I’m not sure which I like more: the beginning of a season or the end of it. Each comes with its own sense of excitement and expectation, and each comes with its own set of challenges. As I’ve grown older – and sought to become more mature as I do – I’ve learned that finishing well is as important as (if not more important than) getting off to a good start. While it may not always be easy to begin a new thing, I think we tend to start more than we finish, and thus limit ourselves to an incomplete perspective. I also think we tend to finish many things haphazardly, in the desire to just be done with it all, and thus forsake the gleaning process which is meant to be a part of every appointed season in our lives.
Seasons are meant to be sifted through as we approach their end, but too often we rush through them, happy to leave them behind and start a new one as soon as it dawns on the horizon. New seasons can often become easy distractions from finishing well in current seasons, especially when those seasons have been difficult or painful. But difficulty and pain are invitations to sit with God and sift through the soil, mining the seeds of promise and pulling out the weeds which might spoil the harvest He intended.
Until recently, I never really considered this – that there might be something worth looking at in the landscape surrounding my finish lines. It is easy for me to be performance driven. It comes with the territory of my broken story. I am really good at narrowing my gaze until all I see is the red tape at the end of the track, and I know how to press in until I break through it.
But as I grow up in God, I am learning to see more than just the finished product. I am learning that the journey matters much to Him, and that He enjoys sifting through my seasons and looking at all that was a part of them: the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. I would rather close my eyes and wait for that process to pass, because I don’t see value in my failures and mistakes. He, however, sees differently.
In this season of my life, I find that He is asking me to consider success in a way that contradicts what I have learned from the world I live in. In His view, success equals obedience. In my view, obedience has been messy. But God is not afraid of messy. He is not ashamed of it, either. Anyone who reads the Bible can plainly see that!
Somehow, though, I want my story to look better on paper than those who have gone before me. I know there is pride tucked into this (which I am asking to be stripped of), but I want to claim humility in saying I’ve learned from their mistakes and thus didn’t need to make my own. The real humility, however, has been found in the ground of my own mistakes, wherein I have discovered the deepest grace and love of God, so that I am beginning to embrace what I might have once considered disgraceful. By this, I don’t mean I’m okay with anything He is not okay with. Rather, I mean that my own lack, mistakes and failures, when surrendered to God, have become (and are becoming) marks of beauty on the landscape of my life, as His mercy transforms them into places of growth I could never produce on my own.
As I come into the end of yet another season in my life, I do so with so many mixed emotions. A sense of healthy pride for having finished, period. A sense of disappointment for all of the moments that I wish had never been a part of it. A joy for the view from Heaven which sees great transformation in all of us who have been a part of it. A sadness for the sin of selfishness that sometimes marred the harvest appointed for love. There were days when I was wholly engaged with the great task set before me, and there were days when I hid from it, too tired to manage the emotions that came knocking at my door. It would be easy for me to surmise that this was a season I can lay to rest with a modest mix of satisfaction and regret.
Except that God has other plans for it. While I was preparing my heart for a funeral (an appointed one, to be sure), God met me this morning with a looking glass and a treasure chest. What I was ready to lay to rest, and probably never dig up again, He has asked me to reconsider from His point of view. I have to admit, His perspective is MUCH different than mine…imagine that!
I’m sure this will be a process which He has His own timeline for, but what I’ve discovered so far is that what began with the promise of goodness has somehow, along the journey, come under the influence of accusations against His goodness. What began as His perfect will has, in the process of laboring long, caused me to question the perfection of His plans. Of course, my heart did not draw these conclusions all on its own. I had help from an enemy who loves to take what God has called good and bring it under deceptive interrogation. It’s the same old trick he has used since the first Garden with the first humans.
In this subtle but aggressive attack, my recent season (like many of your seasons, I’m sure) nearly fell victim to an undue stamp of “check-me-off-your-list-and-get-me-off-your-calendar.” When the enemy moves in on the landscape of a God-appointed season, we become glad to move on, because he covers the ground with lies about God and about the work we’ve done with Him. Where we began with hope and excitement, we usually finish with dread and regret, because it’s all we can see by the time he’s finished shedding his “light.”
So today, God took me back to the beginning. Back to the moments that were full of promise. Back to the place before I said “yes” to the season I am now preparing to exit. And He let me reconsider the years in the light of His perspective, rather than the darkness of my own. In my humanity, I have equated mess with failure. In His deity, He has equated mess with fruit. I get a deep belly laugh in my soul when I think about this! He is wild beyond imagination, and moments like these make me want to live in His perspective much more than I do. Of course I aim to, but often fall short. It’s a mystery I strive to understand and embrace daily, because I know that seeing as He sees changes literally everything. Including me.
All of this is to say that I have come to the end of an appointed season and was unconsciously prepared to receive a less than passing grade. I’ve learned that perfect is an unrealistic and unattainable goal, so I was prepared to submit my thesis with an “I did my best” attitude (rolling my eyes and shaking off the dust as I went). I can honestly say I trust that my best is good enough for God, but my mistake was in believing that God’s estimation matched my own…or even that His requirements were the same as mine.
Were it not for His gracious intervention, I would have been content to simply bury this season in the landscape of past survivals, and move on to whatever He might have for me next. But love is more than an assignment, and this season has been more than just something to survive, He is showing me. Despite my own analysis of the season I am finishing, He still sees it as good. His mark over it has never departed. The good gift has not become bitter fruit in His mouth, and so it should not be in mine. I could criticize a hundred things about my own performance, despising the nakedness of my vulnerability because the enemy has left his mark upon it. But God has called me to live unashamed in that vulnerability. He has called it good, and so I’ve been invited to do the same.
This does not mean I have permission to avoid taking responsibility for choices that fell outside of His will for me. In any season, there must be an honest evaluation of ourselves before God. It does mean, however, that that evaluation, when resting in the grace of God, leads us through a sifting process which converts the dirt to rich soil where life-giving fruit grows. It’s the promised success, the reward, for obedience. For a heart that says “yes,” knowing it won’t be a perfect journey.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I wonder what season you are approaching the end of just now….or maybe will be soon? Have you considered the importance of sifting through your season with God, before you run from it and lay it to rest in the backdrop of your life? Sifting takes time, and requires the willingness to look again at what we hoped we would never see, but God is gracious, and can mine beauty from the ash heaps when we’re willing to go there with Him.
The judgment upon our seasons doesn’t belong to us, if we belong to God. I guess that’s the bottom line in what I’m learning and sharing with you today. When we have the courage to come before God, willing to hear His opinion about our seasons, His goodness and mercy always bring redemption to what we may have considered lost or wasted. He sees more in us than we can often see in ourselves. And whatever we do in the path of His will, He produces abundance from, even when our brokenness makes a mess of the process. Because who we are becoming is more important that what we do as we are becoming. Eventually, there will be a perfect sync between the two. But this side of eternity, we are growing. And growing happens a little at a time, season by season, always with the help of a Master Gardener Who can see the harvest beneath the surface of the dirt.
May you be freshly encouraged today to look to Jesus in your current season, and in all the seasons yet to come, inviting Him to sift through and rescue the riches hidden there. He is able to do abundantly, exceedingly more than we dare to even ask or think, when we root ourselves in His great, deep love and His oh-so-perfect plans!