I heard it said once that the anticipation of pain is much worse than the actual pain itself. I’m not sure who first noticed this fact, but it’s true. The anticipation of pain can create so much fear in us that we procrastinate. We’re so afraid of what might hurt we aren’t even willing to try it. People avoid doctors for this reason, even if they need to go.
I watched a movie recently, Ben Affleck’s Argo, about the Iranian hostage crisis in the late 1970s, and there was one scene where a bunch of the hostages were lined up and their captors were getting ready to shoot them. And just as they had been prepared to die, the shooters pulled the triggers, and there were no bullets in the guns. It had all been to scare them, but it was enough to drive some of them to their knees. They had anticipated pain and death; they got neither. But either way, it was incapacitating.
How do you handle the anticipation of pain and difficulty? Many times, we know it’s coming. We know things may be quiet now but trouble is just over the horizon, and we have no choice but to walk toward it and tackle it as it comes. But even if we make that choice, how do you live in the interim?
Today’s verses are Mark 10:32-34.
They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear. Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”
Knowing that Jesus is God is a funny thing because even though I believe it, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how a man can be God and how God can be man, both at the same time. But that’s what the Bible says, so that’s what I believe. And, to put it frankly, if I understood it, I could put Jesus in a box, and I don’t want Jesus in a box; I want Jesus on a throne.
But as God, Jesus could look forward or look backward even while He was alive as a human on Earth. Had had all the power of God but He was 100% man at the same time. And He knew why He was here. He was born for a reason – to suffer and die for the sins men and women had committed since Adam and Eve failed. Can you imagine growing up with that kind of knowledge? Can you imagine going to school knowing that you wouldn’t ever have your own children? Can you imagine living your life knowing that it was going to end and not just end but end brutally.
He knew everything that was going to happen. He knew He would be betrayed by the people He loved. He knew He would be brutalized. He knew it all, and He chose it anyway. And it’s not like He found out the week before He died; He knew all along. So if you look at Christ’s life, what do you see? Do you see someone who was bitter and resentful? Do you see someone who was resigned to die and who had given up on living?
Not so much.
So what does that tell us about how we’re supposed to live when we know that hard times are coming?
The first few months of 2013 have been nice for me as far as my stress level and obligations go, but it’s getting ready to change in the next few weeks. Life is getting ready to take off, and to be honest about it, I’m kind of dreading it. I’m standing here and watching the tidal wave of stress and responsibility coming toward me at unstoppable speed, and it’s getting ready to crash over me. There’s no point in running from it because I can’t run that fast. And there’s a part of me that wishes it would just hurry up and get here because the span of a few weeks that separates it from me are overwhelming. The waiting is more stressful than the actual events that are approaching.
But what I’m reminded of this morning is that I don’t have to dread it. Jesus knew what was coming for Him, and He didn’t face it with resignation or defeat. He faced it, yes, and He was sure about it. And while I would exactly say He was cheerful about those impending things, He certainly didn’t let it affect His relationships or the life He had left. He knew God was going to use it and that He would make it through.
So if you know difficult times are just over the horizon and there’s nothing you can do about it, don’t spend the time you have left dreading what’s coming. Don’t focus on the anticipation of discomfort, otherwise it will color everything you do. Instead, think about what those difficult times will bring. Think about how you’ll grow. Think about how you’ll help others. Think about what you will be able to do for God.
God will give you the strength to face whatever circumstances come your way. And when it’s over, you’ll be able to look back and see why it needed to be difficult, but what’s more, the results will be so amazing that the difficulty will hardly seem important anymore.