Who is the last person you want to see moving past you to get to the window seat in your airplane row? Yep: someone with dark circles under her eyes, pale cheeks, parched lips and throw-up bags tucked into the back pocket of her jeans.
Well, actually, that person might not be the worst seat companion. Someone must sit next to one of the bouncy twenty-something, cologne and hormone saturated, pillow carrying and matching hoodie wearing cast and crew of the Cinderella touring company – oh yes, this will be a fun flight.
I’m assuming the troupe is probably near the beginning of their however-long tour because they are all excitedly chattering and singing with the nervous energy that accompanies a new adventure. And, they are so gracious to treat all of us awaiting our flight with many of our favorite songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein.
But their entertainment didn’t stop there – oh no! – all the way down the jet way they serenaded us with the greatest hits of Brittney Spears, including, “Ooops, I did it again!” If only they knew how prophetic their words would soon be!
OK, there’s a reason for my sarcasm – by the time I boarded my flight from Atlanta to Austin, it had already been a very long day. I left Manchester, England about ten hours earlier and somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic my vision doubled, my head started to pound, and my tummy mutinied.
Knowing I had to navigate a connection through Atlanta – a considerably large airport – I grabbed all of the courtesy bags I could find and stuffed them in my back pocket.
So, here I am crawling over my travelling companions, mumbling something to the effect that it had been a long day, and proceeded to turn my head toward the window. Home couldn’t arrive soon enough. But the weather in Atlanta wasn’t pretty.
As the roar of the jet engines drowned out the singing, the turbulence from the rain clouds bounced our plane up and down, up and down, up and down. I tried as inconspicuously as possible to unfold my paper receptacles and position one to catch whatever might come up as I prayed, “Please, no. Please no. Please no.”
I quickly realized God was not going to answer that prayer as I’d hoped. When the deed was complete, the man sitting next to me handed me the bags from the seat back in front of him and said, “Have you tried Dramamine?” Are you kidding me?
As discretely as I could, I placed the folded, double-bagged contraband on the floor, took a moist towelette out of my backpack, wiped my face, and then whispered to him as politely and ladylike as I could (with bloodshot eyes and residue clinging to my hair), “It’s not motion sickness.” Poor guy.
Just. Get. Me. Home. Now.
It has been said that when we get to heaven and look back on our lives that all our suffering will seem equivalent to one bad night in an inconvenient hotel. I might alter that and compare it to one turbulent flight with Cinderella and a stomach virus.
Granted, my stomach issue is nothing compared to the intense physical, mental or emotional suffering that many of you are enduring. Some of you are enduring persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ. Some of you are dealing with health issues that will be with you until you enter glory.
Some of you suffer simply because you are trying to live as God would have you live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christians. Perhaps you’ve even been shunned by people you love.
Suffering is very real. And when we are in the midst of suffering, it is hard to imagine, that our pain and circumstances will ever be anything we can look back on and think of as minimal, or brief. Yet, that is what the Apostle Paul assures us:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”– Romans 8:8 NIV
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
Is that the key to enduring our suffering? To focus–to fix our eyes–on the unseen, the eternal? Yes.
OK, so how do we do that? How does it make a difference? We do it by understanding that this life is brief, it is not all there is. Our earthly lives are little more than a blip on a radar screen or a puff of air on a frosty morning. Our circumstances here – even if they last our entire earthly lives – are temporary.
Our eternal lives are just that: Eternal, never ending. And, the great thing is, our eternal lives have already begun and they stretch on to infinity.
In light of the never-ending glory of living in the visible presence of Jesus, this life is like learning to walk as a toddler – we don’t remember it, but we know it happened. This life is brief. It is temporary. It prepares us for heaven, but it is not how we will live when we are there.
When we focus on eternity we won’t put so much stock on our happiness here. We will be OK with the suffering because God is in it, and God is at work for good in it, and we know our suffering will end when we get home.
Are you in the midst of suffering? Will you fix your eyes on what is unseen so that you don’t lose heart.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of you faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. — 1 Peter 1:7 NIV
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