I was recently in the Boston area visiting friends. We walked a lot, seeing sights and natural wonders. We walked to see the sight of the Boston Massacre. We walked along jetties in the middle of Gloucester’s bay. We walked along the shoreline, getting our feet wet in low tide. Thousands of steps later, I started thinking about the mirages that time paints for us in our journeys.
Every time we had set out to walk to the end of a jetty, or walked block-by-block through the historic buildings in Salem, or walked through a park filled to the brim with street performers and religious advocates—every time the way back seemed quicker than the way forward. Walking toward a destination seemed quicker than walking back to where we’d come from. The mileage didn’t change. The scenery didn’t change. My stride didn’t change. But time seemed to change. The time that seemed expanded on the way toward a destination strangely felt compressed on the way back from a destination.
I was laying in bed thinking of this phenomenon last night. Whether it be a car ride or a long walk, the way forward always seems so daunting. We don’t know what to expect when we move forward. Sometimes, it feels like the journey won’t ever end. Time creates an illusion of space and tricks us into perceiving our travelling to a destination as a longer amount of time than traveling back. In short, this bias is created because of what we recognize. We see landmarks marking our way home. We see familiarity. We’ve traveled it once before, and the second time around it feels quicker.
When suffering comes, and it does come, it’s challenging to see the end of it. There appears to be fog all around, obscuring the truth. When hardships attempt to drown us, it seems easier to turn back to where we came from rather than keep plowing into the unknown. It hurts to move forward. It hard to keep our heads up. When we have no point of reference for the distance we’ve travelled and cannot perceive the time we have left to endure, it’s challenging not to pack up our bags and head back to the starting line. The finish line seems so far.
“The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while. To him be dominion forever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10
Peter’s first epistle is to a group of people who have been exiled from their home because of their faith and belief in Jesus Christ. It’s safe to say they knew a fair share about suffering. Being ripped from homes and family, Peter exhorts his audience to remember that that God of all grace will attend to their sufferings by bringing restoration, strength, and support to them. That’s such a beautiful promise to cling to.
God is actively and intimately involved in our lives. He is uniquely invested in His people. From what Peter tells us, we are assured that God will not stop His involvement when suffering strikes. As we plow forward through the fog of suffering, we’re promised that His strength and support will be made available to us. As we experience sorrow, we rest assured that the God of abundant grace will restore us Himself.
But the next few words are really what I want to hone in on: “after you have suffered a little while.” A little while. That’s pretty nondescript, isn’t it? It doesn’t provide us with the answers that we likely crave. We want landmarks to know where we are in our time of suffering so that we can fill in the blanks of when it will all be over. We want to know how far away the end of sorrow is. We want to know the distance of the way forward. Peter doesn’t have an answer for us. He doesn’t have a timeline and he doesn’t give landmarks to watch for. He simply says that we will suffer for a little while.
I had a very difficult summer this year. Let down after let down, frustration after frustration, sorrow after sorrow—it seemed like it would never end. At the start of each month I began to have hope, perhaps this would be the time that things turn around, that sorrows begin to cease and the winds of change pick up. But it never was. In some ways, I still feel like I’m in that pit of despair. I couldn’t, and sometimes still can’t, see the finish line.
But for certain I know that that there will be an end to suffering, and not just mine. Though we wait a little while, there will assuredly be a day when tears cease to flow, and sobs turns to shouts of joy. “For a little while” may seem ambiguous, indefinite, and vague, but we have the answer of “when” our earthly sorrows cease: when God calls us to our permanent home. When you can’t squint your eyes and perceive the finishing of sorrow and strife, remember that it will only be for a little while. When the burdens on your shoulders seem too heavy to lift you head, remember that we only need to bear them for a little while. When darkness seems too thick to see the light of God’s glorious face, remember that the darkness will only remain for a little while. When the pit of suffering seems so deep, life so painful, and the devil so relentless, remember that these things can only remain for a little while. And after that, we will be permanently and enduringly made new.