By Marie Burrus
It’s that time of day again. After tucking my kids into bed, I steel myself for the vanity of all vanities—cleaning a house toddlers live in. While relocating toys and rinsing dishes, my feet grind dinner crumbs onto the floor I have already swept twice today.
Thanks to summer weather, ants have already found their way inside to said crumbs. So, now I need to clean a weird mixture of food, Windex, and dead insects. And that’s the just kitchen.
Labors of Love
Parenting—and motherhood in particular—is a wonderful charge that requires a lot of hard work. And if we’re honest, ministry feels the same way sometimes. Both involve unglamorous behind-the-scenes work to keep things running smoothly. Both are full of labors of love that never seem to end.
Some seasons are full of celebrations and milestones. People’s faith deepens. Ministries flourish. Lives are changed. The baptismal waters stir. The hand of God is obvious at every turn.
Other seasons feel much more arduous. Members prioritize everything but gathering for worship. Calls to action are met with a hardness of heart. Every gospel seed you sow seems to get trampled, eaten, choked out, or scorched.
Whatever kind of season you’re in right now, I thought I’d share something that has helped me recently. I hope it will help you as well.
Pondering God’s Ways
I was having a conversation with my husband about the highs and lows of motherhood when a line from Luke’s gospel came to mind:
“But Mary was treasuring up these things in her heart and meditating on them” (Luke 2:19).
This verse is tucked in after the account of Jesus’ birth, a glorious angelic concert, and the shepherds’ awed visit that leads them to tell everyone about Jesus. Amidst this flurry of activity, Mary pauses to treasure how God is at work. Of course, this is a moment she will want to remember.
As I read on, though, this event wasn’t the only one Mary kept in her heart. Later in chapter 2, Mary loses Jesus for a time (enough to evoke some serious anxious searching) only to find him listening to, questioning, and astounding people in the temple.
She confronts Jesus, asking him why he would put her and Joseph through such an ordeal, and he responds that, of course, he would be in his Father’s house. As they head home again, we see the refrain:
“His mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51b)
What is God doing here and now? How can I enjoy and join him where I am?
Meditations for Every Season
The contrast between these two accounts is surprising and comforting to me. In the first instance, Mary treasured moments of beauty, excitement, and glory. In the second, though, I wonder if she was beginning to realize that God’s call for her would also involve pain.
In the glories and confusion of living life with Jesus, Mary made a point to meditate on what God was doing—even when it was hard, anxiety-provoking, or confusing. She seemed to ponder and even savor these moments too.
When the angel first visited Mary with a promise, she couldn’t have anticipated all that would entail—both the joys and the heartbreak she would face for knowing Christ.
Likewise, I don’t know any Christian—nonetheless person in ministry—who could have anticipated most of the places following Christ would lead them. So whether you’re experiencing a ministry high or a low spot, you can find strength in these meditations:
1. Return to the promises in God’s Word.
Most of us don’t have the benefit Mary had of an angel delivering God’s promises to our doorstep. However, we have something better. We have the very word of God, written for us to read, ponder, and pray. And in it are promises for every season.
When God is working in obvious ways, we can rejoice with the saints before us. We find God’s people breaking out into praise songs all throughout Scripture. Psalms record God’s goodness to his people. All the earth joins in the celebration of a happy ending.
When God isn’t acting as we would expect, we have passages written from prisons, exile, and other seasons of confusion. We find psalmists and prophets crying out to and questioning God. We see God answering them amidst the chaos.
As we read all of redemptive history — the ups and the downs — we can balance our feelings with perspective and truth.
2. Consider what God may be doing in your season.
There’s a time for everything under the sun, and I’ve been learning a lot lately about living in my season. When I stop to look around and consider how God is at work where I am, everything becomes so much more meaningful and enjoyable.
There are some things I can and should do well in my current stage of life as a work-from-home mom—praying with my kids, doubling a meal to serve someone else, or growing a garden to connect with my neighbors. Other things, like complicated theological conversations or reliable hours spent reading my Bible in silence, belong to another season of life.
The questions I must return to are these: What is God doing here and now? How can I enjoy and join him where I am?
The gospel story helps us hope in the highs and lows of every season.
3. Remember what God has done.
The gospel story helps us hope in the highs and lows of every season. From the beginning, God has been winning his people back in confusing and glorious ways. In the cross and resurrection, he defeated our biggest enemy, and one day, he will make everything new again.
Beyond the general gospel story, you can also meditate on moments from your own walk with Christ. How has God moved in other seasons? What moments of your life have served to anchor your faith? How has God brought you through other highs and lows you have experienced?
Your personal experience of God’s work can serve as a reminder to yourself and to others.
4. Trust God with the results.
We may not understand how God works but we know the end of the story. At some point, Mary would sit and watch as her son and Savior was crucified. I can’t help but wonder if the moments she treasured from her time with Jesus—both the good and the painful—helped her endure in a way most disciples could not.
But this tragedy ended up being the most glorious thing of all. When he seemed defeated, God was doing his best work to reconcile us to himself. In this tragedy, God was working out his redemption for us all.
No matter how glorious, tiresome, or painful your current season may be, I hope you’re treasuring God’s promises, his work, and the certain end of the story.
A version of this post originally published at UBA Houston.