We’re having an arctic invasion in western NY. The wind and snow bite your skin. If you step outside without enough warm clothing, the wind will whip right down your neck and send shivers from head to toe. I used to dread this kind of thing. Part of the reason was that I would try and brave harsh freezes without taking the time to protect myself properly and let hurry and busyness keep me from putting on extra layers of outerwear. Once I got into the habit of protecting myself properly, the elements didn’t seem nearly as harsh, and the feelings of misery went away.
Before stepping out this morning into the season’s first arctic chill, while it was still dark, I put on two heavy coats, puffy snow pants, and my hat & gloves. When I got outside, I felt just fine! I was so protected that I stopped for a moment just to take in the wonder of my surroundings on such a blasting winter day. The air felt crisp, the bright moon was mesmerizing, and the whipping snow looked beautiful, and a little scary! Layers made all the difference. If I were to get stuck somewhere, they might even save my life.
There are other kinds of harsh elements that you and I will be exposed to, and they’re a lot worse than a spate of cold days. These elements aren’t of the same “natural world” so to speak, though they do seem to come so naturally to us. Things like fear, temptation, selfishness, bitterness, and other life-draining, spirit-killing forces that can overcome people who do not protect themselves correctly. Like advancing cold fronts, they march into our lives and shake up our environment.
Thankfully, there are also other kinds of “layers” of protection that we can put on, and they make all the difference when we face exposure to these nasty elements.
What are these layers? In short, they are faith, hope, and love. They are readily accessible but easy to ignore. Too many step into the day without them.
The first is faith. Through faith, I have gained spiritual protection. By this, I mean a biblical faith in eternal life through Jesus. I believe in the Bible’s teaching that God himself came in Jesus to rescue people from their most dangerous exposure to sin and eternal separation from God after death. I put my faith in the significance of Jesus’ cross and resurrection, and I asked him to be in charge of my life, instead of being my own boss. I am told in Scripture that this brings me into his eternal protection and I believe it.
I also seek to layer my life with hope. I believe in God’s continual presence and care for those who have chosen to follow Jesus, and this means that no matter what I might face “out there,” I am never alone in difficult experiences and personal pain. This hope inspires me to pray, which is another layer we can “put on” that adds all kinds of courage against the harshness of fear and insecurity. Hope in God’s presence and care also means I experience peace, though my circumstances aren’t always resolved, and situations don’t always settle the way I want them to. Hope born of faith is a powerful force against these internal elements which can be so destructive in the lives of the unprotected.
Then there is love. When I choose love above all else, it shapes and reshapes the way I look at other people, including the people I encounter first at home, when I am the most prone to tiredness, grumpiness, etc. It also shapes how I view others who have done something that I felt wronged by. Somehow, the love of God at work in me enables me to choose love and forgiveness towards those who haven’t treated me the way I want or believe I should have been treated.
Letting the love of God work in me also means letting other people in. I have learned how important and also how freeing it is to open up about my life with certain people and look to them for things like advice as well as pastoral accountability for my personal life and choices. I don’t have room in this post to express how much of a sense of peace and safety this has added to my life.
Making all of this practical & doable usually means that I have to put these things on first thing in the morning, just like I do with outerwear when preparing for a cold day. I get up, make conscious choices to turn my heart & mind over to God, read Scripture & pray, and then lead my own thoughts into the day by thinking and speaking with hopefulness and faith, which helps remove or simply adjust discouraging and fearful thoughts. I also know that I have to choose to prefer others, and show love with my actions and words.
You’re going to face exposure to the harsh elements of things like sin, fear, discouragement, and selfishness too. My question for you is, are you covered like you need to be? If not, I think it’s time you start protecting yourself. Faith, hope, and love- the kind that really make a difference and last- are accessed through the transforming power of the love of God that is given to people who follow Jesus. Following Jesus is where it starts. Then, you’re invited to follow him each day and enjoy all that he offers to cover and protect you against the harshness of a life exposed without his love.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:12-13