Walking in the Vienna Woods one autumn, found me questioning God, wondering if my life would ever amount to anything, and feeling lonely in a country where I could barely speak any words of German coherently. As a young woman, I told God I wanted to be his servant and to be used greatly in this world.
But, as an inexperienced and young Christian, I did not fully understand what that would mean. Now, as a woman in her 60's, I realize that when I made that promise, I was a sort of toddler to God. He accepted my heartfelt commitment and then proceeded to train me in righteousness, giving opportunities to grow in faith, to get rid of selfishness. As a young woman, I did not know I had these holes in my life and could not see the things I was holding on to for security that were keeping me from fully relying on Him.
Yet, it has been in living faithfully through countless tests, as best as I knew how, one day at a time, that God has fit me for ministry. Having struggled through the trials of life has made me much better suited to connect with a broad range of women who also struggle with trials. My heart is more compassionate because I have been humbled and tested through many roles of life—as a single woman, a married woman, a mother, a working woman, a woman tempted to depression, a woman with conflict from family, a woman with health issues and financial stresses. These tests exercised my spiritual muscles and increased my capacity to work. And yes, now I am grateful for all the tests because they brought me ultimate joy and freed me from trying to perform for people.
Of course, we each will face different tests in our lives. When I was younger, my best friend longed to get married, take care of children, and be domestic. It was what she most wanted. Yet she ended up being single and alone for her whole life. But because she responded to God's tests over many years by saying, as Mary did, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38) and sought to live out her life faithfully, just as it was, she became one of the most loving, life-giving, mature people I know. She drank the cup God had given her.
And yet I, who really had never longed to have children, got married and had four. I have probably learned more from the Lord about joy in the midst of trials by being a parent than in any other role. It is what I needed to become the woman he wanted me to be. And it's taken years to get there! God doesn't grow us in character and joy quickly. He has a long-term perspective for me. He sees the training process over a period of years and is always seeking to move me ahead in my character.
Often it seems we would rather have another life—any life—than our own. Somehow we think if we lived a different life, it would be easier for us to grow in faithfulness and spiritual character. Yet, it is in accepting today with all of its issues, in accepting God's will and training grounds, that we learn the secret of joy in his presence. It is in being faithful to our own set of tests that we become mature and fitted for the ministry he has called each of us to accomplish. If we aspire to be a General, so to speak, in God's spiritual army, then we must first pass the training and tests of life as a private! We must become familiar with our enemy's tactics, learn to endure battles, and practice how to serve and lead others. It is a long process of developing our spiritual and character muscles a little at a time.
Other friends have lived through the devastation of divorce, personal rejection, financial losses, illnesses. Whether it is dealing with a prodigal child, an unfaithful spouse, an angry parent, unjust accusations, the loss of a job, or any other kind of trial, we always have a choice to endure with strength or capitulate to the darkness of our souls.
Certainly, most of us would not choose any of the stresses that a fallen world brings our way. But that is exactly why Jesus said, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). He knew that this world, imperfect and in rebellion to God, would be very difficult. Yet He promised to be with us!
When given the surprising, earth-shattering, life-altering news that she was going to bear a Child, the very Son of God, Mary responded this way ...
"May it be done to me according to your word." Luke 1:38
How can you accept the life you have and respond to the stresses, difficulties and beauty of your own life as Mary did--with acceptance and faith---today?