I think just about everyone I know is experiencing some seriously tough stuff in their lives. Some people are dealing with debilitating health issues, joblessness, potential homelessness, death of loved ones, painful relationships, divorce, discrimination and marginalization based on their identity, or any combination of all of the above. For some of these people, these are things they are seeming to cope constructively and well with, stumbling a little bit, but staying focused and on track, with the important things and keeping their eyes focused on things like faith, hope, and love. Others, on the other hand, cannot seem to see beyond the current difficult circumstance, only being able to focus on the things which are going wrong and how they have been failed by those around them. I have to be honest and admit that it is a difficult thing for me to work to be in the former group, rather than the latter.
There is an assumption that the people who exemplify the more desirable characteristics in the first group are better, superior, and further evolved than the rest of us. Over the past several days, I’ve been seeing some interesting quotes and articles being posted by people who I have admired and considered examples of the kind of person I will never truly be, despite my sincere desire and effort. One is a pastor I’ve known a little bit over the last ten years. He is someone who has, what feels to me, a supernatural ability to actually walk by faith and not by sight. I have seen him be the kind of husband, father, friend, counselor, encourager, and teacher I have NEVER witnessed anyone else consistently exemplify in the midst of the kind of difficulties I know he faces on a day by day basis.
He recently wrote a blog post, The Heresy the Church Accepts as Truth. In it he talks about what he calls fortune cookie Christianity where we somehow have gained and share a false understanding and expectation about what life is like or will be like as a Christian, based on certain verses that have been memorized and taken out of the scriptural and cultural context in which they occur. The idea that the good and positive things which happen and are in alignment with the dreams and expectations we have about what it means to be blessed and in God’s favor are a result of being right with God. An idea which conversely implies that the painful, difficult, out of control things that happen and can bring a sense of insecurity, fearfulness, and inferiority as though somehow these things are a result of not being faithful, true, or trusting enough in God’s provision. The truth of the matter is, that often good and bad things happen which have little to do with our character and whether or not we deserve it. There are natural and logical consequences to choices, decisions, actions and inaction on our part. However, we are also affected by the the natural and logical consequences of what others have done, in the past and in the present as well. He rightfully points out that becoming a Christian does not automatically mean that life is going to be all good, all the time, or that the perks and benefit package of Christianity automatically includes prosperity, success, and achievement.
He also shared this quote:
“For most people in most circumstances, expectations are unnecessary impediments to happiness. When expectations are unfulfilled they cause gratuitous pain, and when they are fulfilled, they diminish gratitude, the most important element in happiness.” ~ Dennis Prager in “Happiness is a Serious Problem“
More and more, I am coming to believe that how we respond to our circumstances, whether we claim to be Christians or not, has much to do with what we are taught to expect from our lives and how we are taught to handle those expectations when they are met and not met, especially as we are growing up as children. If we are not shown or trained in constructive and healthy ways of dealing with pain, disappointment, injustice, and things that are not in alignment with our wants and desires, then our responses as adults will tend to be unhealthy and destructive to ourselves and others, until we are able to learn how to think differently and respond differently, which won’t happen until we recognize, understand, and believe that we are capable of choosing differently. That’s when the hard work begins and depending on how deeply rooted we are in the negative patterns, it can be a lifelong learning effort.
A couple of days ago, a new online friend of mine shared a really difficult choice she is facing, which will impact her children. She was hesitant to choose one of her options because she felt that her children deserved to be comfortable. This was my response:
difficult and uncertain times can be really scary. I understand wanting to do what keeps everyone comfortable. However, times of discomfort and hardship can also be the biggest times of learning and growth, especially for children who learn from observing the character and attitudes of the adults around them. As much as we want to give and provide everything of material comfort, teaching them to compromise, adjust, and continue to pursue responsibilities as well as compassion and empathy in the midst of personal discomfort equips them to cope in more constructive ways as adults when life throws curve balls at them.
This is something I didn’t learn from the adults around me as I was growing up. It was something I didn’t know how to do while I was parenting my oldest two children. It’s something that Keith didn’t get either and that he still struggles with daily. We’re doing the best we can to do differently so Luna learns differently. Watching the difficulties my oldest two have had in coping with things both deserved and undeserved and seeing that they are learning better how to handle these things at a younger age than I was able to, is both painful and encouraging to watch. I’m grateful there are people in all of our lives who are able to show the way and who seem to understand and accept that we aren’t less than or inferior for struggling (and often failing) in how we cope with the difficult things in life.