I really dislike process. I don’t mind change, but I hate the process of changing. It’s the middle place, the being neither here nor there, that unsettles me. I can see when it’s time to leave whatever place I’m at, and I can see where I should go. The point, to me, is to get there, as quickly and easily as possible. The process feels like a waste of time, at best it feels irrelevant.
But what I’m learning is that how I get there, is just as important (maybe more important?) than the getting there.
When Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, finds that his path to the Celestial City lies over rough, stony ground, he becomes discouraged and wishes for an easier way. He sees a meadow along the side of the road, and a stile going into it and says to his companion, Hopeful:
Here is the easiest going. Come, good Hopeful, and let us go over.
This path was soft and green. It appeared to go in exactly the same direction as the rough path they were on. It would get them to their destination, and make their journey more comfortable.
They did not know that this soft, green meadow, though it looked like an answer to prayer, was owned by a giant named Despair who lived in a castle called Doubting. Christian and Hopeful both suffered painful consequences because they didn’t trust that the process mattered. The point is not just to get there, by any means possible.
The process is the point.
When I was 24 weeks pregnant with our Pearl, I began bleeding uncontrollably. After many tears of fear and indecision, I finally went to the ER. I truly expected them to pat me on the head and send me back home, telling me to not worry so much. Instead I found myself immediately immobilized and surrounded by nurses and midwives and doctors who were quietly freaking out and preparing for a blood transfusion. The next day I was transfered to a larger, specialty hospital an hour away. They wanted to airlift me there. But couldn’t because they were worried the altitude would cause more hemorraging. Instead they put me in an ambulance and as they pushed my gurney in, the nice paramedic riding in the back with me showed me the preemie incubator that was on board “just in case”. I think that was the moment when reality smacked me in the face. It was then that I went from thinking I’d be going home the next day to realizing that this journey down a very stony path was only beginning.
I spent the next 10 weeks in a hospital bed. I had strict orders that I was only allowed up to go to the bathroom and take a shower. Every few weeks the bed would change, sometimes in a different room, sometimes in a different hospital, but the rocky path remained the same.
During those long weeks in bed, I kept thinking “God has something for me to learn here. If I just learn it quickly, then I can go home again and everything will be fine.” I was looking for the stile that would get me off the rocky path and over onto the smooth, green grass. The path I was on was taking too long, and it hurt too much. I was intent on getting “there”, wherever that was, as quickly and painlessly as possible.
As it turns out the “something” God had for me, wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t a life lesson that is easily condensed into a two-line quip of profundity. It turns out that what God had for me was the process of perseverance. That perseverance that comes from holding up under many trials and the character that it brings.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.
The opportunity to have our faith tested and tried develops in us perseverance. And our purpose isn’t to travel through the process as quickly as we can, so as to reach the other side with as few wounds as possible. The wounds have purpose. The process has purpose. Learning to trust in that purpose is one of the hardest lessons of my life. It means giving up and giving over–of my plans, my control, my desires.
Friends, I am in no way speaking from a place of knowing how to do this. Some days I am able to, others not so much. Some things I have given over, other things I am still holding on to. But I’m learning that it’s okay. And I don’t have to worry if I’m not making good time on my journey.
Because it’s the process that matters.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
It tastes bitter to my tongue to sing praises of joy in the midst of my trials. But I can and will rejoice in the firmness of faith that is developed through the process of perseverance.
Perseverance must finish its work. There is purpose in the process.