You almost died, bro.”

The words had scarcely registered before my older brother slumped into a chair beside my hospital bed. I’d languished for days after a relatively routine surgery turned into a harrowing post-op full-body infection. My brother, a general surgeon, wasn’t one to mince words. His worn-out posture was evidence enough he wasn’t exaggerating.

My brother had brooded over my medical charts for days, ordering test after test in a desperate attempt to diagnose the bacteria trying to kill me. Though his mood was decidedly salty, he was the one who saved my life through a final corrective surgery. “You’re gonna be okay, bro. You’re gonna be fine.”

That evening, as I lay in my hospital bed, a storm rolled in over the city. The soothing sound of rain drew me out of my bed for the first time in days, and I ambled like an old man to a chair beside the window, hearing the raindrops pelt and then run in squiggly rivulets to the windowsill. Closing my eyes, I pondered the mystery of trials as a Bible verse echoed in my head:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4).

For me, this passage had often seemed like a sadistic pining for pain. As one who had lived much of his life determined to outrun discomfort, the notion of taking joy in struggle was anathema. Didn’t being a believer invite blessing? How on earth could the pain and suffering of trials be considered pure joy?

In the 1980s, a research facility called Biosphere 2 built a closed ecosystem to test what it would take to eventually colonize space. Everything was carefully curated and provided for, and trees planted inside sprung up and appeared to thrive. Then they began to fall.

I imagine the botanists must have looked on in dismay, finding no evidence of disease or mite or weevil. There was nothing to cause the trees to topple; the conditions were perfect. And then they realized what was missing—something so simple, yet absent within the confines of the structure: wind.

The air was too still, too serene—an ease that guaranteed the trees were doomed. It’s the pressure and variation of natural wind that causes the trees to strengthen and their roots to grow. Though the trees of Biosphere 2 had all the sun, soil, and water they needed, in the absence of changing winds they built no resilience, and eventually fell under the weight of their own abundance.

Could it be that our difficulties, more than our delights, are what drive us closer to God? They remind us of our desperation and lead us back to the sole source of abundant life. Romans 5:3–5 encourages us:

“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

I spent most of the night by that window as the rain continued to fall. Drifting in and out of sleep as my body continued to heal, I felt the peace of God like a warm embrace, reminding me that he’d been with me every step of my near-death journey, guiding my brother’s hands as he saved my life, filling that hospital room with his Spirit.

As we journey through the struggle-filled season of Lent, we can begin to see trials and storms in a new way. Though we may still have a strong aversion to pain, we can see the hand of God when the winds of trial come to buffet, and we can take solace in the fact that our roots are growing deeper.

Robert L. Fuller is a writer and filmmaker residing in Waco, Texas along with his wife and three teenage children. He is the author of an upcoming middle-grade sci-fi novel.

This article is part of Easter in the Everyday, a devotional to help individuals, small groups, and families journey through the 2024 Lent & Easter season. Learn more about this special issue here!

[ This article is also available in español Português Français, and Indonesian. ]

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