I once tried to make a night stand. The process of building this night stand included sanding and staining the wood, probably my least favorite part of the entire ordeal. You see, I’m very impatient and idealistic and want things to be the way I think they should be immediately, so naturally I cut some corners. I didn’t wipe down the wood before sanding, I wasn’t meticulous in making sure that I sanded each part of the surface with equal vigor. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even sand the whole thing because I got bored and looked at it and said, “eh, good enough”. What was even worse was the staining. I didn’t stir the stain, didn’t use a proper brush and didn’t wear gloves, so by the end of my mediocre stain job my skin had taken on a sticky, blackish unrecognizable form. It took about an hour of aggressive scrubbing to remove the stain soot, and about three days longer to complete my project because I was impatient and cut so many corners. I was just not about all that work and all that waiting.
The funny thing is, I think most of us view the process of sanctification the same way. Think about it: we desire all the benefits of sanctification but want nothing of the hard work, sweat, and many, many tears that all too often accompany it. But the reality is, unpleasantry and tears are often close companions of sanctification. The very heart of sanctification is to drive us closer to the heart of our Creator and closer to the conformity of our Christ. Would that happen without being made aware of our weakness, without being humbled to the point of tears, without having to pry our fingers open of the things that we love very, very dearly, all for the sake of being laid bare so that we could taste the even sweeter love that awaits us when we arrest ourselves fully to Christ?
Some of the most sanctified people in history were not without weeping. Paul often speaks of himself as one drenched in sorrow and anguish, pleading with God and His people through his tear-soaked letters. Paul was often lonely and sorrowful and without. People like Paul were not unfamiliar to the feelings of pain, loneliness, grief, and sorrow. But they were also no strangers to experiencing the richness and wholeness and joy and hope that was theirs in Christ. Rather than being driven to despair, they embraced these adversities because the reality of what their sanctification was producing in them was much greater than the realness of their experiences. You see, sanctification is painful. It is hard work. It will often be met with tears. It might be accompanied by loss. But these things work for our good. They show us the emptiness and frailness and insufficiency of the things that we try to find fulfillment in. They point us to the fullness that is found in the One who is true and who satisfies all longings and all desires.
You might have to deny yourself of things that at first glance seem harmless. You might have to let go of things in order to make room for more of what is good. You might have to wait a very long time for something that is good. You might be lonely. You might be afflicted. You might feel hopeless for some time. But these are the very things that God will use to draw your heart closer to Himself, to comfort you, to reassure you that you truly are being made new. Even more, Philippians 1 reminds us that we can remain confident in this: that He who began a good work in you will also be faithful to carry it on Himself to completion, until the day that you are called home to Christ or the day that Christ returns and makes us a new home. You will be complete one day, it just takes time. Don’t fight the pain; embrace it, and let it sanctify you.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)