Even if life turns upside-down

Ever been in one of those seasons in life where nothing feels stable? It’s like you’re trying to walk along the beach as the tide is rolling out, taking all the sand with it from under your feet. You aren’t sure where to stand because no ground is solid enough to support your weight. It’s an awkward dance, roaming the beach while the sand slides out from under you.

Welcome to my life

That’s sort of where life is for me right now. And it’s not just me. I know several people who are in similar predicaments. Life has thrown a curve ball they never expected. The job didn’t end up being a good fit. The job opportunity fell flat. People have passed away. New children have been born. New friendships are beginning, and some friendships are falling apart. New stories are starting, and others are ending.

Just about everyone I know is facing major transitions in their lives, and as I sit here this morning trying to knock out several thousand words on a novel, I’m tempted to despair. So much hurt and pain is happening right now. So many people are struggling with friendships and relationships and jobs and finances. People are scared and uncertain and feeling scattered. And I want to fix it. But I can’t. I can’t even fix my own problems. And some days it’s enough to make me want to give up.

I’m doing it wrong

That’s when I remember I’m doing this all wrong. In those moments I have to step back and remind myself who exactly is in charge here. It’s not me. And it’s not you either. None of us have the power to change much of anything in our lives, not without help. When we get to these points in life (and all of us do), we have to hold on to something. And the only anchor worth holding onto is God.

God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6). He’s the same today as He was 10,000 years ago. He’ll be the same 10,000 years from now. Not like us. We change all the time, finding new and improved ways to identify ourselves or uncover value in ourselves. And because God doesn’t change, we can trust that He’ll always keep His promises (Numbers 23:19).

It’s okay to feel hurt

instagram upside-downSo life hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would. Join the club. Peoples’ lives rarely work out the way we expect them to. That’s not a reason to give up or stop believing that God can do something miraculous. That’s when God does His best work.

Maybe something you thought was certain fell apart, and you’re hurting. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to not be okay. Nobody is okay, not really. As long as the world is broken and people are broken, “okay” is just a word we say to cover up what we’re actually feeling inside. But just because we’re not okay doesn’t mean God isn’t able. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

It doesn’t always help to remember that God’s got everything under control. Sometimes you’re just so hurt and so frightened and so unsure that you just need to feel sad, and I get that. And that’s okay too. But don’t make the mistake of thinking God doesn’t hear you, because He does. And don’t confuse His patience or His perfect timing for tardiness (2 Peter 3:9).

Nothing in life stays the same. Everything changes. Our dreams, our preferences, our stories, our families, our friendships. God is the only stable ground. He’s the only rock we can stand on that we can trust will stay put. (Psalm 18:2)

Our only hope

Life may be upside down for you right now. Or maybe you can see the chaos coming toward you like a tidal wave that threatens to sweep away the life you’ve built for yourself. Don’t assume God doesn’t know. He does, and He cares. And He’s your only hope.

Hebrews 6:18Knowing that God doesn’t change, that He always keeps His promises, that He offers hope to the hopeless, and that He is always good—maybe it won’t fix your troubles today. But maybe it’ll give you a different perspective on them. (Hebrews 6:13-19) Because it’s possible for life to be hard and good at the same time, just like you can be hurting and full of joy at the same time.

It all comes down to how you choose to see the trouble in your life. Yes, it can feel overwhelming, unfair, undeserved, and even malicious at times, but if that’s how you choose to see it, you’re missing the point. And you’re choosing to see God as an enemy who wants to hurt you, and nothing is further from the truth. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Breathe. Step back. Shut your eyes and listen to what God is telling you.

He’s got this. He’s got you, and all the little things (or big things) that you’re worrying about, He’s already figured out. And maybe He won’t give you a magic lamp and grant you three wishes. He won’t snap His fingers or wiggle His nose and solve all your problems. But you can be sure that however He chooses to act, it’ll be good, even if it doesn’t feel like it right away.

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Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Despair isn’t wrong; staying there is

Is despair wrong? Life can be hard to take sometimes. Brokenness is everywhere, and it’s difficult to work with broken tools. You can make do, but it’s ten times harder and infinitely more frustrating, especially when you know that life wasn’t meant to be this way. And there are many times when I am tempted to just give up. Giving up would be so easy, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with easy, it’s rarely the wise choice. Because anything truly worth having was never easy to obtain.

But even if I don’t give up, even at times when I know I’m going to keep moving forward, I am still tempted to feel despair because I have so much to do and no time to do it. I am pulled in so many directions I don’t even know how to take a step forward; I couldn’t tell you which direction is forward and which is backward. And it’s in those moments when intense anxiety and deep despair hit me hard enough to take my breath away.

I had one of those moments Monday morning this week. So much to do. So many expectations. I was on the verge of a breakdown at work because there was just too much for one person to do alone. And then, I remembered (duh) that I’m not alone.

Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Maybe having too much to do at work doesn’t upset anyone else, but my work is important to me. My performance at work is important to me. It’s like anything else in my life; I want it to be a reflection of Christ. And as I sat at my desk on Monday and looked at the overwhelming piles of projects that had stacked up over the weekend, I despaired.

And then I got angry. And then I started thinking foolish thoughts. And then I pouted. Granted, this all happened in the span of about fifteen minutes before the Holy Spirit whacked me upside the head and told me to stop being childish. But that’s what despair does to you.

Despair is dangerous. People in the depths of it believe lies about others and about themselves and even about God. They jump to conclusions that aren’t true. They are liable to do or say things that they don’t even mean because they’re searching for something to hold on to, even if it’s the reality of someone else’s anger or hurt.

