my sister and I had. We both grew up in New England, where the winters were shorter and "cozier" (shorter-lasting and with less bitter cold, if that explains it properly). 

I joked, (with a serious truth behind it) that I've been singing hymns to keep my spirits up amidst this brutal weather and the long, dark days. She quipped, "Which one? Abide with Me? (Look up the words to that hymns to see the humor behind her choice ;-)). I laughed and answered, "No! George Beverly Shea's "Singing I Go Along Life's Road . . . " to which she wryly replied, "Bek; didn't he live in the South?"

Sometimes it's difficult to find a song in winter days (or in this case; the middle-of-fall days ;-)). For me, it has been hard to adjust to the difference in climate here in the Midwest from what I grew up with in New England. In New England, the seasons were generally very distinguished and separate from each other, each one attached with a certain amount of nostalgia. One was surrounded with a lot of people and quaint shops, with coffee and the overwhelming sense of "coziness." Here in the Midwest, things are different than what I grew up with and knew and loved, and I have found myself looking for grace and joy through the differences--but it's just not the same-- Here, I do find sparks of happiness in my garden, in the anticipation of spring, in planning for the warmer days, in homeschooling my children and reading books in front of our fire, in visiting thrift shops in the area, and in the occasional trip to the "big city" of Dubuque (in the state near to us) where there is a Hobby Lobby. :-) These things bring happiness to my heart and lift me out of the "humdrum" of the often bleak fall/winter climate here in the rural Midwest. But many times, it has been very difficult for me. 

Now please don't get me wrong. :-) I love the "deep country." I love the quietness, the beauty of the land, the absence of huge buildings everywhere, the sweet cows and sheep and rabbits and possums, and even the cute little field mice that speckle our snow with their tiny feet. I love the soil and the streams and the long grasses and the wildflowers. I love the beautiful deer racing and bounding across the fields and looking at me with their great, deep, soft  eyes.  There are things that I love about the Midwest

But the weather honestly wears upon my soul. I know that this is often true with other believers as well--sometimes it brings with it depression and anxiety as the long days stretch on into months and the spring is long in arriving. As believers, we are often hesitant to talk about things like depression or anxiety. We are "afraid" that other believers will think that we are "less spiritually mature," that we are unable to "handle" the different stresses of life, that we are not clinging to the promises of God, that we aren't joyful, "positive" Christians. But I have come to believe that the seemingly "less mature" believers are often (not always, but often) the ones who are more heavily relying upon God's strength--their weakness drives them to the Rock of Ages. Their anxiety and depression make them sense more keenly their need for a saving God and for His personal intervention in the day to day happenings of their lives. That depression and anxiety may be the goad that drives a believer to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. 

We need to remember that not everyone is made "the same." That the Lord's commands are true and relevant and that His promises are firm and trustworthy for each one of us individually, but that not everyone is made the same. Not everyone is able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and push their face into the wailing wind with joy even as the chill gale wraps itself around their shoulders in negative degrees! Some people have weaker constitutions; some people struggle with depression in the darkness and cold. Some people, especially the elderly, may combat anxiety in the winter as they wonder how they will get around and have concern for falling and slipping on the ice. As believers, we are called to have hearts of compassion and understanding. 

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted . . . Ephesians 4:32 NKJV

We also need to remember that some people are built physically "stronger" than others. Some people's bodies handle cold better than others. Some people take medications that help them in varying ways to deal with the stresses of cold climates and in other areas of life--that make them "feel better" physically, which in turn impacts their outward response towards the weather. We need to remember these things before making quick judgments about people who seemingly "complain" about the weather. 

In my own life, there are times when I am on the "stronger" end, and then times when I am on the "weaker" end. Haven't we all experienced this in different areas of our lives? I believe that the Lord teaches us through both of these extremes so that we can have sympathy or empathy for those around us, rather than forcing a positive attitude upon our friends and acquaintances who in our understanding may not be able to "handle" something that we think that they should be able to immediately  through the Lord's strength. I do a lot of gardening in the warmer months and often lift "heavy" things or do intensive yard work on our 4 acres of land. One of my sisters, who has severe allergies and asthma struggles in the warm weather--she loves the outdoors and to garden, but sometimes just physically can't do the "heavier" work that I may be able to do. A "strong" person may look at her (not understanding the physical limitations that she has) and think proudly, "What a weakling!" or they may-in a spirit of understanding--remember that the Lord makes people different and that often a physically weaker brother or sister in the Lord may be doing an immense amount of "quiet work" for the kingdom of God--only the Lord knows the extent of it. 

On the other end of the spectrum, after I gave birth to my second child, I was physically weak. I had my two children 19 months apart and experienced very difficult deliveries with both of them. My body was tired; I felt "broken." For those of you who have experienced something similar, you understand what I mean. I have seen the looks of joy on mother's faces as they hold their babies for the first time, and I can honestly tell you that when my son, my second child, was placed in my arms, I was in a daze of pain and couldn't even think. I saw the joy of other mothers when they talked about nursing their babies and I was so physically "weak" for the first 5 months of my son's life (after I had nursed my daughter for over a year) that I continually had the "shakes" during the day and often had a difficult time lifting myself from the floor when I sat down on the rug to read to my children. There are times in our lives when the Lord renders us physically weak so that we may understand what it is like to experience other people's daily struggles. I had to give up nursing my son so that my body could heal. And I had to realize that my joy came from the Lord in the midst of my struggles, not in having a "positive" attitude, but in clinging to the Lord and in letting His joy strengthen me in my weakness. 

