2018: Thriving vs. surviving (aka: learning to fly with broken wings, and why it matters)
What do you do when you go from top of your game, to bottom of the barrel (or at least feel like it) and when meaningful and important prayers you’ve been crying out to God about for a really.long.time, not only aren’t answered as you’d hoped but the exact opposite of what you prayed for is what continually appears to unfold?
What does that do to your faith, your hope and your trust that God knows what He’s doing? How hard does that make it to get out of bed in the morning let alone face a new year with hopeful anticipation?
I write this on New Years Eve from my own personal ground zero of spirit crushing disappointment, hurt and foggy uncertainty. Nothing in my life is as I would want it to be or have been praying for. And I can appreciate lessons learned, growth and all that but it doesn’t stop the hurt.
Yet a lot of people who know me even casually might wonder what could have possibly happened to cause me such pain. They see generally positive social media posts. We talk on the phone now and then. They ask me how I’m doing and I say fine (and I am). There have been no apparent tragedies. I’m in good health. I have awesome friends. I put one foot in front of the other. I get up and go to work. What could possibly be so wrong in my life that I would make me write something like this?
They're right. There have been no obvious tragedies. No one died. No dreadful disease. No homelessness. But sometimes the deepest and most cutting pain is very personal and private, known fully only by God and shared discreetly with a caring friend or two. It doesn’t necessarily involve horrific public loss or tragedy that fits a mass market or other obvious narrative of what warrants such deep soul pain.
“A loved one was killed in a horrible car wreck.” –I’m so sorry
“I lost my house.” –That’s terrible
“I got a divorce.” –Are you ok?
“I have cancer.” –You’re in my prayers
All that is real, legit and very painful. And it's quite understandable and easily accepted as warranting pain. But “lesser” things that don’t involve death, disease or massive financial loss rather than eliciting understanding, tend to be met with superficial fixes that don't address much deeper issues, or, sometimes even questioning of the person. But certainly not warranting soul crushing pain.
Private, non-tragic pain is different than tragic pain; it's usually a collective non-healing bruise comprised of big and small day-to-day disappointments, dynamics and patterns of fundamental issues that over time come to cause us perpetual pain. Everyone processes life differently. One person’s Mount Everest is another’s anthill. My particular disappointments might not affect someone else in the same way and vice versa.
Until now, I have focused my efforts on trying to change the circumstances that cause me pain. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? I’ve done my best to change the things I can and let go of the ones I can’t. I’ve made the best of bad. The “ol’ college try”, is it? And of course, lots of prayer. But nothing has fundamentally changed in ways that are meaningful to me.
Why not? I don't know.
What I do know is that I can no longer expect anything to change, much as I pray or work at it, before I can fully live and thrive now. So as I go into a new year I have to ask myself some very difficult, now or never type of questions.
Assuming nothing changes and that “this” truly is my life...
No moving back to California (whole other post)
No life companion
No better job or income
No more inspiration, creativity or anything that used to bring me joy (difficult times tend to dry them up to that no matter how hard you try not to let it happen)
No immediate or permanent solution to long time problems
No whatever else...
“This” is it. “This” is my life.
What am going to do to thrive, not just survive, in spite of that?
Painful question with no easy or desirable answers (if any..).
I emphasize the pain and disappointment not to focus on them for their own sake, but because I think it’s important to acknowledge that they’re there in a very real way rather than glossing over or pretending they magically went away, which is what I often read online. It seems like so many tweets, flowery Instagram posts and articles tend to, in one way or another, minimize pain.
I will never do that. In order to be fully authentic and in the right state of mind to actually follow through on thriving, I must fully acknowledge that the pain is still there and that yes, sometimes it even hurts to breathe because of it. But I CHOOSE to work on the things that need to be worked on in my life in spite of it.
In spite of. Repeat as many times as necessary. In spite of.
I draw a lot of inspiration and strength from Joseph in the Bible. His was certainly a journey of wondering and waiting on God. The path that led him to his God given destiny was a roller coaster of sharp and very nasty turns.
From beloved and doted on son of a wealthy father, to the object of envy and betrayal at the hand of his brothers who sold him in to slavery. From slave, he rose to a prestigious household manager of a wealthy military captain. From highly trusted employee he sank to prisoner because of a false accusation. And it was as a falsely accused prisoner that God pulled him out of the dumps into the role of a lifetime, prime minister of Egypt, the most luxurious and highly advanced civilization at the time. (Read the full story here from a book called Patriarchs & Prophets)
Lots of highs and lows, to say the very least.
Did Joseph secretly wonder what he did to deserve the mistreatment? During his time in prison did he feel discouraged, abandoned and forgotten by God? Did he ask what good could possibly come of such a horrible experience? Did he ask God how long he’d have to be there or why He hadn’t intervened to rescue him? Twice?
What we do know is that Joseph chose to be faithful. He chose to thrive and maintain his integrity based on trusting God instead of merely survive based on self-pity or bitterness. So much so that even as a prisoner he became highly regarded and trusted by his own wardens. He chose to serve his fellow inmates. He not only made the best of a bad situation, he gave his best in spite of it.
But even in choosing faithfulness and trust, it's not inconceivable that he was hurting; there was nothing about being sold into slavery or falsely imprisoned that “felt” good or warm and fuzzy. Joseph, it could be said, made a business decision, as opposed to an emotional one, to thrive, in spite of his feelings. A decision fueled by trusting God in spite of.
So in 2018, #myjourneyisthis: choosing to trust and thrive, instead of merely survive, in the midst of personal pain and unchosen circumstances.
