Sunday, July 10, 2011

In the Midst of Spiritual Labor

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
(Romans 8: 22-23)

This passage from St. Paul to the Romans is a reminder to all of us that we are works in progress. I recall being young and looking at people who were ten years older than me and thinking that they had it all together. Now, I know better. There is no magic age at which a person figures everything out. Every age, every stage of life has its own challenges. One may gain wisdom with age, a better sense of perspective, and a greater reliance on and trust in God, but life doesn’t actually get any easier. It isn’t supposed to.

This life is meant to be a testing ground, a place where God shapes us and transforms us into the people we were meant to be and prepares us for heaven. I have heard it said that when it hurts the most, that is when the greatest spiritual transformation is taking place. I believe that is true. Just as labor is necessary to bring forth a child, on this earth we often find ourselves in the midst of spiritual labor to bring forth a new version of ourselves. As St. Paul says, “we groan within ourselves as we wait.”

In my own life, I have found that the trials are somewhat cyclical. There will be a time of great testing. I will feel as if there is no way for me to make it through. I spend time desperately praying, searching for answers that seem nowhere to be found. My emotions run the gamut from anger at God to begging for the cross to pass to acceptance of what is and praying for the strength to do what needs to be done. In time, I once again reach a period of equilibrium where I feel on solid ground. While I am thankful for those periods of respite, I also fear them because I know another trial is just around the corner and I do not know what it will entail.

I have also found that the trials are particularly designed to expose and strengthen my personal areas of weakness. I imagine that they wouldn’t be considered trials if they weren’t. If I pass the test at one level, I am given a harder test the next time around. If I fail, I find I am frequently given a second (and third and fortieth) chance to learn the much-needed lesson. God keeps working at me, trying to form me into what I should be. I believe that He does this with all of us.

One of the most beautiful images in scripture is that of us being clay in the potter’s hands. (Isaiah 64:8) In order for a lump of clay to be turned into something beautiful and useful, it must be worked and kneaded and shaped and fired. God is working on us, creating something amazing, but the process can cause great pain. We need to trust that the outcome will be wonderful beyond our wildest imaginings.

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