When a Little While Seems Like Forever

I own a book with hundreds of Bible promises. Promises to bless, prosper, comfort, deliver, and save. But there’s one promise they missed: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).

Jesus made that promise, and I’ve yet to see it fail.

How can we find peace in troubled times? It’s a perennial question—not abstract but urgent. In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (v. 16). The disciples ask, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’?” (v. 18). That phrase “a little while” shows up seven times in four verses. Jesus is talking about just three days, but to the disciples it must’ve felt like forever.

What do you do when “a little while” feels unending?

Time Slows Down

Jesus’s death didn’t feel like “a little while” when the disciples were experiencing it. As they watched Jesus arrested, beaten, crucified, and buried, surely it felt like an eternity. “A little while” feels like forever when you’re in it.

‘A little while’ feels like forever when you’re in it.

Time moves slower when you’re stressed or depressed. Studies confirm you perceive time moving more slowly. For example, if you show people a short film and ask how long it was, depressed people estimate longer. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” the old truism goes, but the inverse is also true. As one author put it, “The more the world [stinks], the slower it goes.”

We know this is true. Things slow down when you’re in the hospital waiting room, crying out, God, why aren’t you fixing this? If you’re single and don’t want to be, praying, God, I thought I’d be married by now. When another national tragedy hits and you think, I know you have the whole world in your hands, Lord, but it doesn’t seem so right now.

Like the disciples, we tell Jesus, You said ‘a little while,’ but we must be using different measuring systems. This feels like forever.

Joy Approaches

But you can find peace when you know joy is coming. So Jesus tells his disciples, “Your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20), and he compares what they’re about to endure to childbirth: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (v. 21).

The disciples are the woman giving birth. Their pain will be real! But it’s the beginning of the story, not the end. When they encounter Jesus alive, they’ll be “overjoyed” (John 20:20, NIV).

Similarly, the New Testament uses birth as an image for Jesus’s resurrection. He is the “firstborn from among the dead” (Col. 1:18, NIV), for God “loosed [him from] the birth pangs of death” (Acts 2:24). That Greek word for “birth pangs” (odin) refers figuratively to the pain necessary to open up something new. Jesus’s death has opened up something new.

I knew my wife, Holly, was strong, but I didn’t realize how strong until she birthed our first child. She went into labor on September 8, 2009. I realized if she could just hold that baby in one day longer—for “a little while”—our daughter would have the auspicious birthday of 09/09/09. I shared this amazing idea with her. She didn’t share my enthusiasm. She wanted that baby out now! When our little girl arrived, she was filled with joy—a joy so great the pain seemed like a distant memory.

Resurrection is the coming joy.

Jesus says resurrection brings a joy so great we’ll “no longer remember” the anguish (John 16:21; cf. Rom. 8:18). I don’t think this means we’ll forget but that our memories will be transformed, overwhelmed by joy. We’ll be like laughing mothers recounting birth stories once so painful.

Peace doesn’t come when you pretend what you’re enduring isn’t hard but rather when you compare it with the age to come. Your future joy will exceed your present sorrow. So when a little feels long, lift your eyes and look toward resurrection.

Pregnant Faith

We have a pregnant faith, waiting for delivery to come. Jesus wants his disciples to know that peace is found in him (John 16:33), even in tribulation. He’s talking not only about the three days between his crucifixion and resurrection but also about the 2,000-plus years between his ascension and second coming. In other words, “a little while” is for us too.

We’re still awaiting resurrection. We’re in the womb of the old world, waiting to be born. “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” the apostle observes (Rom. 8:22), with “eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19). We look ahead through the vale and see Jesus, our older brother, who has emerged before us into the light of new creation.

My friends Jake and Lexi have had a year of great trials. Lexi’s water broke at 22 weeks; their son Asher was born six weeks later at 2.5 pounds. They were told he wouldn’t survive. He’d need surgery to close a hole in his heart and a tracheostomy to cut a hole in his neck. The doctors gave interventions to prevent blindness and a breathing machine to keep him alive. This family lived in the hospital for nearly a year.

It felt like forever. But Jake has found peace for one reason: he knows joy is coming. Here’s what he told me:

Will my ultimate joy come in this life? Or will it come in the next? What do I really believe? Is my hope only that things will get better? Or is my hope that one day I’ll watch King Jesus tear down this hospital brick by brick because we won’t need hospitals ever again?

I know I will hold my son—whether now or in the resurrection. I will see my child longer than I’ve cried for him. I will stand and hug Asher as we laugh about how there used to be a day when we worried at all. As we see Satan, sin, sickness, and death become nothing but a footstool for the King as he wipes away our tears.

Jesus is bringing a life-giving joy bigger than our earthly trials. His healing will be so deep, so powerful, that these “momentary troubles” will be overwhelmed and transformed with an “eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17, NIV).

When a little while feels long, we can find peace in resurrection joy. It’s coming.

Josh Butler

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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