Have you ever been in the place where you were not quite really sick, but also not quite well? I have been in this state for several months now, and frankly, the novelty of it is past. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired! I feel as if I am a strong woman trapped in this feeble old body, and I am concerned that things will probably only get progressively worse as time goes on. It is disheartening.
I woke this morning to face another unworkable day ~ and when I thought to speak to the Lord, I am afraid it was mostly whining about how unhappy I am not to be able to do those things I want to do. As soon as I said it, I was sorry. The words which immediately came into my mind were, “My grace is sufficient for you”… and I realized how once again I have been focusing on MY perceived needs, MY feelings, MY desires to determine how my life ought to go. When will I ever learn?
One of the things I have been trying to learn is to be like the Apostle Paul, content in whatever circumstances the Lord allows me to be. It isn’t a matter of giving up ~ it is a matter of finding meaning in everything; learning to find the blessings, seeing how the Lord is able to redeem all things. If that sounds a little like Pollyanna (A fictional girl who tried to find the good even in major tragedy), I guess it is a grown-up version of her thought processes. When I was younger, I had little use for Pollyanna. I thought she was just a little too sentimental to be believed when she fell out of a tree and broke her back, and told everyone how happy she was that it happened because she now had time to think and read and enjoy hearing the birds sing outside her window. That is just crazy, I thought. Yet, as I have grown older and experienced that life is not always easily manageable, and that compromise is not always quitting, I have grown a new respect for her. She had the right idea, even if she carried it a little to extremes.
The fact is, most of us live lives which are not idyllic. We have such hopes and dreams when we are young; we have been told that if we want something, all we have to do is work hard enough and we will get it. As life goes on, we come to see that this is not always true. Sometimes, even after we do our best, we come in second, or third, or don’t even place. Jobs go elsewhere. Someone else gets the guy. We may want children, but aren’t able to have them, or our one and only turns out to have other ideas about monogamy. Life throws us all kinds of curves, and maturity is the process of learning how to cope gracefully with disappointment and failure, and to continue to get up and try again. How do we learn to be happy even though our lives are not always all that we would want?
As Christians, we have resources which help us get through this in the best possible way. We have a Comforter, Who will guide and show us how to live with grace and dignity under pressure. We have a Savior Who has been tested in all things, just as we have, and Who knows all the same pain. He can give us the comfort of knowing we are not alone; that Someone really cares. We have a loving Father Who will forgive us when we have realized how badly we have messed it all up, and Who enables us to stand again and move forward.
I have come to believe that life is really the art of taking all things one at a time. Each day has its own challenges, and although we need to think forward to some degree about long range plans, the truth is that we really only have this minute. We never know what a day will bring, and it is important that we focus on using this minute, this hour, to the best of our ability. I waste an awful lot of time worrying about the future, when I need to be making sure I am giving my best right this minute. Over and over I have seen how it is not big events which shape our lives as much as the small decisions which we make each day unthinkingly and which may really decide our futures for us.
As in almost everything else, it comes down to whether or not we really trust God. We may have made bad decisions, but He can redeem the situation if we can let go of our desire to have things OUR way, and let Him guide. He will guide, because “it is God Who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:13 NKJV)
Let’s face it: problems strip away all the glib, pretty words about faith, and expose the nerve, the absolute core of what our faith really means.
Is our faith real? Have we really integrated, deep within us, all the things we say about faith? Are these things really a part of our genuine belief system? Or, is it just language we have learned in our culture of church and religion, but which we have never had to put to the test by living it? While I have perfect trust in God for my eternal life, there are areas when my faith is not as strong. For example, as a retiree, finances are a constant source of concern. Each month is another test. I must either trust that God will provide, or lie awake sleepless at night because I am not sure the money and the bills are going to come out even this time. Do I trust Him or not?
Do we really trust Him when our jobs are lost, and there is nothing in sight? How genuine is our declaration of “perfect peace” in the middle of financial problems or family problems, or illness, or problems with parents? How about in the workplace where we find ourselves hating to wake up each morning and having to face another day of frustration with our work, or frequently having to hold our tongues with a nasty co-worker? It is easy to speak pious words; it is another thing to have to live them out under pressure. Yet He tells us, “My grace is sufficient.” Do we believe Him? Can we trust Him enough to stay content even when our lives are difficult and the future looks grim?
Where do we find the strength to survive the challenges of life? It is in a genuine faith in God, and in our salvation through Jesus Christ. It is in trust that God loves us and is actively working on our behalf through all circumstances, no matter what the appearance of things might tell us. We need to be authentic in our relationship to Him, but also in our dealings with ourselves and others. The life in Christ is not something we can just talk our way through, saying we believe thus and so, yet not really being willing to put our lives on the line for what we say we believe. Again and again He teaches me that I must trust Him.
I think the bottom line is in how we genuinely assess whether or not God loves us. Do we base our faith on the circumstances of our lives? Do we make the false assumption that if God loves me He will always make my life pleasant and good, make the problems go away? That is not what the Bible teaches. Instead we are taught that faithful lives will have difficulty; that we will be tested and disciplined. Real happiness, real joy, is not found in things and circumstances, but in learning that in all circumstances, good or bad, He loves me. My job as His child is to learn how to be able to say truthfully to God: “Not my will, but Thy will be done”. He is so gracious that He helps me to be able to do this. I am to lean on Him, and let Him guide me as to the next step. I hope I will always remember that in ALL things, He is to have the preeminence.
Even when my life is not exactly the way I would choose, I can learn to trust that He is still in control, and will bring good even out of the most difficult circumstances. Trust and obey ~ for there’s no other way… this is true wisdom and my forever goal.