Every spring my social media feed bursts with photos of children sitting in fields of bluebonnets, an annual tradition in Texas. It’s purported to be a crime to pick a bluebonnet, our state flower. (It’s not.) It’s definitely a crime that I’ve lived here for five years without ever coming close enough to a bluebonnet to be tempted to pick one.
In Texas, bluebonnets mean spring. With such little variation between seasons, we get stuck in a cycle of light green to dark green to brownish green to less green and back again. As a native of the Northeast, my soul craves the ebb and flow of nature’s clothing, the predictability of life and death, and the knowledge that within three months change is coming.
Similarly, Christian culture has groomed me to believe that as sure as spring, summer, autumn, and winter, my spiritual life operates in seasons. Elation. Joy. Discouragement. Fear. Worship. Obedience. Death. Life. During extended times of doubt, someone is always ready to tell me, “This is just a season; wait it out!”
But are they right?
Before I moved to Texas and the Lord revealed the gospel to me, I experienced an extended time of doubt. I began by doubting small things: the necessity of church, inerrancy of Scripture, and more; these questions led me to doubt my salvation and the very existence of God. I rarely spoke of the churning within my soul, but when I did, the response was often some variation of, “It’ll get better.”
And it did get better, but not because I assumed another, happier season was right around the corner. My doubt did not fade until I lifted my face up from a tear-soaked carpet and set it with a steely gaze toward the reality that it might not ever get better, that I would continue wrestle, like Jacob, until God blessed me.
I stopped looking at my wrestling with doubt as if it were a passing season.
While God promises good for his people, he doesn’t guarantee that he will fulfill his promises on our schedules or even in our lifetimes. Hebrews 11 lists people throughout Scripture who “though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (11:39, ESV). I realized I didn’t need assurance that things would better soon, but I decided not to let go until they did.
Without knowing it, I embraced Paul’s words in Thessalonians: “Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you” (5:1). He was talking about Christ, going on to say he’d come again like a “thief in the night.” This already-but-not-yet theology helps us know that we are groaning in the pains of childbirth until that day. We’re pregnant with hope because our Savior has already come, and also has not yet come. In the same way, we experience those pangs as we wait for him to bring certain seasons of life to an end.
Martyn Lloyd Jones in his book, Spiritual Depression, wrote of the blind man Jesus healed in Mark 8:24. The first time Jesus put mud on the man’s eyes, the man still could only see partially. Jones says,
What then is the cure? What is the right way? It is to be honest and to answer our Lord’s question truthfully and honest. That is the whole secret of this matter. He turned to this man and asked: “Do you see ought?” And the man said, absolutely honestly: “I do see, but I am seeing men as if they were trees walking.” What saved this man was his absolutely honesty. This absolute honesty was followed by a second touch from the Lord, this time leading to full sight.
My days wrestling with doubt were dark days. I did impulsive things, quoted theologically bankrupt phrases, and embraced ideas not informed by Scripture. Through it all, though, the God who chose me before the foundations of the earth did not waver in his choice.
To those facing their darkest days, I also want to say it’s just a season. It’s easier to say that than telling them it might not get better. Jeremiah 6:14 reads, “They heal the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ where there is no peace.” We often want to offer the “light” words because we desire peace more than actual healing. But God does not give us light healing; he is a good surgeon, wounding so he can heal, and applying pressure to stop the bleeding.
I take great comfort in what happened after Jacob wrestled with the angel of God: his name was changed, yes, but he also walked with a limp for the rest of his life. The Bible says, to this day the Israelites do not eat the meat of the hipbone (Gen. 32:32). This was their reminder that the wrestling produces life—even if it is a long time coming.
This essay was inspired by Lore’s recent interview with Barnabas Piper for his series “Help My Unbelief.”