(Here’s the article I promised you from my blog February 21, “Speed Bumps and Potholes,” that I would write on what to do about the Big One that’s eating up your life.)
Is it just me, or does it seem like, sometimes, there are long seasons of pain or suffering or chaos or harassment or something else big and negative that won’t go away?
For many I know, it’s a diagnosis of a medical condition or weight problem that is chronic and painful and won’t go away no matter what treatment is applied. For others, it’s a wayward child making all sorts of bad choices that the parent can see is destroying his or her potential. I know many who have been out of work for a long time and have lost furniture and houses and cars and pets over being unemployed. Several have ex-spouses that continue to create drama, destruction, and distress by repeated court dates and custody battles.
I know many others who are single and, absolutely, they do not want to be. They are childless and, absolutely, do not want to be. They had already planned on raising children by now.
I myself have been facing a longstanding vicious slander mill that started with furtive, deceitful words from someone whom I, much later, discovered was an angry, vindictive, jealous queen bee.
What do you do with the pebble in your shoe—that irritating, constant negative presence, or lack—that won’t go away?
We are not talking about something “small,” like “I can’t find my favorite drink at my favorite grocery store any more!”
It’s a big thing. A really, really big thing. A really big, negative thing that burdens your life negatively every. Single. Day. And you’re tired of it. Really, really tired of it.
You’ve prayed about it. You’ve asked others to pray about it. You’ve asked a pastor to pray about it. You’ve contacted prayer ministries online and on Facebook and by calling and chatting. No change.
You’ve Googled it. You’ve read all sorts of books and pamphlets and blogs about your topic. You’ve listened to podcasts.
You thought God was a God of grace, a God of mercy. You, like I, thought that you were living a pretty good life. Not perfect, but not criminal, and you didn’t think you deserved all this bad stuff. (We will address this mindset in another day.)
You go to bed with this burden. You wake up with this burden. You are past the point where you think, “This might be the day/week/month/year that this ends. I see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train!”
You are weary. You are out of energy. You are out of answers. You feel like you’re at the end. You’re at the bottom of the barrel looking up. You’ve tied a knot at the end of your rope and you’re holding on.
Many of you feel like God has let you down, and you have left the church and left Him.
My single Christian friend, I feel you. I know what all that means for me, what it feels like for me.
The great late Muhammad Ali once said that it’s not the mountain you have to climb that wears you out. It’s the pebble in your shoe.
How do you keep going? Even more importantly, how have you kept going?
What is it inside you that keeps you going?
The world calls it resilience. It’s one of the newer buzzwords in organizational management.
There’s also another term, persistence. There’s a difference.
Persistence is the ability to continue, to press through difficulty or opposition.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity; to regain your emotional and mental shape after a hardship or negative defining moment.
Together, they both keep you moving forward through the worst the devil has to offer.
What causes you and others to continue pressing through difficulty and opposition to the place where you bounce back and regain your emotional and mental shape and health?
The simple but complex answer to both terms is Jesus. Glibly may I say that He’s the answer to everything?
It reminds me of a Sunday School joke: a Sunday School teacher held up her tablet and showed her preschoolers a photo of a small, brown, furry animal with a long fluffy tail that eats nuts and climbs trees and asked her kids what it was. No one said anything at first. After a few moments, a kid in the back timidly raised his hand and told the teacher, “It looks like a squirrel, but I know the real answer is Jesus!”
So what does it mean that Jesus is what keeps you going? As a participant, I recently told my co-workers in a staff training on stress management that God is Who keeps me grounded. Well, what does that really mean?
When you and I became a Christian, the living, eternal Spirit of God literally came to live inside of us (John 3:3, Romans 8:9). When He took up residence in us, His first order of business was to regenerate us, Colossians 2:13. That is, to create a new spiritual life in our body, soul, and spirit that had not previously existed inside of us, who used to be spiritually unable to respond to God properly (Romans 8:5-8, 1 Corinthians 2:14). That last part is the definition of our sinful, unregenerate state when the Bible teaches that “we were dead in trespasses and sins,” see Ephesians 2:1-3.
Because the Spirit of God lives inside of us, we have instantaneous and direct access to His indwelling strength, faith, peace, joy, holiness… basically, all the things that He is and that we were not, and that we do not have. He is our indwelling persistence and our indwelling resilience.
Is there a precedent for this in the Bible? What’s the Bible got to say about this?
There is. And the Bible does have a few choice things to say about persistence and resilience.
Here are seven biblical principles to remember during extended seasons of negative bad stuff that I apply fairly regularly, and which help me get through the worst of drama and bouncing back for more of God.
1. Well, Hebrews chapter 11 has been called “Faith’s Hall of Fame” because it lists several people who had to overcome extreme obstacles to see God working in their hearts and lives. You’ll see Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, David, and a whole bunch of other people there. Every one of these individuals had to persist in their faith. They had to develop the resilience they needed to regain spiritual homeostasis after the irritating, constant negative presence, pain, suffering, chaos, harassment or negative defining moments roared into their lives and blew them up.
So our faith in God is really important to our ability to persist in moving forward and becoming resilient. I find my faith growing stronger as I see Him answering more prayer and keeping things from becoming exponentially worse. I stay connected to the Lord by faith, prayer, reading/studying His Word, and fellowshipping with all sorts of other believers fairly regularly. What are some more tools to add to this advanced course in the Christian’s school of life?
