Here in Zambia we have three seasons: cold season, hot season and rainy season. Right now we are in the back half of rainy season, which lasts from November to about March. There are some really wonderful aspects of the season. The earth explodes with blooms and greens that have waited patiently through the 8 months of rainlessness to emerge. Everything is lush and beautiful. However, with all the beauty also come some unlovely aspects. In the cities, flooding kills and displaces many. Children drown in potholes. Cholera breaks out as latrines flood excrement into the streets. Everything is covered in mud. We have lived through that.
Now we live out in the bush, far away from the yuck of the city. And while people still have struggles with the general wetness of the season, the biggest concern here is always getting enough rain for the crops to produce a strong harvest each year. This is when the farmers, both commercial and subsistence, grow maize, which is the staple food for the nation. The rural farmers need these rains for their families and communities to survive. Therefore, no matter how annoyed I get with mud in my kitchen or rugs that smell like feet, I cannot complain about a good rainy season.
One of the learning experiences for this city girl has been learning to drive in the bush on muddy dirt roads during rainy season. I still become quite anxious when it comes to slip-sliding away in the mud to go anywhere. Even driving to our closest neighbors can be a mission. Thankfully we have friends who, having lived here their whole lives, are ready to offer advice for surviving rainy season roads. As I thought about it, some of these same pieces of advice for driving can also serve as great spiritual encouragement. A stretch? Maybe so….
Better to drive in the rain than to wait for it to stop.
I’ve learned that while it seems to make sense to wait out the rain, it is actually better to drive while the rain is coming down. The rain will keep my tires clean and prevent slipping. If I drive after the rain has stopped, the tires quickly become caked with mud, I lose traction, and slip all over the place.
Spiritually speaking, don’t we always want to just hunker down and wait out the rainy times in our lives? We prefer to wait until the skies clear up before we move forward, when in fact, most often it’s the rains, the hard things, the trials in our lives that serve to keep the mud cleaned off our wheels. The trials purify us and actually keep us moving forward. In contrast, if we see the trial coming, and then refuse to move through it, we usually find that afterward it will be easier for us to slide off into a ditch because our hearts have become caked with the mud of our sin and flesh. Trials have their purpose and we mustn’t be afraid to move forward through them. He has promised to be with us.
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.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
When you come to a muddy patch, or water over the road, point your wheels where you want to go and keep your momentum. Never slam on brakes!
As I driven in the mud I’ve discovered that my natural tendency is to slow to a crawl when coming to a difficult section of road. Whereas it’s never a good idea to go too fast, I’ve also learned I must never lose momentum altogether. That will get me stuck for sure! And slamming on brakes = complete disconnect with the road. I’ve found that as unnerving as it may be, if I fix my eyes on the other side where I want to go, and press on through the water or mud, I will come out just fine.
In our lives it is much the same. When we come to trials and difficult times on our journey of life, we can be tempted to let ourselves get bogged down in the mess of it all. We can shift our focus onto the “mud” so much that we lose sight of the road. Or we can slam on brakes by shutting down emotionally or relationally. Either of these approaches can leave us stuck and unable to move forward. The key as we work through hard times and circumstances is to keep our focus on the God who has promised, not only to be with us in trials, but to give us His strength to keep up our momentum. In fact, his strength is perfected in our weakness.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Stay in the ruts.
Another important piece of slippery road driving advice is to stay in the ruts that have been made by vehicles going through before me. Usually, even though I bump and slam against the sides, if I can stay in the ruts you’ll stay on the road.
Now, this illustration is not meant to say it’s good to be “stuck in a rut”. What I’m saying is that finding the narrow path God has laid before us is the best way to keep straight and stay out of the ditch. God’s path, His plan, has been well-tested. Though it may not be the easiest path, and we may be unsure and bump against the sides, staying “in the ruts” will bring us safely to our destination. His Word is the headlight to illuminate the path He has for us.
Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.
If you get stuck, a friend is always nearby to pull you out.
One constant reassurance is that no matter where I am, if I get stuck, there is always someone I can call to come and pull me out. I’ve had to do it. There’s no shame in it because, no matter how skilled and experienced the driver, everybody gets stuck once in a while. Isn’t it so true in life as well? We all slide off into a ditch or get stuck in the mud on occasion. And there’s no shame or condemnation in asking for help. We need each other. It’s only pride that keeps us from reaching out for help, or reaching out to give help. Community is something I’m passionate about (see Created for Community here), and I believe we have so much to gain when we share in this life together.
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Galatians 6:1-2 (NLT)
It is necessary to persevere through the rains and driving in the slippery mud to gain a bountiful harvest of crops. In the same way it is necessary for us to persevere through the rains and muddy roads of life. God is with us, He is strong for us, He will show us our path, He is our goal, and He has given us His body to help us get there. The end result is eternal glory. So as hard and slippery as it may be, let us press on!
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NLT)
Live Free. Live Loved.