In our household, we have rephrased the old saying about springtime to read, “Spring is the time when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of . . . planting shrubs.” I thought we owned two or three of every tree and shrub that Pike Nursery has to sell, but each year, I rediscover that I was wrong. We always seem be sprucing up a different part of the yard or replacing a dead bush that didn’t survive the winter.
A couple of years ago, we decided to swap out a dozen shrubs in the front of our house that just weren’t doing it. The challenge was finding a single variety that could thrive in conditions ranging from full sunlight to full shade. Very few are that adaptable, but we finally settled on a specific type of hawthorn that prefers sunlight but can do reasonably well in shade.
Although all twelve plants were healthy, when it came time to plant them, I made sure to put the very best and strongest specimens in the least favorable (that is, most shady) conditions. And that made me wonder if my approach was parallel to the life circumstances God allows in different people’s lives.
Some people seem to have it made. Everything consistently falls into place: good health, great jobs, relatively smooth family lives, few financial problems, etc. Others experience just the opposite.
One friend I’ve been meeting with monthly for several years seems to be a problem magnet. His family of origin was nothing short of a nightmare. His wife of two decades suddenly left him for another man, triggering a very expensive years-long custody fight. He experienced other issues with his adult children. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, he had a serious car accident that has left him with significant medical issues that threaten his ability to work.
I can only speculate as to why God has allowed this tough, tough series of circumstances. But my experience with planting the hawthorns makes me wonder if perhaps God is paying my friend a very high compliment. Just as I made sure to place the very strongest plants in the most demanding locations, could it be that God does the same and allows the most severe circumstances for those he knows can handle it? This is consistent with the spirit of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 – God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
I’m sure there have been many times my friend has been tempted to despair, but God has been faithful to sustain him in his faith. And he has endured and grown greatly. In fact, he is almost unrecognizable as the same man I started meeting with a few years ago. And it’s because of the adversity God has allowed in his life. Others might have crumbled but my friend hasn’t. Instead he has grown and thrived and serves as a powerful testimony to God’s grace.
So, the next time you encounter a particularly rough spell, perhaps it’s God recognizing the inner strength he has built into your life.