Previously posted on Facebook.
They can even propel us forward.
I live in Tampa Bay, a sweet little slice of the Gulf coast sometimes known as Champa Bay because of our many (sometimes) winning professional sports teams. In 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, and the Rays made it to the World Series, narrowly losing the title.
My son recently went to a Rays game, lamenting the tail end of a seven-game losing streak when they couldn’t seem to get anything right, after starting the season as unstoppable winners. Same team. All in a matter of weeks. As of last night, they’re back on the upswing, crushing their opponents!
Sometimes life is like that. We can be enjoying mountaintop views with the breeze at our back, or peacefully chugging along on a comfy coast, and then suddenly, BAM, life turns, and we find ourselves facing consecutive challenges, whether minor bumps or bona fide crises. Sometimes the trials seem bafflingly random or go on and on. We can't make sense of why they're happening now and how!
It can be a flurry of minor annoyances: Flat tires. Broken appliances. A workplace spat. An unexpected bill. Other times, it’s scarier: An uncertain lab result or terrible diagnosis, a shocking betrayal, a job loss, or sudden death. More often, a mix. Worst yet, when we’re on a hope-filled upward trajectory and everything falls apart just when we think we’re on the brink of success. Somebody knows what I mean.
Whatever the case, our suffering is magnified exponentially when we take it personally, searching relentlessly for some explanation as to why things went wrong. It’s awfully paralyzing to think that we brought God’s wrath upon ourselves. Am I being punished? I’m convinced it’s good to ask what we can learn from any setback but lingering in condemnation is just not helpful. It can even paralyze us.
Uncertainty also amplifies our angst, not knowing or controlling outcomes can drive us nuts. God knows, though, I’ve suffered needlessly anticipating the worst when nothing came to pass. That time my lymph nodes were enlarged and had to be biopsied, for instance…Gulp!
Of a less personal and more global variety, I just read a headline that the “huge blob of seaweed headed for Florida has shrunk by 75%.” Two months ago, this blob was predicted to swallow sunbathers and devastate world class tourist economies. Climate change aside, the worst case didn’t materialize or even come close.
Don’t get me wrong, there are real problems in life as well as natural consequences to our missteps. If you rob a bank, you’re likely to get busted with all sorts of ripple effects. If you abuse your body, you may well get sick or have to live with chronic disease. Consequences are different than punishment, unless you view it as punishing yourself by creating problems of your own design. Yes, sometimes our actions do topple dominoes in our lives. No doubt.
Mostly though, problems—of the pesky or devastating variety or a common combo of both—are just part of life. Sometimes, nails pierce tires or a cancer diagnosis is just the result of living in an imperfect world where people get sick. Sometimes promising deals or dates fall through. It’s not your fault or anyone’s fault or even God’s fault. He gave us free will, after all, and all of us are living with the consequences of humanity’s choices.
Regardless, we can accept problems of any kind as part of living on Planet Earth and soldier on in faith, doing the next right thing. Better still, we can seek and see what blessing can come of the challenges we face in life, trusting God can use them to propel us forward and into our true destiny. Thank God God is big enough that he can use even problems of our own making to do good in, for, and through us if we turn to him for help.
-The flat tire causes you to miss an accident up ahead. -The personal failure coaches you for future success. -That deal or relationship falling apart spares you untold pain. -Surviving the illness renews your appreciation of life. -The messy divorce frees you to become your true self and to meet the love of your life. -Losing that job is the pathway to your higher purpose. -Suffering injustice leads you to champion a cause. -Your traumatic childhood gives you untold grit and gumption.
It’s true! I have real-life experience relevant to each one of these examples.
Whatever we’re going through in this moment, let’s stand on the truth that God is bigger than all of it. God can work all things for the good if we partner with him to navigate life.