Saturday, August 11, 2018

Are you not ‘there’ yet?

Photo by Amogh Manjunath on Unsplash

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised so much, but I was taken aback recently when someone I look up to suggested they were not as far along their journey of maturity. I was actually staggered that they were facing what I thought for them would be quite an elementary challenge.
And then I was reminded of the common nature of life that overwhelms us when we least expect it.
We never expect to be challenged
unless challenge is what we expect.
We don’t tend to anticipate hardship or loss or trials of many kinds. When we are blindsided, we could never have anticipated it. We should expect disappointments, failures, betrayals and the like, but few of us ever do.
One of the greatest ironies of life
is that when we think we have arrived,
we are most at risk of finding out we haven’t.
I suffered divorce in 2003, burnout in 2005, a midlife crisis in 2007, and we lost Nathanael in 2014, but the worst year of my life (so far) was 2016. How is it that that year eclipsed those previous experiences of cataclysmic challenge and loss? I know why.
Can a pastor of 40 years in the ministry suffer depression for the very first time? Yes, he or she can. Can a psychologist who has counselled people for decades come to a place where they need a psychotherapist to get them through what is revealed in them as a great hole? Yes, it can happen like this. What about mentors. Can it be the case that somebody who has mentored someone for years becomes the person who needs the guidance? Yes, it’s a possibility. How ironic it is that someone who guided another person through the passage of grief swaps roles with that person at a later time when they go through grief. Then there’s the case of the scholar that’s guided a student, and that student is given the great privilege of conducting their mentor’s funeral. The person who arrives at cancer never foresaw it heading their way, nor did the parent of the disabled child, who went to sight-see in Italy but found themselves in Holland. And finally, there’s the minister who is heralded as the great leader who comes crashing down with a great fall. Everybody who loved their leadership and them as a person is shattered. Yet, within every fall is the opportunity to rise.
We keep learning;
we can never anticipate
the learning for any of us
that’s on the horizon.
Common to our human nature we tend to elevate those we look up to. But they are just human beings like we are. Guides are guides; they’re aren’t God. Why do we smooze mere mortals with an excess of praise? Because flattery has become an idol.
I found it striking, years ago, to watch a man in his eighties of such maturity in the Christian faith suffer much because, although he had dealt with much spiritual pain in his life, he had not yet dealt with a lot of physical pain. That physical pain sanctified him so much as he gritted his teeth through it. His spiritual prowess was further impetus to soften him more through the physical pain to bring him to an even deeper level of spiritual humility. Even in his eighties!
God has a way of levelling the playing field.
He doesn’t give our challenges to us arbitrarily, though it does seem that way. We must believe for our benefit, that His design in the circumstances of our lives is good; that it is designed to grow and mature us in ways we have not yet faced. It does us no good to imagine that God is simply being cruel. If we think that God is being cruel, we suggest that our lives are more important than God’s purpose for the pain in our lives, and that is just plain wrong.
We are not there yet…
life would hold no purpose
if we were.
Isn’t it a great comfort that, no matter who our contemporaries are, they like we are subject to the very same fragilities of life as everyone else is. But only a person who has been cruelled by pain can see this. Pain teaches us that we don’t have the control over life we always somehow thought we had.
Pain schools us in the most valuable
curriculum of all: reality.
Equipped to bear reality,
we serve with anointing.
This is a harsh yet encouraging fact:
The person who’s been through pain
that sanctified them
has a spiritual advantage
over the person who hasn’t.

None of us are there yet… ever.

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