My husband and I were taking a much needed weekend away. It had been hard few weeks. It had been a hard few years, actually. And it had been a long time since we’d had a chance to spend any time alone together. It was time to regroup, refit our souls for the battle we who follow Christ must wage against the spirit of evil in the world.
The drive through the countryside was beautiful. Picturesque farmland and then statuesque mountains, all dressed in their late-October finery. The autumn hues were at their peak— deep crimson and russet and gold. But the sun was hidden behind heavy cloud-cover and the colors were muted and softened in the dim light. A hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico was affecting the weather even as far away as the Cumberland Plateau where we were traveling. It effectively mirrored my own mood—my joy in the journey eclipsed by the gloom of events that had nothing to do with the weekend we had planned.
Losing ourselves in the woods, we set up our little camp, far away from any civilization. Off-road camping is the only truly effective way to escape the world in modern America—we found a logging road in a state natural area and followed it until we couldn’t hear traffic noise any longer. We had hauled in our own food and water and facilities—completely self-sufficient, entirely alone. It was wonderful.
And yet, I could not leave the world behind. It was in my head, and the things that grieved us and had driven us out into the wilderness would not be left behind—events beyond our control, tragedies and troubles that burdened us. Prayers that had not yet been answered. My wonderful husband grilled steaks and fried up potatoes and onions for our dinner while I gathered wood and made a campfire, feeling aggrieved that these enjoyable, simple pleasures could not make me forget our difficulties for even one evening.
“God, give me back my joy!” I cried aloud.
I had given up asking for solutions to the problems that plagued us. I just wanted relief from the relentlessness of the sin of this world. For so long I had cried out with the prophet Habakkuk: ‘How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.’ (Habakkuk 1:1-3) Now I just desperately wanted to forget the unrighteousness of the world and enjoy my weekend.
The next day I awoke to a golden sunrise in an azure sky, clear with just the perfect number of wispy, white clouds to make the blue even more stunning. My amazing husband was frying up bacon and eggs and had already stirred the campfire back into life for me before I even rose from my bed. I sat by the crackling, heart-warming fire and smelled my delicious breakfast cooking and watched the sun set the tops of the trees ablaze, changing the leaves in to sparkling, jewel-toned reds and oranges and yellows and greens. And joy was there.
But, being me, I wasn’t satisfied with joy—not yet. I prayed, “Father, why do you give me these small things, these simple pleasures, instead of the big things I desire so much?”
And He said to me, “I don’t give you the small things instead of the big things; I give you these things that you think of as ‘small’ to help you get through the big things.”
Of course, I had really known this already. But God is patient with me and doesn’t seem to mind reminding me of things He’s already told me a million times. We live in a fallen, sinful world. There will always be injustice and wickedness, death, illness, financial difficulties, suffering of family and friends to endure, until the end of time. God doesn’t take the hard things in life away, but He is faithful to give us ways to get through them.
But what struck me in what He told me that day was how ungrateful I was in calling these blessings He had given to me “small things”. Because they certainly are NOT small! Was it a small thing for Him to redirect the giant, hurricane-driven weather pattern just to give me a bit of sunshine? Was it a small thing for Him to have made these trees around me grow for dozens, even hundreds, of years, knowing that one morning I would need to see them here? And fire—the miracle of chemical reactions that combine somehow to form a pleasing pattern for the eye, a soothing sound for the ear, and a comforting warmth for the hands and feet—a small thing?
And then there was my sweet husband, still faithful and committed after almost 35 years of marriage, still cooking my breakfast and loving me for who I am. In this day and age of disposable relationships, do I dare call that a “small thing”?
And then there is joy itself–no small thing! I realized I had not lost joy, but had pushed it away deliberately, because to feel joy felt like turning my back on reality. It seemed that to be joyful was somehow betraying the severity of the things that caused me and my friends sorrow and pain.
Now I understand that joy, far from being a denial of the cruelty and wickedness of this world, is actually a shield against it. Joy is more akin to faith than to happiness, and the shield of faith turns aside many of the enemy’s fiery swords. One still feels the brunt of the heavy blows that strike, but the sharp points and cutting edges are turned aside.
And so I can truly say, again with the prophet Habakkuk, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no produce; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)