Today I received an email from a dear friend I haven’t seen in years. She reminded me of the wonderful times of sharing we had as we sat together at my old oak table. Her note reminded me of something I wrote in 1995.
The Eternal Weight of Glory
The shine on my old oak kitchen table is missing in spots. My grandmother’s table once sat, either covered with canning jars or neglected, in a corner of her basement. She had promised me I could have it someday, but apparently forgot because I had to buy it at the auction after she died.
I further sealed my ownership of it by restoring the finish to an oatey-golden patina, so the table is three times mine, really. It could use another coat or two of tung oil and a good rubbing.
The areas of dimmed luster are elbow-resting positions and careless coffee-cup sites, worn there as much from talking sessions as from meal times. Something about a round table invites family and friends to share our ideas, silly or solemn.
Around this table we debated whether it was better to use cloth or disposable diapers, if we should send our kids to public schools or private; should we change our hair color or not, and of course we complained about our husbands’ failure to understand how complicated our lives were. We usually forgot what we’d decided as soon as someone introduced another topic.
Lately the subjects of our discussions mirror newspaper headlines and center, not on vague somebodies out there, but on those we love; our babies who have progressed from smearing cereal on highchair trays to resting big hairy arms on the table.
How we wept with Jan when she found out her 16-year-old daughter was pregnant! Jacquie’s daughter had an abortion. Carol worries that her son may be involved in drugs. Ruth’s husband left her for a woman at his office. My son-in-law, a hemophiliac, died of AIDS last year. Even violent crime has touched some of us. Now our conversation often serves only to provide a temporary respite to the real anguish in our hearts.
“Heavy,” my husband declares, as we come in to our kitchen after church. “Life has become so heavy.” With typical male economy of words, he sums up the thoughts whirling around in my head during morning worship service.
The table is clear again; I’ve tidied up after our lunch of chili and crackers, and I open my Bible to consider this matter of weight and time. I remember the passage, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not on the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” II Corinthians 4:16-18 NASB
An eternal weight of glory…temporary…light and momentary troubles. What do you mean, Paul? Certainly what my friends and I are facing is not light even if it may be temporary. And what is the eternal (timeless) weight (heaviness) of glory?
“It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus…” The chorus of an old song comes to mind, but as comforting and encouraging as the idea might be, I sense something more profound in “the eternal weight of glory.”
Paul obviously understood a principle I still struggle to comprehend: Christ’s power is perfected in my weakness. The very fact that I am weak and foolish and unable by and of myself to extricate myself from troubles, or even learn from them proves by contrast the wonderfulness of Jesus.
The inevitable physical losses of getting old, the failure of our best intentions and the loss of our dreams, the sinister encroaching of enemy filth and sickness into the lives of our clean, healthy, loved and prayed-over children serve the purposes of God when we let them work in us character, perseverance, strength…faith. We don’t give up, Paul says. We don’t lose our confidence that God is good, God hears and answers prayer, God loves us and receives back home his wandering children.
Our afflictions are temporary. No, some things will never be the same, but in the sense that we are only sojourners in this life, what we endure here is temporary. And God is able, by his supernatural restoring power, to make our troubles seem light, at least in retrospect. He has a way of showing us a backward glance and giving us grace to say, “It was worth it all.” And in the times when we don’t yet have that grace, when we’re not sure it was worth it all, we have the testimony of those who have walked this way before us, and they insist they wouldn’t trade a minute of trouble for the place they found in God because of their struggle.
This momentary affliction works in us the Christ life, the eternal weight of glory. What we’ve lost, whether we’ve chosen to release it or it was taken from us, was temporary. What we’ve gained is eternal.
The old table creaks as I lift my head off my folded hands. My season of understanding is fleeting, too, amid the hum of everyday life. There were other times I grasped something of the eternal, and I suppose I permitted it to be worn away, like the shine on the table.
I need several light coats of oil and lots of rubbing. His loving hand is heavy sometimes, but the Master Craftsman is patient. His work lasts!