August 11, 2008 · 5:16 am
Read this helpful quote from my Aug. 1 daily reading from CS Lewis (from his Grief Observed):
Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.
I didn’t write the whole quote down but he said something like, the problem with lying awake at night with a toothache is that you are thinking about the fact that you are lying awake all night with a toothache.
Isn’t this so true. We suffer not only from the present pain but also from our inability to distract or think thoughts other than reminding ourselves that we are in present pain.
Is it possible to forget the present pain (or depression, anxiety, etc.)? No. I don’t think so. Nor should we seek to forget altogether. And yet, we can find bits of respite where the pain moves from the front of our consciousness to the back. It is at those times we find rest. Some seem more capable to move the pain to the back burner. And this can be healthy, as long as it doesn’t lead to denial.
August 3, 2008 · 5:31 am
Last week I wrote on the theme of endurance and how I find it difficult to do so. When we suffer ongoing difficulties, we are tempted to give up hope because when we look at the big picture we cannot see any way of escape or change of situation. Today I’m thinking about healthy and unhealthy endurance patterns.
While remembering the biggest picture (one day with God in heaven) can be helpful when we have time to reflect, it may be better to narrow our focus to the thing at hand when we are in the thick of the battle. I remember seeing a PBS special about a man trying to get down a Himalayan mountain by himself. He had sustained severe leg injuries (both broken I believe). He had no hope of making it back down to camp alive. He was sure he was going to die. But he didn’t give up. He would hoist himself by his ice axe and then fall forward. 10 yards and rest. Then 10 more. He kept his eye on the next 10 yards. Several days later he made it back to camp and to help. Most of us wouldn’t have the strength to do what he did. But we can learn the lesson in the benefit of just looking at the next 10 yards of life.
It is when we step back to reflect on our situation that we face the temptations to become bitter, isolate from the comfort of others (or the opposite–gathering a chorus of voices who will tell me I have a right to be bitter), and begin making demands on God. Now, reflection isn’t bad. In fact, it is necessary. But with reflection comes the opportunity to listen to the wrong voices. There are those who will tell you to give up on God. And there are those who will say that any attempt to try to relief the suffering is a lack of faith. Both voices are wrong.
But narrowed focus on the next thing has its own problems as well. We can put up with things that should not be (e.g., abusive behavior from a boss) and believe that we ought not try to change things because that is trying to do God’s work for him. We can choose bitter isolating martyrdom over asking others for help.
So, how do you know whether your narrowed focus is Godly endurance or merely learned helplessness?
August 1, 2008 · 1:00 am
Life is hard. Harder for some than others. Really, really hard for some, so much that our hardships are rather light and momentary in comparison. Nonetheless, life is hard. And the call of Hebrews 12:1-3 is to persevere, to endure. That has been the message in my church for the last two weeks.
But I don’t like to endure. I was a runner in high school. A good runner though not a great one. One of the reasons I wasn’t better is that I mentally gave up and had the wrong attitude. I would start out well but then the realization of the pain set in. I would mentally think about the distance left. “2 miles to go…I’m only 1/2 way of this awful hill…1 mile to go…the last hill is going to kill me…just stop…maybe you’ll trip over that root…” Not a good way to think when you are trying to do your best and when you live in a hilly part of the world.
Now here’s a funny thing. On my team was one of the best runners in New England. He broke course records wherever he went. Chris liked to run with me and I with him on non-race days. We would run at his pace. I would fall in step just behind him and let the rhythm of his steps capture me and lo-and-behold, I ran fast. Somehow that never worked on race days…
My point is that I don’t like to endure. I want endurance to be short and rare AND to always lead to victory or that thing that I want. There are some people (like Olympians) who seem to be better at enduring pain and hardship with little chance of getting the gold just because there is some other fantastic athlete just ahead of them.
Steve Young (pastoral intern at my church) reminded us of Hebrews 10:36: that we have need of endurance. What??? Yes, we have need so that we receive the promise of a better possession.
So, what is your response to sustained hardship? What do you find helps you maintain your “pace?” What do you use to evaluate how well you are doing in your perseverance?
Since there can be bad kinds of endurance, I’ll write more on that topic later.