Thursday, September 11, 2014

Suffer well, live well

  In the last 5 weeks, we've been in 13 different states, as Paul candidates for various pastoral ministry positions. (We're not done!) We've enjoyed visiting with churches and spending time with several family members and friends along the way, but because the length of the trip was very much unexpected and several stops were added along the way, I've had to adjust my expectations several times (which is not my forte). I like being in control of my life, or at least having the allusion of being in control.  :) I really miss our cute little home in Florida, our friends, and church...and having your own space and schedule is certainly hard to let go of for an extended period of time.  I'm learning to take James 4:13-14 seriously!

In some ways, I've traveled this path before: the unknown and winding path, the fears lurking around every corner, and the insecurity of what the future holds... Walking a path of uncertainty feels strangely familiar. It's almost like a recipe that you've cooked several times before, and though you might add different spices each time, or some other interesting variation, the main recipe stays the same. What's my recipe for hard times? James 1. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Psalm 18, 23, and 40. Worshipping, praying and crying with friends. Choosing thankfulness. Eating too much chocolate. Extra naps and walks and yoga. But sometimes the oven is turned up a little hotter or your capacity (pan size) for the difficulty might be different, etc. Sometimes you cook with friends, sometimes alone (most of life is better with companions). Thankfully, God is a great chef and no matter what He throws in the mix, it eventually turns into something beautiful. Silly analogy? Perhaps. However, considering the fact that I haven't always enjoyed cooking, it's a miracle that it's now one of my favorite activities. The same can be said about seasons of hard times in my life.  I'm certainly not eager to see them come, and just like you, I'd rather life be comfortable, but each trial brings with it particular joys that looking back, I'm glad I didn't miss out on.

 “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” ― G.K. Chesterton

For a wedding gift, a dear friend wrote the quote above in a blank journal, that I later used for a thanksgiving journal. No quote could have been more appropriate for the journey of marriage we've been on together. I think it's easy (and quite natural) to consider trials an inconvenience. Look a little closer at another word in that quote - 'considered'. This same word is in James 1, which, to be honest, has not always been one of my favorites. I know, I know, that's a terribly un-Christian thing to say, but James 1 used to really rub me the wrong way. It is a hard truth to wrestle with, this assertion that it is largely in my control how I experience trials. Notice I did not say, whether or not I go through trials, or what they might look like, but how I experience them. I can be miserable, or I can choose to 'consider them pure joy.' I can choose to 'consider them rightly.' What does that even mean? I'm sorry to say it is probably not the answer you want, and it will require work. Certainly work that God will empower you to do, but it comes down to the battlefield of the mind. This means choosing to think rightly about our trials in the light of who we know God to be, rather than judging God's character in the light of difficult circumstances. {Read more by clicking on the Calm my Anxious Heart image above right - affiliate link}

This definition from the Webster's 1828 Dictionary is very helpful (wonderful dictionary reference): CONSIDER, verb transitive [Latin , to consider to view attentively, to sit by; to sit. The literal sense is, to sit by or close, or to set the mind or the eye to; hence, to view or examine with attention.] 1. To fix the mind on, with a view to a careful examination; to think on with care; to ponder; to study; to meditate on

In essence, when we are going through trials, we must fix our eyes on things that are good, true, and lovely, namely the perfect character of Christ, as being a loving Provider, Protector, Savior, Friend, Warrior, Sympathetic High Priest, One who daily intercedes for us at the right hand of God and promises to NEVER leave or forsake us. He is allowing each trial because He loves us; He is not standing far away, judging us, laughing at us, or wondering if we will choose a certain path. He knows how we will respond, and He knows at exactly which temperature to place the 'oven of life', to produce the results in us that He desires and knows will help us in the eternal sense. If we fix our eyes on the storms around us, like Peter did, we will sink every time. Easy to say, you might be thinking, harder to do. And right you are! I certainly am no expert in this regard, but what I will say is that the fruit flowing from this mental discipline of choosing to focus on GOD and His promises, rather than the trial, is so rewarding. You will find yourself gradually choosing this narrow path more than the easy, oft-travelled path (which eventually leads you into a pit of despair). Trust me, I've been there too many times!  Enter Psalm 40.  :)
Bringing this back to a wellness focus, we see that there is a good and right way to suffer. A way to struggle through life bearing the fruit of righteousness, rather than hardened, bitter hearts.  Research shows that bitterness can lead to so many health problems, not the least of which being anxiety, depression, a weakened immune system, broken relationships, and a diminished view of our own worth and God's love for us. We see the rewards of responding to life's storms with wisdom in Proverbs 3:5-8. Notice especially verse 8: "It will bring healing to your bones and refreshment to your body." I'm certainly not saying that A (doing the right thing) always leads to B (feeling better physically, mentally, spiritually), but as we see with generally following the wisdom principles in Proverbs, choosing to trust God and respond to Him in faith does often lead to positive overall wellness, joy, and peace. This is a never a guarantee this side of heaven though, and certainly not dependent on your level of faith or God's favor in your life. Many people suffer with health problems their entire lives, whether they have been living in wisdom or not.  But doing everything in our power to live healthy, whole lives is something that often (not always) brings favorable results.
As challenging as it might be for you to begin the process of capturing and redirecting your thoughts, the short and long-term benefits are certainly worthy of consideration (there's that word again!). You will find yourself more regularly filled with joy, and your faithful Shepherd will be right beside you, cheering you on, lifting you up when you fall, and lightening your load when it is more than you can carry. Remember those friends we were cooking with earlier?  They will carry you to Jesus if needed, I'm sure. :)
Many blessings of peace and joy...

**For further reading, consider Jen Wilkin's study on the book of James.  I'm only just starting, but so far it's excellent!


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