It was like a very pleasant, calming, but severe arial assault.
I sat on our porch early on a Thursday morning, listening to the strengthening rain fall like hundreds of ping-pong balls on the flat roof. Through the windows I could see the vertical fall, strong and clearly at the mercy of gravity.
Rain falling straight down.
The sound was deafening, rising and falling as the atmospheric ribbons passed overhead. The steam from my coffee rose slowly to meet the sound, slowly ever still.
"It can't rain much harder than this," I said to myself.
I was wrong.
The intensity changed and suddenly that which was gentle but persistent became loud, invasive, and obnoxious. The wind tilted and I heard the drops pound the storm windows through the screen. The gutters - desperately needing cleaned - popped and gurgled with the sheer volume of water. Every stable, static, solid thing began to bear witness to the strengthening rain.
It can always rain harder.
Many of us experience the downpour, so to speak. We pay off that long-standing bill only to have the car go in the shop for, who can really tell, something a teenage driver may or may not have done.
We battle cancer to the mat, holding it in a sleeper hold until it stops wriggling, only to find that it has come back in some other unnoticed area.
We begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel in our marriage, and as we walk onto the job site a bit lighter and hopeful we find our employment terminated or limited to the next few weeks alone.
The whole book of Ecclesiastes was meant for this moment. The moment of "Why did this happen to me?"
"How much can one person take?"
"It can't rain much harder."
Apparently, it can rain much harder.
The goal of spiritual formation - shaping our heart, mind, and soul around the person of Jesus and the identity given to us from the beginning of everything never to be revoked - is not ownership in some eternal timeshare somewhere on the "other side."
The goal of formation is to be ready for the rain.
It is to steady ourselves spiritually for the days when absurdity is all we can see. Formation through the Scriptures of lament, complaint, and whatever-in-the-world-Ecclesiastes-is give us language for the rain.
My grandfather, with whom I laughed and cussed my childhood through until he grew shadowy and I moved away, used to call the wild unwieldy rainstorms "frog stranglers."
Indeed, it rains so hard in our lives that we think we may drown. Especially when the clouds won't break, when they settle in and pile wave after wave on us.
Spiritual formation and the practices of silence, solitude, fasting, and internalizing the true narratives of God as lover and pursuer - God as identity giver and strength-infuser - makes us ready for the rain.
For while it can always rain harder, the cross reminds us that our suffering is not foreign to the Divine. We can huddle in the gray-light deluge with One who knows what it means to feel abandonment, pain, and intense desperation.
It can always rain harder, so we cry out against the rain.
But we never cry alone.
I sipped my coffee under the pit-pit-pit of the rain, and my wife Holley came and sat across from me. Dressed and ready for work she wouldn't be in the room long, and as the rain pounded she said "It is deafening in here."
"Yes," I said. "But isn't it nice?"
It can always rain harder. I have heard it. I have seen it.
Yet here I am, listening. Being still. I am not alone.
Indeed, if I choose the way of Jesus, I have the opportunity to be ready for this moment.
Ready to lament, complain, and consider it meaningless.
Ready at the end to say, "Now what?"
Ready to know I am not alone.