Are you going into a new year with uncertainty or pain? Do you want to thrive in spite of it? Make the decision to do so, in spite of the discouragement. Here are a few things I’ve learned about how to do it (and why it matters):
Don’t expect to “feel” good or warm and fuzzy all the time – Do what needs to be done in spite of your feelings. I write this with a heavy heart, but I’m writing. If I wait for inspiration I might never write again. But writing is what I do, it’s what I love, what keeps me sane, and the talent God has given me to share with others, so I choose to write even though I just.don’t.feel.like.it most of the time these days.
Be honest with yourself about your feelings of sadness and loss, even if that loss is something intangible like a dream or no solution to a problem that causes you pain. Mourn. Cry. Don’t minimize or gloss over. Admit to yourself that it hurts. A LOT. Don’t allow anyone to tell you how you’re supposed to feel. God understands our pain; every little detail, no matter how little sense it makes to anyone, including you. The important thing is to keep moving forward in spite of it.
Surround yourself with likeminded friends and mentors. I don’t know where I’d be without mine. “Tribe” friendships aren’t “yes” people, as one of my tribe girlfriends says. They are loving and supportive but they hold us accountable and by their very presence and sometimes challenging conversations, they encourage and inspire us to keep moving forward and become better people. What they don’t do is give us quick fixes or tell us to get over it. They "get it."
Realize that you can have joy and peace in spite of the pain. The joy and peace of Christ transcends feelings or circumstances. A parent who loses a child, or a person with a horrible illness can have joy and peace. The circumstances of life may hurt a lot, and they may shed tears, but it doesn’t rob them of the inner peace and joy that comes only from knowing Christ. Again, in spite of.
CHOOSE to trust God no matter what it looks like. I recently read an incredible thought, based on Romans 8:24, about embracing mystery and the unknown by trusting God, rather than trying to find answers and solutions to every.single.thing. We have to accept that there are questions that we may never have the answers to or problems that may never be solved the way we hope. A friend of mine says, “Full redemption and permanent solutions? Only in heaven.” I’ve learned that more we cling to ‘I need answers’ or ‘this needs to be fixed before I...’ rather than simply trusting God in spite of the uncertainty or the pain, the more the enemy can slither his way into our unbelief by offering us counterfeit answers and solutions that may appease us but are never God’s absolute best for us both on earth or for eternity. Like Job, I’m learning to say, “though He slay me, yet I will trust him.” That slay may be not be physical death; it may be the loss of cherished dreams, meaningful work, relationships or other desirable circumstances.
Having said all that....
Who's to say something can't or won't change? The same God I trust in uncertainty and trial, is the same God who can make my phone ring with "the" call that turns everything around. The life companion? It could happen, I suppose (though I've probably gone much more into the totally given up camp than the it could happen camp). He's the God who could be working quietly behind the scenes on big answers to big prayers and preparing me to be ready to receive those blessings.
I love this thought:
"Our Heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide of which we know nothing." -Ellen G. White
But I can’t focus on wondering about all the why/what/when/how’s anymore; I must simply move forward in faith in spite of the uncertainty.
And all that loss of a dream stuff....?
It doesn't mean we give up on our dreams. It doesn't mean we stop taking steps in that direction. In my case, I will continue writing, sending out my resume to California and work on securing more freelance work. I'd love to take a content marketing writing course. I want to get really good at Photoshop and tackle Illustrator. I want to write a book. So many ideas and projects I want to develop. I would rather die with unfulfilled dreams in my heart having taking even small steps to achieve them than to live a long life of complacency without having any.
So no, you don't stop doing or wanting certain things. You just have to be willing to go as God leads even when it doesn't make sense. You have to choose to trust God no matter what it looks like. I'd love to think that the bad stuff is merely a detour to the good stuff. Approach it however you'd like, but choose to thrive here and now based on trusting God rather than merely surviving based on your limited understanding of what is or could/should be.
Whatever season you're in, I acknowledge your private pain. It doesn't matter if there were no tragedies or massive loss. I’m not going to offer cliche cure-alls like “focus on your blessings instead of your problems.” You probably already do that and you are genuinely thankful to God for those blessings. But it doesn’t stop the hurt of other deeper issues, and that’s what no one seems to “get”. As if just being aware of your blessings makes the pain of [whatever you’re facing] go away. No one expects a grieving parent who lost a child to count their blessings so they can feel better. But that seems to be the end all solution to non-tragic pain. I’m here to tell you that your pain is just as real and it HURTS. A lot. No glossing over or minimizing. I get it.
But guess what (aka: the "why it matters")? 2018 still needs you in spite of all that. Perhaps more than ever, especially as we are one year (month, week, day, hour...) closer to Jesus’ coming. It needs your presence, your voice, your God given talents, and your ministry.
We must learn to run with heavy hearts and fly with broken, or even missing, wings. It's ok to fly with broken wings as long as we're flying instead of stagnant. That's worse. It's ok to fly with broken wings knowing that one day Jesus will give us perfect new wings along with our overcomers crown; wings that will enable us to soar higher than we ever could on this earth; wings that will allow us to dream, love, hope and believe to the fullest and unreservedly without fear of loss or disappointment. You know, all the stuff we long for right but just can't seem to have. Knowing and embracing this truth doesn't make today's pain go away now but it sure does give us something to look forward to as we choose to live and serve here and now, in spite of it, with our eyes and hearts on eternity.
Now wipe those tears, and go do your 2018. It needs you now.