An old Chinese proverb tells of a mother who was distraught over the loss of her child. She was overcome with sorrow, and feeling that she would never be able to get on with her life, finally decided to visit a local philosopher. The aged gentleman told the grieving mother that he could bring her son back from the dead if she would just bring him some mustard seeds. But there was a catch. The seeds had to come from a household where no one had ever experienced suffering. The desperate woman went from house to house, investigating every family in the village. What she discovered was that sorrow is common to every person.
That proverb contains a great truth on the reality of suffering. It is an unfortunate part of life. But I like that the philosopher chose, of all things, to request mustard seeds because that is what Jesus used to teach on faith. He said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you (Luke 17:6).” We do not need much faith when we believe in Jesus; the mustard seed was the smallest known seed in their culture, but Jesus said that is all that would be required.
A lot of people miss the fact that our faith is supposed to grow. The point is not that we only need a microscopic amount of faith to make it through life; the point is that we only need a small amount to be saved, but that our faith, like a mustard plant, should grow into a powerful force. Jesus later said this of the mustard seed: “It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches (Matthew 13:32).” Jesus’ point is that what starts out small can thrive over a lifetime.
Now let’s apply that back to the parable about sorrow. The Chinese mother found that no one is immune from suffering, so she never returned with her mustard seeds. But if we can learn to place our mustard seed sized faith in Jesus, then we can be better equipped to face life’s hardships. In II Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul wrote these beautiful words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
In the ninth verse the apostle would go on to say that these hardships “make us rely not on ourselves but on God.” It may seem difficult at the time, but this is what faith is. We must learn to trust that in everything—including our sorrow—God has a plan. We have to trust that He is truly working all things together for our good, according to Romans 8:28. I am not trying to minimize what you might be going through, Christian, but I am asking you to trust in God. God comforts us in our afflictions, and that word comfort means He builds our strength and better equips us to live life. Whatever you might be going through could be God’s way of refining you and growing you into the person He wants you to be.