2016 was the best year I’ve had yet.
I’m not saying that to make anyone else feel bad about their problems. And I’m most certainly not saying that because I had zero struggles or hardships this past year. It was incredibly difficult at times. I’ve had friends and family members commit suicide or pass away suddenly. I’ve had friends stab me in the back. I’ve felt relational pain and moments where I thought recovery was hopeless. I’ve felt exhausted and taken-advantage of. I’ve had huge financial setbacks and surprises. I’ve been sick more than usual. I’ve doubted, stressed, hurt, and stretched.
As a pleaser, I usually just dismiss my pain and remind myself of all the people who have things far worse. I don’t want to do that…even as a pastor and caregiver, my feelings do matter too. But what I DON’T want to do is allow the Enemy to cloud my vision so that my focus is on the pain, negativity, or attacks.
Pain has a way of driving our focus inward. It’s our nature. It’s animalistic survival…if you’re in danger, you protect yourself. If we’re hurting, we either wear it on our forehead for the whole world to see (and hope someone cares), or we retreat behind our walls, shut everyone out and tend to our wounds. But it’s amazing how this blinding self focus always leads to isolation, broken relationships, and even more pain. We’ve all been there. It’s an awful feeling and sometimes we don’t even know how we got there.
But is there a power capable of breaking us free from the downward spiral of self-focus and victimization? Why, yes…I’m glad you asked.
A father and his child get into a terrible car accident. After rolling multiple times, the father was thrown from the vehicle. With multiple broken bones and bleeding from his forehead…disoriented and in pain, his first instinct is to find his daughter. Hearing her screaming from inside the battered vehicle, he notices that it begins to catch fire. Now do you think ANY father would say, “Eh. My arm is broken and killing me right now…I think I have a few cracked ribs and my head needs stitches. I really don’t want to risk getting burned by that fire and maybe she can unbuckle her own car seat, open the door, and come down to me.” Absolutely not!! Because he loves her so much, it pushes him past the instincts to stay safe or protect his own wounds. Then that selfless act of love actually ended up making him feel so much MORE fulfilled and at peace than he would’ve if he ignored the cries.
Although it’s natural to focus on ourselves, also wired into us through God’s image is the ultimate desire to love and be loved. Deep down, this need will trump every other. (I’m sorry for using an offensive word after the election…let’s stay focused) But it’s absolutely true. It’s no wonder that this tug-of-war battle between [God’s plan for us to selflessly love one another]…and [our innate fear to protect ourselves] is such an exhausting task! Yet while we’re stuck on this earth wearing the heavy armor of broken flesh, we must continue to fight on.
“Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” - Romans 8:6
When get consumed with ourselves (our own desires, needs, pains), we actually wind up in a dead end. Yet when we focus on God, even through the pain, He leads us into a spacious FREE life. It’s amazing how many people think following Him is oppressive and constraining. I’ve chased my own desires for a long time or focused on my own problems, yet somehow in the not-often-enough moments when I choose to seek God in it, I feel more free than ever. More peace. More joy. More fulfillment.
I’m not saying at times we can’t ask for help or heal from very real damages. We all experience very real pain and it does need care. But what I AM saying is that during these times, we have to do it together. We have to lean on God in our messes. We can’t ever completely raise the white flag of “victim time” and refuse to still care about others around us. We can’t afford to miss out on the blessings and encouragements God has for us when He says, “I know you’re hurting…but I still want to use you. Don’t worry, I’ll give you the strength.”
Earlier this year, my younger sister Chelsea’s husband committed suicide. It was by far the most traumatic and painful thing my family has ever walked through. As we rallied behind her to help heal in this excruciating season, it was incredibly difficult to understand how someone could experience what she did and come out the other side.
But you know what makes me the absolute proudest brother in the whole world…what brings me to tears every time I hear about a new example? Even though she is nowhere near healed up (I don’t know if someone ever fully does from something like that), Chelsea has already impacted the lives of other people who are going through the same struggles of depression and hopelessness. She has already literally saved someone’s life in a time of crisis through her choice to love, even in her pain.
Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for us? He chose to step into torture, unimaginable pain, and death. He could’ve pulled the plug any moment He wanted to…could’ve aborted the mission, killed his accusers, and healed Himself. Yet He chose to push through His pain because LOVE was more important. Paying our price was more important.
2016 had a lot of hardships, but what I didn’t list were all the GOOD things that I have to be grateful for. I have been more blessed than I ever have been. I have loving people around me, amazing opportunities, continued growth, experienced peoples’ lives being made new, and had greater intimacy in all my relationships. I’ve seen how God will always provide and He’ll always be with me. More examples…one after the other. (Because I’m a stupid human and need to be constantly reminded)
Going into 2017, I have all the confidence in the world that this year will be my greatest yet. There are so many exciting things on the horizon and I can’t wait to see where God takes me and how He uses me. I’m assured that He will work ALL things for good for those who love Him. (Rom. 8:28) We can stand firm on that.
I invite you to join me in a positive attitude and ambitious spirit as we together roll into the new year. We’re in this together. Let’s let our love be our focus.
“The most painful part of your process will also produce the most power in your life. Your pain will either be your prison or it will be your platform…it’s your choice. You can’t choose your season, but you can choose your spirit.” - Carl Lentz