The important thing is not necessarily embracing the circumstance itself as joy, but in embracing the One who allowed it in our lives and gave it to us in love that we might draw nearer to Him through it. 

The important thing is not necessarily rejoicing in the bitter cold itself, but in rejoicing in our Great Father, who uses the bitter winds to drive us toward the truth of the warmth of His love and the realization that spring always comes after the winter. 

In all things, we give thanks, but there is no sin in admitting that they are hard things. The Lord does not require that we enjoy the hard thing itself--only that His joy flows through us in it. The cross itself is a thing to us of beauty now, but only because it brought redemption. The bitter winds of winter and the hard as nails ice and snow are a means to prepare the ground for the softness and warmth of the spring. 

Yes; of course there is a beauty in winter, but we have to admit, if most of us are honest, that month after month of cold and ice and hard ground and frozen trees  do wear upon the soul and we long for the warmth of the new season. I think that the Lord places that longing in each of our hearts; didn't He, friend? 

It is just as C.S. Lewis's characters lamented in the beloved Chronicles of Narnia under the evil witch's rule: "It is always winter and never Christmas!" And when Aslan came, so did the melting of the snow and the birth of spring and rejoicing after the long, glacial winter. 

We are quick to cast judgments. 

We are quick to throw a stone in areas where we don't struggle. 

Positivity is the new "go-to" word in secular and Christian circles and we've all heard others tell us not to surround ourselves with "negative" influences (i.e. people). 

But we need to be careful when we embrace the world's thinking in areas like these and put a "spiritual" spin on them. 

We glibly remind our brothers and sisters to have a positive attitude while quoting verses such as "Give thanks in all circumstances" or in reminding them that others have it "worse" than they do--

John Newton's relationship with poet William Cowper is a powerful example of how we might treat our brothers and sisters who struggle with depression or anxiety or who may in God's wisdom, have a a "weaker" constitution than we do and whose bodies may literally have a more difficult time handling the things that we are able to with greater ease. 

William Cowper was a godly man (probably equally godly as his pastor-friend John Newton) who struggled immensely with anxiety, depression, and with continual haunting thoughts that he wasn't really a saved child of God. He was a very sensitive man who wrote beautiful poetry and provided the church with the timeless hymns, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, and God Moves in a Mysterious Way, among others. 

Many times, William Cowper would fall into a spirit of despair and it was his friend, Pastor John Newton's encouragement that the Lord often used to keep him afloat. John Newton was what we might think of as a robust Christian and instead of looking down upon his friend William Cowper for his "negative" spirit, rather encouraged this dear man to take joy in the Lord, to write hymns for the glory of God, and to be strengthened with might in his inner man by clinging to the promises of God in his deep depression. 

Who knows what good John Newton did for the soul of William Cowper, his dear and constant friend? What if Newton dismissed Cowper as a "negative" influence upon his life? 

Perhaps we would not have Cowper's beautiful hymns today . . . 

We need to remember that the William Cowper's among us may be the instruments that God is using for His glory . . . perhaps the sensitivity that often leads to their depression and "negativity" also leads to the profound feeling expressed in the works that the Holy Spirit accomplishes through them. 

I know many people like this; you probably do as well. 

Living in the Midwest is teaching me that I don't need to be happy about months and months of frigid cold and snow. 

But I can sing as I go . . . 

As Corrie Ten Boom did in the dreadful prison of Ravensbruck . . . singing hymns audibly and from the quiet depths of her heart when she was told that she could not sing out loud or would be punished--as she did when she saw a single flower through her window there and rejoiced in the hope that her Savior was near and dear to her and with her . . . 

As William Cowper did when amidst his severe spiritual depression he took up his pen and wrote hymns to the Author of his salvation. 

As many missionaries and Christian workers do as they confront loneliness and climates that they are not accustomed to, and cultures that are difficult to acclimate to. It is not easy; one cannot be a Pollyanna always--

But we can sing as we go. 

We sing in our hearts--we sing audibly. We pray and confront the depression and anxiety that at times takes residence in our hearts.

We ask other believers to pray for us that we may be strengthened with might in our inner man. 

We sing as we go.

We lift a quiet song of joy up to God in our hearts; we cling to His promises. 

We look at the bitter winds and the ground covered with snow for month upon endless month and we plant seeds of joy in our hearts, knowing that spring will inevitably come, that our hands will some day feel the beautiful grains of garden soil sifting through them, that flowers will bloom again, that birds will not be huddled together, but singing free and unhindered and full of the the life of spring, that worms will come up to the surface of the earth again, that the warm breeze will blow upon our cheeks. 

Even if this is in the sense of a spiritual spring--especially in the sense of it. 

I will not delight in the hard thing--whatever it is--

But I will sing as I go

Sing to an ever-loving, ever-caring Savior--sing to the God who cares about my anxiety and depression--and who lifts me above them in His grace--

Sing of the joy of spring. Sing of the victory that is in Jesus alone, not in a spirit of positivity--but in the joy that is our strength in Him

Singing we go. 

Singing I go along life's road
Praising the Lord, praising the Lord
Singing I go along life's road
For Jesus has lifted my load.