Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.—Proverbs 13:12
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”—Psalm 126:1,2
My family and I moved to Susanville after living on the Oregon Coast for almost 15 years. The Oregon coast is beautiful and green, whereas Susanville is beautiful and…less green. The main reason for the difference is rainfall. Susanville gets around 13.5 inches of rain each year, while Lincoln City, our former home, gets 76 inches.
The lush, green beauty of the coast comes at a cost. Many people move there and find that they simply cannot handle the constant rain. There are weeks on end in the winter when it rains every day, and even when the rain stops the clouds remain and you don’t see the sun. Carey and I found that we were well-suited to it, and didn’t find it as depressing or discouraging as some people do. After a while we got to the point that it felt normal, and everywhere else we went felt dry and brown.
Then we moved here, and for a while we were distracted by the busyness of moving in and getting settled, dealing with COVID, and other life stuff. Then one day, a few months in, I found myself getting up and going out the door to work from my very own house in Susanville, California. I stepped out on the porch and was struck by the fact that it wasn’t raining. More specifically, it wasn’t raining sideways, as it often is on the Oregon Coast. The sky was blue overhead, and there was no wind. I didn’t have to rush to my car to keep from getting too wet. I stood in my driveway and just looked up, soaking up sunshine and thanking God for this simple gift. On that day, I was probably more aware of how blue the sky was than anyone else in Susanville. I grew up under the blue skies of this town, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.
The next day it happened again. I stepped out of the door and noticed the same thing: no rain, no wind, warm air, singing birds. Again my heart was filled with gratitude. I sighed and breathed it in and went about my day full of praise to God.
But it didn’t stay that way. More time went by, and somewhere along the way I stopped being excited about blue sky. The day came when I stepped out the door to go to work and I was so preoccupied with the things I had to do that day that I didn’t even notice the sky, like most people. What I was once grateful for had become normal, and no longer filled my heart with praise.
Then came the Dixie fire, and two months of smoke and ash. Everyone in town felt the weight of the gray and orange skies, the threat of fire and evacuation, the constant smell, and the fear and frustration that went with it. And then one day, just when we were starting to feel like we couldn’t take it anymore, the winds shifted, the air cleared, and we all stepped out the front door in the morning and gasped. The sky was blue again. What used to be normal had become a precious gift, and this time it wasn’t just me who was grateful, it was the entire town. Everywhere you went, it’s what people wanted to talk about. You could see the difference in the morale of the community. Our hearts were lighter. People were smiling and thanking God for answered prayers. On that day, no one was taking for granted the simple gift of a blue sky.
It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? We appreciate things more when we have them less often. We appreciate things we have to wait for. When something good is right in front of our faces all the time, we have a hard time mustering up any gratitude for it.
I think God knows this. Something in our fallen flesh makes us prone to taking good things for granted, and so He withholds them, makes us wait for them, so that when we finally get them we’re properly grateful. God knows that some things are so good that they deserve to be special. If they become common, something important is lost.
I think about this a lot around the holidays. The Bible has a lot of positive things to say about banquets and feasts, and two of the biggest feasts on our calendar are Thanksgiving and Christmas. But in our country, there is so much good food available to us all the time that we could basically be feasting every day. And when you feast every day, when the time comes for a real celebration, how do you make it special? Turducken? (look it up).
When a couple sleeps together before marriage, the honeymoon isn’t as special as it would have been if they had waited. When a child has every toy in the world, it’s hard to know what to get them for Christmas. We often operate by the logic that “if some is good, more is better,” but it isn’t always true. Sometimes, if something is good, then we need to honor it by keeping it special, and trusting God to give us what is best, even if it is less, or later, than we think it should be.
The ultimate example of this is the return of Christ. For those of us who love Jesus, the goal is to be with Him, to be free of this sinful world and this sinful flesh, to be in His presence in a perfect place, worshiping and enjoying Him forever. To our minds, since this is the greatest good, the best thing would be for God to give it to us as soon as possible.
But God doesn’t think so. God thinks there is value in the waiting and the longing. Our union with His Son is such a gift that it deserves to be the climax of the story, not just something handed to us in the first chapter. He knows that a few more years in the rain will only make us that much more grateful for the sunshine. And when that day finally comes, we will be free of this sinful flesh, so our gratitude won’t fade with the passage of time. Every morning we will step out the door and be reminded again of the goodness of God, and our hearts will overflow with praise. Until then, we can trust that He has His reasons for making us wait.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.—1 Peter 1:13