But as dangerous as despair is, it’s not wrong to feel it; it’s wrong to stay there, especially when you have the means to escape it. We’re human. We’re going to feel despair at times. None of us are perfect, and we live in a broken world. And all that brokenness will build up, inside us, around us, and it’s frustrating. And nothing breeds despair like frustration. So if you feel despair, don’t freak out about it. It’s normal. Just don’t choose to keep feeling it.

But that’s difficult. Because as horrible as despair is, somehow it becomes a warm blanket to curl up with at night. The anger and the ridiculously untrue thoughts and the self-righteous indignation feels good, especially to people who are exhausted and who are trying to do the right thing and being thwarted over and over again. But that warmth is deceiving; the comfort those emotions bring is only temporary. Maybe they’ll make you feel better for a few days, but when the real cold front sweeps through, you need more than just anger and self-righteous indignation to stay warm. And then your despair will only grow deeper. It’s a vicious cycle.

So what do you do? How do you stop despair before it becomes a habit?

I’ve said before that I’m not scholar. There may be better verses in Scripture that deal with it; I’m sure there are. But I can only share what I have learned. I’ve struggled with this all my life. I’ve learned that the best way to handle despair and challenging circumstances is to expect them.

Our world is screwed up. And so are we. Why do we expect that everything will be hunky-dory down here? It never will be. That’s the point of Scripture, to show us that there is more to this life than what we know about it now. I’m not saying to be paranoid. But don’t be knocked off your foundation when troubles come. Don’t be surprised by them.

And when you’re tempted to despair, don’t freak out if you do a little. There’s a verse somewhere that says God remembers that we’re made of dust. He knows we’re not perfect. That’s why He is. And when we are weak, that’s when we need to ask for His help. And I’m weak all the time, so I ask for His help a lot. And He does it. Whether we ask for strength or wisdom or whatever, He’s right there, and He listens.

Like on Monday. I got away from my desk for a few minutes and got my head straight and asked Him to help me sort through everything on my desk. And He did. I got more done on Monday than I had in a long time. And that’s not me. I’m not capable of focus on that level in regards to half the projects I was working on. That’s Him.

I felt despair at first, but I chose to ask Him for help to get out of it. And I got to work.

Feeling despair is natural, but continuing to give despair a foothold in our lives (especially as believers) is a choice. And it’s a choice that can ruin your life and the lives of people around you.

If you’re feeling despair today, don’t listen to the lies that you have no hope or that you’re not a worthwhile person. Those are lies, and they don’t come from God. Tune them out and look to Scripture. Remember how much God loves you and that He’s waiting to help you; you just have to ask and be willing to do what He says. If you choose to do that, you’ll experience something miraculous; your life will change. Your perspective will change. And before you know it, those things that caused you despair before will only be cause for rejoicing because your weakness allows God’s strength to take over. And I think each of us could use a whole lot of that.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Hope is dangerous

I saw a great movie this weekend, and while there were many parts of it that were stunning and remarkably well done, there was one concept that stuck out to me. I can’t remember the line, but the concept is that hope is poisonous. That life is nothing but despair and hope is the poison that kills us slowly. After all, there’s no worse prison than the one you think you can escape but never really can.

In that instance, I suppose you could look at hope as being poisonous, especially if you just want to die and hope won’t let you. And actually, it applies to life. Because there are days when life feels like a prison, where you’re surrounded by enemies, where you just can’t ever win, where you just can’t ever get ahead. Without hope, it wouldn’t be worth living. And even those people who live on hope from day-to-day, get tired.

In selecting a verse for today, at first, I thought of the passages in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul is pointing out that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, all our faith is in vain which would make Christians the most miserable people of all. And that’s true, but hope for salvation and resurrection isn’t exactly what I’m needing this morning. I know Christ is alive. I know He rose from the dead, and I trust that His sacrifice redeemed me and that when my time on earth is done, I’ll get to go home.

But what about today? I’m still on earth, and it’s Monday. Again. And no matter how much I try not to stress, I have a stressful life. And I have people in my life who are against me. And I have situations in my life that are discouraging. And I have relationships that are complicated and strained and overwhelming. So how do I hold on to hope today when all I really feel like doing is giving up?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 17:7-8.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

Like faith, hope is a choice. It’s not an ethereal, abstract concept that’s just floating around in the void and can’t be truly understood. Hope is a concrete fact. It’s something you choose to do day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute.

The difficulty with hope isn’t that it’s poisonous. It’s just dangerous.

You have to be careful where you set your hope. If you have made your accomplishments or your education the source of your hope, you’re going to be in trouble. Because those things will fail you. If you have made your wealth or your possessions the source of your hope, those things will eventually fade. And if you’ve made people your source of hope or even the strength of the human spirit (whatever that means), they will eventually let you down.

You have to be careful where your hope comes from.

This passage out of Jeremiah talks about tree that draws its strength from a river. If that river were polluted, the tree would be too. And that river where the tree drew its strength would do more harm than good.

But if you’re drawing your hope from God, from Christ, from what is written in Scripture, you’ll be like a tree by a clean, pure river that grows strong and tall with deep roots. In bad storms, you won’t fall. And during times of intense discomfort, you’ll still be able to do what God created you to do.

So how do you put your hope in God? It’s a choice.

You choose to trust Him. You choose to believe what the Bible says: that God knows what He’s doing, that He’s working everything out for the good of those who follow Him, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises.

Or you can give up.

It’s up to you.

Jesus is alive. So I have hope that some day I will get to go home.

But I also know that God is still working in my life, growing me, helping me, walking with me. And because I know that, I also have hope for today, that no matter what comes He’s there. And there’s nothing we can’t tackle together.