2. Nehemiah 8:10b says that the joy of the Lord is our strength. This means that the indwelling joy rising up from His indwelling presence will help propel you forward when you feel stuck. I sometimes find joy and godly pleasure in the smallest little thing as I go through a very rough day, and it helps my attitude and brings a bright spot to my day.
This phrase was originally spoken to the Jews when they were released from captivity in Persia to rebuild the broken-down city walls surrounding their beloved hometown, Jerusalem. They endured much extreme harassment and attempts to deceive and dominate them from locals who’d established themselves as officials, and who were trying to keep them from rebuilding the walls. After the walls were rebuilt, the priests read the law of God to them, and the people began to weep and wail because of the fresh awareness of their sins before God.
At this point Nehemiah, their governor and project director, told them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength (NASB).” Here we find another 3 principles for learning to persist and develop resilience in those really dark and difficult days/weeks/months/years:
3. “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet…” Their governor told them to go eat, even have a feast, after several weeks’ long trek from Persia to Jerusalem, a physically grueling task, and then rebuilding the walls under duress, another physically grueling task. You, too, my friend, take care of yourself physically. Stay on point with proper nutrition, good hydration, balanced exercise, and adequate sleep. Often we forget these human basics under long periods of stress and duress. Sometimes I find myself needing to reground myself in these basics. Backtrack and get back on your schedule with these!
4. “Send portions to him who has nothing prepared…” The governor told his weary constituents to look around and take portions of the sacrifices, which the families were allowed to take home by law, and give some to the families who couldn’t afford the larger sacrifices which afforded leftovers. My dear suffering Christian single friend, take your eyes off yourself for a minute and see who you can minister to and serve. Pity parties become less needful when you realize that, no matter how little you have, someone else has less and would appreciate if you could share something practical with them.
Serving others gives us a sense of purpose that our suffering is not meaningless, and that you are not completely powerless in your suffering, see 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. You do have a choice to serve someone besides yourself. While I am not pleased with everything that goes on in my church, I stay and I serve because this is where I sense God’s called me to learn, stay and serve. Definitely, it helps take the focus off of me. While Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl suffered and labored in the Holocaust’s death camps during World War II, he observed that those who survived and even thrived in those death camps tended to be the ones who chose to love, help, serve, and lend hope to, the other prisoners.
5. “For this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved…” Remember that today and every day is holy to God. We may make distinctions between sacred and secular, but the Lord does not. Reminding yourself regularly that He does not make that distinction injects His presence into your daily awareness. The awareness of His presence helps you manage your mood. I tell my coworkers all the time that I try to have the same attitude Monday morning as I do Friday afternoon. Some of them get it, some of them are not convinced. No matter!
Sometimes we just need the awareness of someone’s presence to know that someone cares whether we live or die, and that we mean something to someone. People come and go, but sometimes they try really hard to make us a part of their lives and to show caring. And when they cannot, God is more than able to make sure we know He cares. It’s easier not to grieve when we realize every day is holy to the Lord, He is here with us, and we matter to Someone. Stephen, the church’s first martyr, was able to calmly preach the gospel to a crowd becoming rabid with demonic hatred and to receive his eminent murder because he saw the Lord (Acts 7:54-60).
6. One thing I have to remember is that the devil is a big, fat liar (John 8:44) and so are his puppets (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)! When the very rare thoughts come to me that God is not real or reliable, or He does not love me, I remind myself that the devil is a liar. I remind myself of what he considers his mission to be (John 10:10a), how he has caused havoc in others’ lives, and how I need to turn back to the truth about God. The devil is like an old, toothless lion that makes a lot of noise, but is powerless to harm me, when I stay under God’s ultimate protection through faith and obedience. See Job 1:6-12 & 2:1-10; 1 Peter 5:8-11. I’m very aware that I am in a spiritual battle that fluctuates, sometimes moment by moment, and I do not intend to become a casualty! See 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 1 John 3:8.
7. The final big thing I do to keep moving one foot in front of the other is to remember there’s another world coming! There is a day coming, and many think it’s not too distant in the future, that the body of Christ will suddenly be in His presence bodily. Read Revelation chapters 21 & 22. These last two chapters of the Bible teach that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and no more tears, no more suffering, no more darkness, pain, death, or sorrow.
No matter how long our suffering lasts, or how intense it is, for the true child of God, there is a day coming when it will truly be over. Our enemies, our diseases, our inadequacies, our victimizations, will all be gone, never to access us again! What a breath of fresh air this reminder is in a filthy, violent, chaotic, sin-sick world! It helps me to appreciate the good that I see around me and to be grateful that heaven’s coming.
I sure hope that this article helped you, if you are going through an extended season of grief. I would love to pray for you. If you Direct Message me at my Face book page, “For single Christians: One is a Whole Number,” or on IG @glendaggordon, I will get back to you to pray for you as soon as I can.
Viktor Frankl. The Question of God website. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/voices/frankl.html accessed 6/12/16
Cultivating resilience for total well being, Parts 1 & 2. Brad Waters for Psychology Today website. 5/21/13. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/design-your-path/201305/25-ways-boost-resilience accessed 6/12/16
Definitions of “resilience” and “persistence.” Merriam-Webster website. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilience and http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/persistence both accessed 6/12/16