It is good for me that I was afflicted, so that I may learn Your statutes.
For the past week, a single oak leaf has been stuck on my window. It reminds me of O. Henry’s short story “The Last Leaf,” which I read decades ago as a ninth-grade girl. O. Henry was known as a master of the surprise ending, so I won’t spoil the plot. But suffice it to say Johnsy—a young woman with pneumonia—believed that when the vine visible from her bed lost its final leaf, she would die.
The oak leaf stuck on my window seems just as tenacious as the one O. Henry wrote about. While I don’t relate to Johnsy’s superstitious leanings, fond memories of the story repeatedly draw my attention to that stubborn leaf just beyond the sill. Fragile and tissue-paper crisp, it’s held captive by an abandoned web and relentlessly battered by the wind. Perhaps, then, not so fragile after all, I muse. But can it endure much longer?
I wonder how many leaves—hundreds? thousands?—have fallen uneventfully from those same branches. Is there a reason this one was singled out, snagged from its swirly descent? And why the ongoing brutality?
I can’t help but relate to that struggling leaf, being on the heights for a time, blithely doing what I’m supposed to do and staying out of trouble. But then the season abruptly changes, and whatever I thought was holding me secure is gone.
Sometimes what follows seems like a trust fall exercise: unsettling, but thanks to prior life lessons, endured with confidence of a gentle landing. Other situations are scarier and feel more like a free fall—experiences that make me ask, How much longer can I endure? Perhaps, like me, you also at times find scriptural advice tougher to implement when you’re blown off course and trapped in a hostile circumstance.
“God doesn’t enlarge our faith instantly; it’s a slow process that happens over our lifetime and often involves trials.”
Yet this is how God planned for His children’s faith to grow. In the devotion for August 7, 2021, Dr. Stanley says: “We’d all like to have great faith that stands firm in the face of challenges and difficulties. But God doesn’t enlarge our faith instantly; it’s a slow process that happens over our lifetime and often involves trials. Each time we choose to believe the Lord and step out in obedience, we gain greater confidence to trust Him the next time … There will be opportunities for you to believe in the Lord and respond with obedience. These situations are what we often call ‘problems.’ Try looking at each difficulty as an opportunity designed by God specifically for the purpose of increasing your faith as you see His dependability in action. With each step of obedience, your trust in Him will strengthen.”
Unlike the last leaf in O. Henry’s story, a Christian’s adversity thankfully does not portend doom. Sure, unexpected tempests might detour us to where we feel stuck or beaten up. But Scripture teaches that God controls and has purpose in every breeze, gust, and tornado of our life (Gen. 50:20; Ps. 103:19; Jer. 29:11). He custom-designs our trials to mature and fortify us, and when we cooperate with Him, not a one will be wasted.