You can’t have a thriving garden without pulling lots of weeds. You’ll never have a tidy, spotless house without putting in the time it takes to clean it. You won’t have well behaved children without pouring in the seemingly endless energy it takes to raise them up right. You can’t have a happy marriage without the dedication of time and communication. And you won’t be close with God without making the choice to actively pursue him every day.
Why is it, in this day and age, that most of us feel like we’re entitled for things to come easy? We get annoyed when we have to wait more than five seconds for a webpage to load. We want garden fresh vegetables but we don’t want to put in the time to tend and care for them. We expect to graduate college and land a job at the top of a company; why should we possibly be expected to work our way up? The list could go on and on, right?
If you stop and look around, it won’t take long to see that most good things in your life are a result of work, either by you or someone else. Think of something you worked really hard to accomplish or buy. Was it worth it? If you really wanted it that badly, then I imagine yes, it was totally worth it. Now try to relive what you felt when you accomplished the task. Satisfaction, right?
When I was growing up I was sort of obsessed with the state of California. Don’t ask me why – the glitz of Hollywood compared to my rural Midwestern surroundings, I guess. For whatever reason, I just knew it must be an amazing place to live or at least travel. Compared to small town Illinois, California seemed like a whole new world! I always intended to visit someday, if not move there after college. I dreamed and plotted (in my mind) of ways to get there with my limited funds.
One day when I was in college an opportunity arose for me to apply to be a counselor at an amazing camp in California ( www.theoakscamp.org ). Not just any camp – this was a Christian camp for inner-city kids (which was a great passion of mine with my Child Welfare Social Work major and all), but the actual camp was in the desert, about an hour outside of Los Angeles.
I knew I had to go. I went through the application and interview process and was accepted to be a counselor for the next summer! I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited in my life.
I flew in to LAX by myself (my first flight ever) and met a group of camp workers I had never seen or met before. For an introvert like me, that first day alone was pretty intense!
As we dove into the camp training, I quickly learned how much work it was truly going to be. It definitely ended up being a summer of hard work. BUT. It was so, so good. It was fulfilling, exhausting, joyous, and challenging. Deeply, deeply satisfying. It wasn’t exactly how I had dreamed of California (beaches and palm trees and bustling cities). I was, remember, in a desert area surrounded by dirt, scraggly weeds, cloudless skies, and pine trees. But it was still California and it was still beautiful.
During the weekends when there were no campers, we counselors had opportunities to explore the area and have some adventures, and these are still some of my fondest memories. Exploring Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Ventura, and Malibu…beaches, parks, camping, and bouldering (I use the term loosely – climbing around on boulders, yes, but nothing life or death).
Working hard for the campers during the week (which was a blessing in itself) made our “play time” on the weekends that much more rewarding. The whole experience was satisfying, and it couldn’t have even occurred if I hadn’t decided to step into something new and uncomfortable and work for it. (Working there for two summers also taught me that CA was definitely a great place to visit, but not my top choice to live…)
Effort. Each step of my California adventure took effort, but also brought great joy, which was actually amplified by knowing I had worked for it. Most good things require effort. Relationships, especially.
Sometimes, in our relationships with each other or with God, we think: “Well, I do really love him/her so it should be effortless to keep our relationship tight. It shouldn’t take actual work; if it takes work then I must be doing something wrong, or else this person isn’t worth having a relationship with.”
Relationships are becoming shallower and shallower as years go by, which in my opinion is thanks to technology that makes it so easy to do life without ever having to communicate in person with an actual human. We’re often in a rush, barely realizing or even caring that relationship growth can and will only happen if we exert some effort.
Maybe this means putting “meeting” on your calendar and meeting with God for an hour, a morning, or even a weekend if you can swing it. (Thanks to some dear, wise friends who taught me a few years ago that this is a totally legit and necessary thing to do!) Maybe it means saying no to dinner with friends or even to one of your child’s never ending sporting events, so you and your spouse can have a much needed evening together.
God is clear in the Bible that he blesses hard work. Proverbs 12:24 says:
Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.
Now we may not all seek to become a leader in the modern sense of the word, but shouldn’t we each be the leaders in our own lives? Of course God is our ultimate leader so he should be guiding us, but while we’re here on earth, doing our best to navigate life, shouldn’t we be the one calling the shots instead of letting life just happen? Or worse still, letting life plow right over us?
The only way to do that it to figure out where we want to be in life, and put forth the effort to get there. Do you want a more fulfilling relationship with God? Make a plan and spend time with him every day, not just reading the Bible like you would read a brochure in a waiting room, but really truly communicating with him. Same with our marriages. We can lead parallel lives and have a functional relationship or we can lead lives of unity and have a thriving relationship. The work we put in is what we’ll get out. And trust me, I’m preaching to the choir here.
But remember, the work you’re doing isn’t in your own strength. Let God lead you and you will find unexpected joys along the way and deep satisfaction at the end of your journey. He’s got your back. Thank goodness for that, or I never would have been brave enough to make it to California!