Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sucker Punched: Lessons from Life's SmackCam Victim

How much more can I take?

I don't know about you, but it's been a rough 2015 for me. Last year was incredible; the birth of my first child, finding a great job, discovering my passions and getting engaged (in that order. How's that for life sequence planning?)!

This year though- my goodness! Conflicts and car trouble and deaths and despair. Hopelessness and fear, rejection and disappointment. Things that I thought I had gotten over and gotten better from coming back and biting me while I was off guard. And I was too busy riding the high of my life at the current moment to prepare for the mental and emotional and spiritual blitzkrieg waiting for me on the other side.

The only warning I got was a series of sermons started at church. The message was about finding peace and purpose in the wilderness. I specifically remember sitting in the service thinking "Well God, life is pretty awesome. Maybe someone else in this room is going through hard times, but I guess this one isn't for me."

Everything started falling apart the next day.

And here I am, still in it with no idea when it'll be over. But as frustrated, weary and downtrodden as I've been there have been things that I've picked up on so far:

1. Find the lesson. In every conflict, misfortune, or downright rotten day, there is something to be learned. One of the greatest skills I have gained was to step outside of the misery of the moment and say "Alright, God. This sucks...what do I need to be taught in this?" To my utter surprise, instead of exposing me to ambiguous concepts such as hidden evils like the wise old sensei I'm guilty of imagining God to be, the answer was generally, "Here's how your approach to this could be better." WHAT? ME? I'M THE PROBLEM? "Well, you're making it worse, soooo yeah."

2. Come up for air. Do you remember learning to swim? Was there ever a time when you thought you were drowning? If you're reading this, you probably didn't drown, but why? Because you managed to catch your breath. There is only one instance in the history of mankind in which someone suffered every moment of every day in their wilderness- Job. As much as life may suck, it doesn't exist in one gigantic block of woe. Life ebbs and flows just like it always does, and we're given small victories throughout our hard times. It seems like common sense that we should cling to the good things that we experience, but we totally do the opposite. We allow the negative to drown out the positive simply because the negative tugs harder on our subconsciousness. By acknowledging and appreciating our victories, we take a deep breath of "it's going to be okay" before getting hit with another wave.

3. Don't expect an instant rescue. This was/is a hard one for me to swallow. It doesn't make any sense because King David spends a huge chunk of Psalms begging God for deliverance from pretty much everything. If it was good enough for someone as great as him it should be good enough for me, right? I used to think so until I came across this passage:

"Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Growth doesn't happen much when everything is copacetic. Growth occurs when life forces us to grow, and there's no better time than- you guessed it- the wilderness *insert aww crap emoji here*. Pay attention to the first part, "...in order to keep me from becoming conceited." It still doesn't say that God levied this burden on me, but it does say that He takes advantage of the opportunity to be more than enough for me. With that perspective, it's no wonder why Paul rejoiced in his misgivings and hard times. He realized that he was being strengthened and prepared for victory by an omnipotent God!

I'm now in the process of accepting this for myself, but boy is it something to be excited about! It's like being in a boxing match with Mike Tyson throwing the punches for you. The key in surviving hardship is to surrender, something we naturally would rather not do while we are already losing our grip. We're control freaks, the whole lot of us, and we panic when life spins uncontrollably. Leaning on God's immeasurable grace, giving up our burdens enables us to be strengthened in our weakest moments.

If this post helps nobody else, it serves as a reference for me in my times of wilderness. No matter how bad it gets I'm in this place for a reason; to learn to rely on the One who is greater than my circumstance and to develop myself in preparation for the next step in my life.