I recently spent some time with my family in the Yosemite Valley. It is a truly beautiful place. But many of the valley’s forests have recently been burnt by natural forest fires. The trees are scarred and burned. Their branches are sparse and their trunks are black. I confess I was discouraged by this. I wanted to see all the trees in their spectacular green and glorious condition, not brittle and dry. I was kind of disappointed.
Then I started thinking. I know God has a plan for every forest fire. I know there’s a reason for that kind of destruction. Maybe it happens so the forest wouldn’t become overgrown with too many trees. Or maybe it happens so the underbrush would be cleared away. Or maybe it happens for soil nutrition. Anyway, I’m no biologist but I figured there must be plenty of legitimate reasons for so many forest fires.
Then it got me thinking about how there could be life lessons to be learned. How many times do we go through trials not having any idea why they’re happening? How many times do we question the trial because it’s not pretty? How many times do we just want to get away because it hurts so much? Maybe we can show more grace to ourselves. Maybe we can accept the cycles of life more, just like a forest having occasional fires. Maybe there is another way. Maybe there is a better way.
I grew up thinking Christians had to have their lives together in order to be a good witness and testimony to others, and therefore honor God. But how can we be “perfect” when our lives have storms and fires, pain and hardship? How can we look “good” when our lives are being tried and our hearts suffer? When we go to church, how can we expect all of us to come to the table having the answers, being in control, and with a smile on our face?
Forest fires are ugly, but I’m sure they are useful and necessary. I suppose trials are as well. At church we are all at different stages. I don’t want to come to church hiding the fact that I’m struggling. I don’t want to be judged because I’m not rejoicing always. I don’t want to be given small talk when I need a prayer and a hug. Maybe some Christians don’t even want to hear about a trial, let alone walk with me through one. Maybe some people think trials are a result of sin. Maybe some people think the trial is a phase that I’ll just grow out of and there’s no need to burden others with it. Excuse me, but not only are those things unhelpful, but they are also hurtful. I also don’t believe those should be our responses.
The church should be the most important safe haven, apart from God Himself, to come to with our weaknesses and wounds. The people at church should act like our brothers and sisters in Christ on whom we can rely for support. I don’t need a Bible verse Band-Aid. I need a listening ear, understanding, and prayer. I need friends who will be with me day by day, not just Sunday, or once a month. The church is supposed to be the place where God is displayed through people, albeit imperfect ones. God doesn’t ignore me or leave me in my struggles, so His children shouldn’t either. I love the verse that says, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 (ESV)
I am blessed when God shows me imagery to learn from in my life. And this summer God surprised me by showing me symbolism through fire-bruised nature. I wonder how often we go to church wanting to see a perfect forest and we miss the beauty of flawed humanity redeemed by God. I wonder how often do we miss the handiwork of God in someone’s life because we are turning away from a burnt life. How often do we criticize a sibling in Christ for not having the American dream and we miss that they have the spirit of the living God? I hope I can listen to, care for, and love my fellow believers more. I hope I can cherish God’s work in each vessel, no matter what they may look or act like. Otherwise, I’m missing out. I don’t get to see trials that God uses to sanctify His already made-new creations.
On the flip-side, I don’t ever want to expect any form of perfection from myself that God never intended for me. I don’t ever want to hide my life from Christians, who are supposed to be the family of God to me. I don’t want to be ashamed of the trials He’s put in my life. I don’t want to be ashamed of ash, burnt bark, or darkened soil. These are all necessary for growth, as hard as they may be. These are all placed in my life for a reason. After all, God is the divine Creator and He does not make mistakes. Ever.