It’s a new year. A time when everyone makes fresh commitments to do more (or less) of certain activities… to be the best version of ourselves we can possibly be… right?
I’m starting off this year in a new place, both physically and emotionally. So, for me, it’s easy to see it as a fresh start. But because I didn’t ever imagine myself here, it’s also easy to see it as a step backward, almost as a failure of sorts.
Allow me to explain.
My life, over the past few years, has been overflowing with purpose, as we served in Nicaragua. This was a season in which we went all-in, following God outside of our comfort zone to foreign soil. It was scary, challenging, exciting, and felt very purpose-full.
Then that season ended. And now we’re here. Sitting in an apartment in Greenville, South Carolina. Wondering what’s next.
We’re in that time in-between seasons. While there is a “first day of spring” on the calendar, we all know it just doesn’t work that way. Winter slowly fades into spring with the increased sounds of birds and children venturing out to play, and the sights of color and wildlife returning to the landscape around us.
And during any transition, there are some days that feel more like the season ahead, and others that seem as if the one being left behind is hanging on forever. Sometimes you’re eagerly awaiting the next phase just as much as you are mourning what’s gone.
Anyone who has spent time in New England knows that you can’t get from one season to another without a little something called mud. Snow melts into… mud. Rain may water the plants, but it also brings… mud. And all those fall leaves? They mix with any sort of precipitation to make a yummy concoction of more… mud.
I’m in the mud now. It started a few weeks before we left Nicaragua, and although it looks different on this side of our flight plan, it’s still mud.
Mud is messy. It gets in your way and is tracked into places you didn’t expect. Sometimes it stinks. It can send you back under your bed covers, waiting for the ground (and your tears) to dry up… and for the season to change.
Why do we even need mud?
I don’t know about you, but to me mud feels pretty pointless. I get the purpose of soil and water. But why is it that mixing these two essential elements creates something so gross? Something that seems fraught with frustration and struggle?
All this mud talk reminded me of the time when Jesus made some mud. Do you remember the story? Jesus is walking along the road and sees a beggar who has been blind since birth. The disciples ask him whose sin resulted in that blindness, the man or his parents. Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3 NASB)
Hmmm… (I think we could have another whole conversation about that little nugget, but I digress.)
Anyway, next, Jesus proceeds to spit on the ground, make some mud pies, and slap them on the blind guy’s eyes. Then, he tells him to go wash off the mud in a particular pool of water down the road.
I’ve heard some people say the purpose for the mud was to require an act of faith on the part of the blind man, so he has to actually participate in the healing (i.e., faith without works is dead). But, the blind man really has little reason to believe Jesus was doing anything more than rubbing mud on his eyes. Maybe the beggar has heard about this Teacher, but he receives no promise of healing. In fact, John doesn’t record any conversation between the two men at all aside from the instruction to go wash up.
If I were the blind man, I think I would have felt more like a mere pawn in this story than anything else. I mean, here comes a bunch of guys walking down the road. They stop in front of me and start talking about me as if I weren’t even there (which was likely pretty normal anyway). Then one of them spits next to me and smears mud on my face. Next he tells me to go wash it off in a nearby pool. My reaction? Duh! Of course I’m going to go wash off the mud you just put on my face. It’s not like I’m going to walk around wearing mud glasses all day…
But then something miraculous happens. The mud washes away and light filters through. Then shapes, and colors, and… I can see! By this point, the group of men have moved on and are nowhere to be found. The seemingly inconsequential moment has passed, yet with monumental influence. Through a rather muddy transition, everything changed.
To me, the mud serves a greater purpose than just a potential act of faith. It shows the significance of the process of change. Yes, Jesus made a blind man see. He brought him from one season of life into another, and required him to go through a bit of mud in between. This particular transition was rather quick—only requiring however long it took to walk to the pool and wash off the mud—but others are quite lengthy. (e.g. You might recall a particular forty-year transition for a certain group of Israelites traipsing through the desert, from Exodus 16.)
God is working a process of change in each and every one of us. He is the potter and we are the clay. He takes us through seasons to mold and refine us. Some seasons I feel blind to His ways, and during others I see bright and brilliant purpose and light. And then there are those times in between, where the whole process feels caked in mud.
Are you there with me now, in the mud? Or have you been there recently?
With each story of transition and change, God gives valuable words of wisdom for the muddy days:
First, remember how God provided for you and learn from what He did in the past season. (Deuteronomy 8) The Bible talks a lot about the importance of remembering where we came from and how God brought us through.
Then, be patient in the mud… with yourself, with others, and with God. (Psalm 37) The mud needs lots and lots of grace! And accept the rest that comes during the in-between time. (Isaiah 30)
Finally, even (especially!) when His timing seems messed up and muddy, trust His plans for your next season. (Isaiah 41, 55) You’ll get there… eventually. He knows exactly what each of us needs for whatever is next, and uses the in-between time to help get us ready.