I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.…
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
-T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”
I read these words in Philip Yancey’s book “Disappointment with God”. I was going through a brutal spell in my life. If you’ve read the book, maybe it helped. But it didn’t help me. In fact it just made me feel worse for all the people referenced in the book as well as for myself.
Why do bad things happen to generally decent people? I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever understand this side of heaven. It might be better if I stopped asking. But there are few things that haven’t escaped me. Maybe they were rungs on the ladder that kept me hitting rock bottom. Here they are:
I’m not in control. Even if I was, I don’t know what’s best for me.
It’s true – and actually this struck me when things were going well. What do you do when the things that happened by “chance” turned out better than your carefully laid plans? This had been the case a couple different times and while I was overwhelmed with gratitude, it eerily bothered me. When my tides turned, I realized that it goes both ways. In the end, I’m not God. I don’t know what’s best for me, I can’t see the big picture of God’s plan for me and I can’t control all the outcomes in my life. Living by faith means accepting both the good and the bad and realizing both are temporal. Accepting the fact that life isn’t fair helps too.
Take responsibility. Don’t sabotage myself.
If you’ve ever wondered if your life could get any worse, let me clear that up for you real quick. The answer is always yes. That may sound like a morbid thing to say, but the truth is that we’re always one decision away from making things much worse. And when things aren’t going well, we’re in the DANGER ZONE. Think about it: if you’re stuck in a crummy job, you are only one decision away from not having a job at all. If your marriage is going poorly, you are only one decision or one conversation away from a further setback. If you aren’t married and wish you were, you are one or several decisions away from creating a lot more misery for yourself and others.
It’s tempting to say that “God wills” my circumstances to be what they are and then act like a victim. But actually we’re usually our own worst enemy. Proverbs 19:3 says, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord” (NLT). When the chips are down, the temptation is even stronger to make foolish choices that add to our pain. We can’t always control our circumstances, but in every situation, we always have a choice of how to respond. And that means we have the responsibility to make a good choice, no matter how good or bad circumstances are.
Realize my pain will be able to be used in a positive way in the future.
If someone had said this to me when I was down, it would’ve brought me up real fast… swinging. That’s not what I wanted to hear. But unfortunately, not “just anyone” said these words. They came from Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, recounting his experiences as a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz. They were also shared by psychologists to the survivors of the PanAm Flight 73 hijacking in 1986 as they prepared to board their next flight.
Those folks have “cred” in my book. I may not like the message, but I can take it coming from them. When I’m hurting, the last thing I want is “some perspective,” but even so, they’ve had far worse than me.
If you’re in pain, there is a sense in which you’re alone. Proverbs 14:10 says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy” (NLT). No one else can walk your path for you and you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know I couldn’t. When we’re stuck “in the waiting,” as Eliot’s poem says, we likely won’t be able to see the redemption in our circumstances. It’s only by faith that we can believe that this too shall pass.
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach and thought leader. Visit him today at NathanMagnuson.com or follow him on Twitter.
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