Seasons of life are some of the most fascinating concepts to me, and something that has helped me process the daily, monthly, yearly goings-on of my own life is thinking of them in terms of chapters. I’m an English major, so the parallels between human life and storytelling have become more apparent and incredible to me as I’ve gotten older. This concept is consistent with my Christian worldview as well – I see God as the ultimate Author, people as His crafted characters, and their experiences as settings in which the Author gradually reveals His grand plot. Having such a mentality makes it easier for me to have a broader, more eternal view of my existence, especially in the midst of hard things.
What I really struggle with, though, is staying invested in my current chapter. Lots of people have a harder time “being present” because they’re busy re-living the past, but this isn’t my problem most of the time. I’m much more prone to flipping too many pages ahead (to stick with the story analogy).
Perhaps it’s attributable to a lack of contentment, but I’m so bad at just enjoying the season of life that I’m currently in. Something inside my heart is always ready to get on to a new milestone as soon as the one before it is reached. True, some of it is cultural – where people are constantly rushing you to jump through their next hoop – and I definitely battle the inclination to be a people-pleaser, so I latch onto these expectations very quickly and easily, regardless of how strongly my brain is telling me to slow down and be sensible.
There are definitely places within my sinful heart that are gaping open a bit where Patience and Surrender are supposed to be found, particularly where the future is concerned. When I was in middle school, I longed to begin high school. It was all I worked toward. When I reached high school, I longed to graduate and be a college student. It consumed my dreams and efforts. When I graduated and began college, I longed to find a godly man to begin a life with. When I started dating him, I longed to be engaged. When engaged, I longed for marriage. Now married, I have baby fever. And it won’t end there on its own.
There are times in life where it’s good (wise, even) to be mindful of the future and to wait quietly for the next season with a joyful, contented expectation. It has never been inherently bad for me to look forward to good things like progressing in my education, learning to love a husband, or having children. But what makes me miserable and sucks the joy out of me in the midst of real life – in the beautiful mundanity that we so quickly take for granted once the novelty wears off – is when I refuse to be still and remember that I am not God after all (Psalm 46:10).
I don’t have a three-step program that makes it easy to distinguish between God’s call to the next thing and our own pushing or striving toward it. Sometimes I believe these lines do overlap, often in mysterious ways that we can’t recognize until we look back on it later. There are two major things I am constantly reminding myself, however:
1. Each season has a purpose.
The thought doesn’t come naturally to us in the moment, but each season of life holds a unique purpose from God. We often have different needs in different seasons as far as divine provision, sanctification from sin, and so on. God knows all of our needs – both material and immaterial – and is more than capable in His sovereign power to work all things together for our good and His glory (see Philippians 4:19 and Romans 8:28).
To use a personal example, when I was hankering to move on to college I didn’t understand how much God was using my time (in the summer before the fall semester, especially) to craft independence, perseverance, and contentment in my heart. Each of these characteristics was needed as I began college and took on the stresses of adulthood.
And then later when I was single and longing to meet my now-husband, I had no clue how much I was idolizing marriage and how much selfishness was residing in my heart. I didn’t realize that there were people all around me who needed me then, with the freedom I had as a young single woman. I couldn’t see how much reconciliation and growth there was yet to be accomplished between myself and my family. And there was much I still needed to learn about godly adult relationships before I, personally, was ready to be in one.
If God granted my desires to just wish away seasons as I saw fit, my growth would be stunted. If I were in control of the pacing, I promise you that I would not truly have a life to look back on when my time on earth comes to an end.
2. No season lasts forever.
It’s especially tempting to be impatient about the future when we are currently experiencing a season of heartache, sickness, or some other kind of affliction. Even when I know better, I regularly find it difficult to be still in the midst of any pain, frustration, or stagnation. I’ve been raised in the shallow philosophies of contemporary Western civilization – so, naturally, I don’t like to be challenged or made uncomfortable.
God is slowly but surely transforming the way I approach seasons of pain, however, and one of the ideas I’m learning to cling to is that I will undoubtedly see the end of my suffering at some point in the future. I may never know when that point is, but I know from past afflictions that I will eventually reach a period of respite or experience another joy that will strengthen my resolve and cause me to trust in Christ’s sufficiency even more than I did before.
This isn’t only helpful for seasons of suffering, though. Remembering that all seasons are fleeting (and that none of them are ever truly repeatable) helps us to cherish whatever season we’re struggling to be content in. Just as I always looked forward to certain chapters of life, I now have moments where I wish I would have been grateful for the opportunities or freedoms that I wished away (read: wasted) in the past.
As much as we long to be at times, we are not actually the authors of our own stories. At least, we don’t have the power to see how all the puzzle pieces will fit together in the end. But God does. The writer of Psalm 139:16 declares, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (ESV).
We may not know why God holds us in between certain seasons of life, or what specific experiences and trials await us in each one, but we do know and trust in God’s love and sovereignty. His control is most obvious in contrast to how little control we have. His foreknowledge is most obvious in contrast to all that we don’t know about the future. And His plans are most glorious in contrast to the pitiful ideals we dream up for ourselves. Remembering these truths . . . forcing ourselves to be still and know He is God, and that we are not . . . is the only way we make it through the present in-between. It’s the way we glorify Him in the midst of already and not yet.