Settling for quick fixes prolongs suffering

Let’s try something different - I am going to tell you what to do for a change! But these are just recommendations. Only try them if you want a healthier, happier life!!! People who study other people have taken note of some helpful and not-so-helpful patterns for how people deal with life. For the next few days, I’m going to compare and contrast them. I hope they help you make changes - if you need to!

The brain likes it if we distract ourselves from our suffering, rather than lean into our suffering. This makes it easier on the brain to go take a smoke and maybe work in a nap. This is NOT what healthy people do when they are uncomfortable.

Healthy people do NOT seek a distraction from suffering or quick and easy fixes to comfort their pain. Instead, they lean in and explore their discomfort. They know that their pain is real and true and appropriate. They do NOT seek instant gratification.

When Scott and Brittany were going through their miscarriages, they did not pretend that this was part of God’s plan for their life. They turned their back on platitudes. Instead, they got counseling, wrestled with their grief and sought support from those who had survived losses similar to theirs. They do not consider Norah, their beautiful daughter, a replacement child. She is their adorable baby girl but no child should bear the weight of replacing other siblings. This requires Brittany and Scott to suffer AND celebrate. Some days that is hard - because there is no pattern being established that provides a distraction or a quick fix. It’s called - healing. But it is long and hard and messy.

Flourishing is not about having a "better" life

Flourishing isn’t just about finding more satisfactory life circumstances or outcomes. It’s about radical interconnectedness with God, self, and others, and everything that comes with it.

So often we associate joy and flourishing with success. How often, for instance, do we associate joy and flourishing with a restful family day? I would guess not much. Joy and flourishing can be the product of giving or receiving love, of being merciful to a friend who has hurt you, of forgiving someone who humbly asks for it.

It can take a great deal out of us, of course, to practice any one of these actions when things are not going well. If you’re out of work, if you’re over-worked, if you have an abusive co-worker, or if a family member is nearing the end of life, then you may struggle to give or receive love, to show mercy, to extend forgiveness (there are many other stressors that make life hard beyond these examples).

It takes bravery and self-discipline to practice such things under such circumstances, but there’s a certain joy that comes from bravery and discipline.

More on this tomorrow.

Flourishing is never completely out of reach

Let’s take a step back for a second. We’ve been talking about the fact that positive experiences in life are not completely shut off from those who are struggling. Flourishing is never completely out of reach, though of course it will feel that way at times.

What if things are going well in life?

What a curse it can be for things to go well. Of course that sounds horribly offensive to the hurting. However, I can’t get even remotely close to being able to count the number of times I’ve seen people utterly and completely crash and burn because they replaced their disciplines for more fun stuff because things started to go well. When things go well, we stop going to meetings, we stop integrating with community, we lose touch, and we disengage. This is a dangerous place to be.

If things are going well for you, don’t assume you are flourishing simply because you are happier than usual or because your soul feels lighter than it used to. You may just be distracted. Flourishing isn’t just about finding more satisfactory life circumstances or outcomes. It’s about radical interconnectedness with God, self, and others, and everything that comes with it.

There’s always more to come.

God gives wisdom so you may find joy

2 My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 3 After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. 5 But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.

~ James 1:2-5

Alright, let’s get technical for a second day. I know, you didn’t agree to this.

The passage seems kind of random. It talks about tests, joy, maturity, and endurance, and then shifts to talking about wisdom. Why so random? Well, it’s not really quite so random. Basically, endurance and maturity create wisdom. And, when we know that endurance and maturity are on the horizon then we can experience joy. So we know that joy and wisdom are closely related. And, better yet, God will freely give wisdom to those who ask. And, if wisdom and joy are related, this means God will freely give joy (the hope that there is more to come) to those who ask.

So often the message that is sent when talking about resiliency, or flourishing, or joy, or gratitude, or whatever, is that this thing must simply be done. Just do it. Be resilient, people!

I always think, “Oh, yes, I wish I had thought of that.” I wish I had just thought to be resilient when my wife was in physical agony during her third miscarriage in an 8 month period. If I had thought it, surely I would have felt better?

That isn’t what is happening here. What is happening here is that God freely gives to those in need. I am imaging that verse 5 is addressed to those who do not have wisdom, who have lost hope that there is more still to come. The word “but” implies a contrast. It would be great if tests led to joy, but, if they don’t, then ask God for wisdom. He will give it, and with it you may find joy.

There’s always more to come.

Suffering and Joy

2 My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 3 After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. 5 But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.

~ James 1:2-5

Let’s get technical for just one day, deal?

The logic of the passage goes like this: joy is a product of maturity which is a product of endurance which is a product of suffering. It’s important to take a step back and actually consider the logic because a too-quick reading suggests that suffering itself creates joy. Joy is the byproduct of hindsight, after many years of pursuing a certain way of seeing and, at last, gaining perspective. In other words, tests are occasions for joy in the sense that we know tests will lead to some kind of perspective, to wisdom. This is not the same thing as saying you’re happy about tests or suffering, it’s more like saying you hope and trust that there is more to come. Joy, then, is trusting that there is more to come.

The ability to flourish is intertwined with our ability to hope and trust that there is always more to come. God is not yet done.

Labor of Love

Christmas Day – a time when families gather together and follow traditions that have been passed down through generations.  This is a mixed bag of sacred and profane; joy and suffering.  Families are complicated.

 

Today, if your life is…..complicated, lonely, disappointing…I encourage you to do something different. 

 

Text people and let them know you are thinking of them.  Find a way to enjoy the day you have even if it doesn’t fit your expectations.  Aren’t with the people you love love love today?  That’s ok, love the ones you’re with!  Don’t be a grumpy pants just because the day isn’t ordered according to your preferences!

 

Practice a sacred spiritual discipline.  Don’t have one?  No worries – there’s an app for that!  You could start a meditation practice. (I am currently obsessing over insight timer.)  You could make plans for creating a sacred space for daily quiet time. 

 

Do something you love.

 

And if all else fails, remind yourself that today is 24 hours long – this too shall pass.

 

Now, why are you still reading this?  Go make the day a reflection of your inspired way of seeing!!!!