God, in a southern summer and a bittersweet life

These days, Arkansas humidity lies thick all around.

The first metaphor that came to mind when I was trying to think about how to describe it was adding too much flour to your gravy. How appropriately Southern, right?

And while I can – and will – complain about the heat and the humidity and the stickiness that develops behind my knees just moments after I walk out the door, the truth is, I appreciate the humidity. My definition of “summer” is inseparable from the dampness of my shirt clinging to my lower back, the way it can be only 75 degrees in the morning but require a tank top due to the stifle of the warm air, and the scent of the bushes lingering in the midst of it all.

Summer’s humidity is imperfect. I’m not saying I enjoy basking in sweat. I can tell a (happy) difference if I travel outside of the South, and I can sit outside just a little longer in places where the air thins out. But, when it comes down to it, humidity feels like home to me. I can’t imagine not having the feeling of walking out from our air-conditioned kitchen to the force of dense air on the front porch.

A couple of weeks ago at church, the definition of the word “blessed” was given, and it stuck with me: “God’s gracious favor to give one a happy and content (satisfied/fulfilled) soul that is not rooted in external or changing circumstances.”

It took me back to the difference between happiness and joy – where joy is also not dependent on your circumstances but an understanding of the truth of God despite your circumstances.

If you think about when you most often see those words used, though, it’s in connection with something good happening in someone’s life. To their credit, the person is usually trying to give the glory to God because of the happy thing or fortunate circumstance – they are stating that their life is good because of God’s hand of providence on them. And, if I am being honest, I do this a lot myself. I talk about the joy of something to recognize that God is the One Who has given me that friendship or the blessing of my relationship with Eric because He is the One Who makes my marriage strong.

But do we use those words when life isn’t going well? Can we recognize joy and blessing when there is confusion and even sorrow?

How do we experience a satisfied soul when life itself leaves much to be desired?

The older I get, the more I have opportunities both to celebrate and to grieve. And in the midst of the juxtaposition of the bitter and the sweet, I start to understand a little more that the satisfaction of the Christian life is never dependent on your circumstances.

David understood this. How often the Psalms portray the devastation of life but the constancy of God! How often David proclaims that his good is found in the Lord!

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? …But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. –Psalm 13:1, 5

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” –Psalm 16:2

Paul understood this. Despite how many times he had been jailed and beaten and taunted, he displayed an unshakeable confidence in his God and a consistent joy in the midst of persecution.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. –Philippians 1:21

…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. –Philippians 4:11-13

I think, for me to grow in my understanding of this, I have to continually grow in my knowledge and experience of God. The more I look to Him instead of my circumstances, the more I will be able to find joy and blessing even when life isn’t going the way I want. As I more consistently root myself in the truth of His character, the more consistently will my soul remain satisfied even when life is inconsistent.

The truth of His character – that He is intentional in His timing, especially in our transition from life in Fayetteville to a new season as we move to Conway. While we may not be able to see it right now, it’s no mistake that this move is coming right when Eric and I both thought we had our jobs and our community and our ministry figured out.

The reliability of His sovereignty – that He is in control, even when the future seems to have more question marks than plans.

The sweetness of His goodness – that He loves me and cares for me and is patient even as I freak out and question what He’s doing.

I have not only accepted that humidity is unavoidable in a Southern summer, but I have grown to appreciate it. It’s something I can count on each year as May turns to June. Since I can’t change it, I might as well learn to savor it.

And while I would prefer to not walk through pain or disappointment, I have learned to count myself blessed because of the nearness of God no matter the sorrow or celebration. There’s a certain joy in God’s certain character as we walk through an uncertain life.

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