My backyard meets up with a wide landscape nursery, so for the past eleven years, I’ve enjoyed seasonal changes on display. My favorite time of year is right now, mid-September, when everything is halfway between green and gold as though fall is taking a deep breath and isn’t ready to finish converting all the foliage yet.
About five years ago, we planted two quaking aspen trees in the back yard and they’re quite tall now. Since we planted them, I’ve come to love the one on the right more than the one on the left. They’re the same height, breadth, and health but the right tree is the last to turn green in the spring and the last to drop its shimmering gold leaves in the fall.
So here they stand in my yard, branches and leaves intertwined, one yellow and one green – like two friends appreciating each other, despite their differences. For most of the summer, you’d never know that they’d ever bloomed at different times. And when the left one drops all its leaves in the fall, it’s easy to think that the right tree is healthier simply because it’s slower to respond to change.
I think I love the tree on the right so much because I often feel we’re a bit similar. We’re both late-blooming and slower to adjust to new seasons.
Slower to learn.
Slower to catch the rhythm.
Slower to progress.
Slower to pick up the pace.
Sometimes I wonder: I have such a busy life and household – can I afford the luxury of being slow? Shouldn’t I keep up better with life?
To look around me, it would seem that everything moves quicker than what I feel ready for.
Right after I’ve figured out our summer routines, I find that I’m shuffling our lives around to get kids into school schedules.
One day, I’m buying man-sized shoes for my tallest boy. The next day, he comes upstairs wearing the clothes I bought him a few months back, but now his pants look like cropped hipster jeans.
One day, I’m rummaging through the clean laundry basket for a pair of swimming trunks. The next day, I hear how excited everyone is to wear snow pants, which really only serves to remind me how behind I already am with prepping for winter wear.
But it’s not just clothing. My struggles to keep up are about so much more than just household needs.
We just finish helping one child make progress to overcome a sin issue, and then another issue pops up like we’re living inside a bad arcade game. And the same scenario plays out in my own heart over and over.
Some days, I feel like I’m trying to catch up to a merry-go-round, running after that one horse I want to swing up and ride.
Everywhere I look, I notice the imperfections in my own life. I see what I lack in character, perseverance, and faith.
Other people seem to have learned the lessons, the concepts I’m striving to grasp and apply.
Other people seem to bear the fruit I’m longing for.
Other women look more equipped, better trained to grow in all the ways I want to develop.
“…Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” 2 Peter 1:5-9 ESV
I often wonder how it is possible to live a fast-paced life and feel that I learn so slowly? Shouldn’t my learning pace match everything I must do and be and accomplish?
Will I always feel like I’m trying to catch up?
I don’t want to live my life and find in the end that I was unfruitful, because what I had practiced caused me to forget the forgiveness and cleansing that I’ve been given. I want to grow and increase in the qualities that help identify me as one saved by God’s abundant grace.
Here’s a truth I’m certain of: life is never going to stop moving – the world turns, time moves, and we move with it. It will be busy, in one way or another, for the rest of my life. Different seasons will look busy differently, but the reality is that nobody slows the merry-go-round just so I can catch my ideals, whether they involve my character or my skills.
But you and I serve the God of peace, who gives us rest from our striving, who equips us, who sanctifies us, and who promises that He will complete the good work that He has begun in us.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 ESV
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV
I don’t need to race to catch something far ahead of me, and God isn’t putting everything that I need to grow into far out of reach. I can rest in knowing Who I belong to and what He has done on my behalf. I can be satisfied with running my race in my lane, not checking to the side to see how well others are doing, but only looking to Jesus.
Whether it’s comparing my character to another person’s, or focusing on everything I believe I ought to be better at – in those moments, I need correction.
I need to preach the truth to myself and I need to set my pace according to the proper standard.
Jesus is the one at work in me, and all my striving, my efforts to grow in faith, virtue, and character must be done in His strength. All my laboring is fruitless if I’m not laying down the burden of my own pitiful efforts to grow at my ideal pace and carrying Jesus’ yoke and burden instead.
In Philippians 2, Paul details how Christ Jesus laid down His life, emptying Himself, and being obedient to the point of the crucifixion, which resulted in his exaltation by God the Father. But Paul goes on to say that because of what Jesus has done and the standard He has set for us,
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” Philippians 2:12-15 ESV
When I’m in the midst of striving to work out my salvation, if I don’t have my eyes fixed on Christ, I most often find I am focusing on the results I think I ought to see if I simply try hard enough, rather than resting in the finished work of Jesus for me.
In those moments, I need to stop and practice thankfulness for all that God has done in my life, and what He is continuing to do. I need to stop grumbling about what I’m not and rejoice in who Jesus is.
If you are struggling with dissatisfaction with your progress, if you’re discouraged because you think you’re a late-blooming soul, can I encourage you to take your eyes off yourself and your own sense of slowness?
Look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. He is working out what He wants to accomplish in you and me, and He will complete it in His time.
Be deeply satisfied with His pace, and as you follow Him in daily acts of faithfulness, rest in His timing, trust Him for the results, and trust this benediction:
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV