“How are you?” I’m increasingly asked as I advance in years or am recovering from some current affliction or tangle of problems.
“Oh, I’m not out of the woods yet!” I sometimes catch myself replying.
I don’t know where that term originated, but it implies that there is some inevitable light at the end of the tunnel or that I will emerge from my present woods by the path I’m taking.
However, that is not always the case. The name of our woods is sometimes called “Chronic.” God’s loving answer to our prayers for healing or relief may be “Not yet” or even a loving, more permanent “No.” or “I have a better plan for you and it involves living in the woods.”
That was the case for the Apostle Paul. Whatever was his aggravating, possibly painful ailment for which he pleaded with God three times to remove, ( 2 Corinthians 12:7-10) He must have been in pain; he called it a thorn in his flesh. God knew that it was better for him to learn that even if Paul had to live in the woods the rest of his life, which he apparently did, God’s grace and strength were sufficient. And it would be better for us in like circumstances when we read what Paul wrote—without naming his affliction—so that we could fill in the blank with our particular situation. Paul was in a classroom where God wanted him to learn to be “well content” and “most gladly boast” about his weakness and chronic state while continuing to “live in the woods.” It was in that condition that God’s power would be manifested and perfected through him, rather than if he were to emerge healed and well and whole from the woods.
Many of God’s faithful ones live their entire lives in their unique woods with limitations, weaknesses, illnesses, unrelieved pain, disabilities, acquired or genetic, or suffering the same problems over and over again with no path through their woods but to endure.
Some of God’s precious children of every age are not even able to walk through their woods. Wheel chairs, even the electric kind, find it tough going to navigate over the branches and tangles and undergrowth of their woods. Still others are bedfast and shut in only able to gaze out the window at their woods as the trees seem to stretch off endlessly into the distance.
Some live in the confusion and disorder of emotional or mental woods, or relational, social, or financial dense forests. Still others, eventually all of us, unless our lives are shortened, are making our way through the wilderness of aging with all its attendant fears and uncertainties.
Blessed are we when we experience God’s healing touch and we are “made whole.” God heals, as He did through Jesus in His days on earth, and as He does now when it is His perfect will. Also, blessed are we when His loving, sovereign will for us is that we remain “unwhole” during this mortal lifetime and continue living in the woods. We are no less His precious, beloved children whether He chooses that we should live in the woods or out of the woods.
God promises to all of us the fullness of His presence and strength. “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) whatever our disabilities or limitations or problems. Living in the woods, if that be God’s will for us, is the way to holiness in this Third Millennium just as it has been through ages past. Spiritually we are already “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10), whole, and well. In the future, in the full, brilliant light of God’s eternal presence, our wholeness will be realized—no more woods to live in!
As Christians, our faith teaches us that we may answer the How are you? question with, “I may have to live in the woods, but there God is giving me the opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24) as well as providing me with more opportunity to lean heavily on Him, pray for other occupants of “the woods” and appropriate His ever-generous strength and mercy.”