If you could see my donkeys right now, you might wonder what’s happened to their hair.
In some places it lies as thick and soft as it did all winter. But in others it grows close and glossy. And scattered over all are tuffs of fluff that come off in your fingers.
It’s that time again: donkey shedding season. The time when donkeys slough their woolly winter coats to sport sleek summer ones. The time when their owners expend sweat, muscle, and brush bristles helping the slow, itchy process along.
Christ-followers go through their own spiritual “shedding season” that’s no less maddening or arduous. Sometimes called “sanctification”, it’s the process of shedding attitudes, habits, character traits, and thought patterns that are less than God-honoring and replacing them with Christlike holiness.
And it lasts even longer—from the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior to the moment we meet Him face to face in eternity. At the moment we accept Jesus, our access to God and our eternal destiny are instantly sealed. But the journey to becoming Christlike is just that—a journey. And while the Holy Spirit powers and guides the transformation, He calls us to cooperate with and invest in the process.
Reading this, you might wonder: If God wants our sanctification so badly, why doesn’t He just skim off our old selves and slip on the new in an instant? Why make us endure the wait?
I don’t claim to have God’s answer. And I don’t always enjoy the process any more than the next person does.
But I have learned this: Waiting presents invaluable opportunities. Ones with eternal ramifications.
Specifically, the wait for perfection offers us the chance to:
Bond with God
Shedding season is a great time for me and my donkeys to bond. While my donkeys enjoy attention year-round, they especially relish it during shedding season. All that loosening hair must itch, boosting the value of brushes and scratches.
All that grooming builds rapport. My donkeys become more familiar with my touch, voice, and movements. They learn how to show me how they’re feeling and where they need attention. They learn they can trust me with every part of them. And when the shedding’s finally done, that communication and trust carry over to other seasons and activities.
In the Bible, we see over and over that God values relationship more than fast results. He postponed giving His people their promised land in order to develop their sorely lacking trust in Him first. He chastised kings who traded morality for security and quick fixes. He appointed cowards, doubters, and hotheads—people He knew would fail Him as often as they’d obey—as His prophets and apostles. He spent over thirty years on this earth before going to the cross.
And long ago, in the beginning, He created humanity while knowing He’d need that cross.
It’s no surprise then that He chooses to work from the cross in the same way He worked up to it: with time.
In that time, we get to learn things about Him we’d never fully grasp otherwise. We get to see sides of Him we’d otherwise never get to see firsthand. And the result is a relationship of unparalleled depth and substance.
Sure, maybe He could somehow stuff all that knowledge into our heads the moment we commit our lives to Christ. But head knowledge and experience are two different things.
It’s one thing to know that God is patient, and another to experience His forgiveness after our seventy-seventh failure in His service. It’s one thing to know He’s faithful, and another to witness His goodness in our darkest moments.
And it’s one thing to know He redeems the lost—and another to know He redeems those who still struggle to get it right even after coming into the fold.
Join in God’s work
It would save me a lot of trouble if, one fine day each spring, a mighty wind blew through the pasture and took all my donkeys’ winter hair with it.
Instead, I spend a good chunk of my barn time over the course of several weeks brushing away and playing with different grooming tools until my arm is ready to fall off.
But I have to admit there’s something satisfying about pulling a downy clump out of a shedding tool’s teeth. And when the last hairs drift off to reveal a shiny summer coat, pride and a sense of accomplishment mingle with my admiration.
You value what you’ve invested in. Great results are worth admiring in and of themselves. But great results that you played a part in achieving take on a whole new level of worth.
I think many of us admire holiness. We recognize its importance to God and its usefulness for life. We’d certainly feel nice wearing it.
But once we actually start working toward it, using the grace God provides, it starts becoming important to us too. And instead of simply wearing it, we own it.
And that’s exactly what God wants for us. He wants us to value what He values. To not just admire Him but to become like Him. To not just appreciate the holy status He’s given us in Christ but to actually grow into it.
While the Holy Spirit constantly works in us toward that end, we have a role to play. We do it by studying and applying the Bible, resisting temptation, repenting of and confessing sin, and practicing spiritual disciplines that help us grow. All while seeking His guidance, grace, and transformative power through prayer.
In doing so, we exercise the incomparable privilege of working with our Creator. Instead of being mere objects of His designs, we become participants in the plans of the Living God.
What an honor!
Hope in God’s promise
I love bonding with my donkeys. I appreciate the chance to participate in their seasonal transformation.
But sometimes the only thing that keeps my aching arm moving is the anticipation of uncovering the sleekness underneath all the shagginess.
And yet, when I finally do, I find that anticipation—that hope—contributes half the pleasure of seeing my donkeys’ summer selves.
As the apostle Paul points out, hope only exists when something we desire is absent. We can only hope for it while waiting for it.
No wait means no chance to experience hope—or the unique joy and gratitude that only a hope fulfilled can create.
And we in Christ aren’t hoping for something mediocre, or even kind of nice. We’re waiting for our lives’ fulfillment, the full fruit of our work with the Spirit, the state for which we were destined when we claimed Christ.
We’re like people recovering from a debilitating illness guaranteed the ability to run and dance again once rehab is over. We’re like people stranded for years on a desert island, now boarding a ship bound for home, family, and friends.
And when we finally take those first steps or pull into that port, the experience will be sweeter than if we’d never suffered, never left—because we will have prefaced it with hope. And the result will more than make up for the journey.
So keep waiting. Keep drawing closer to Jesus. Keep working with the Holy Spirit. Keep hoping. Encourage your fellow Christians to do the same.
Because one day the process will end. The last of the old will blow away to reveal the new. Clothed in perfect holiness, we’ll meet the One whose holiness we wear. The One to whom we’ve been drawing near, working with, and hoping for our entire born-again lives.
Maybe then He’ll explain the wait. Maybe He won’t.
Either way, we’ll know it was worth it. Because He is.
[Christ taught you] to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.Ephesians 4:22-24 (CSB)