Five Years Down the Road
August 2, 2012 | My Jottings
For the last eleven years, save one, I’ve held a summer Bible study in my home. This year we’re studying the book of James, and we’re also learning about the man who wrote the epistle that bears his name, James, the half-brother of Jesus.
Every week has been a blessing. Every day of study a welcome challenge. My life needs confronting, and I would rather be confronted by the velvet hammer of scripture than by the wreckage of a rebellious or selfish life gone unchecked.
A few weeks ago, part of the day’s assignment in our workbooks was to presently consider “What are you going to do with all you’re going through?”
The passage in James we were studying that week was at the very beginning of the book, where he commands,
Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
And here’s how The Message Bible gives us the words of James 1:2-4:
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
We were to honestly record something difficult we’re going through in our lives right now. (Guess what? Every woman in my living room could think of something; I don’t know anyone who isn’t going through a hard situation, do you?) Then, we were asked to write down three ways we could respond to that difficulty. One of the responses we were encouraged to seriously consider is James’ admonition above, to count it all joy when we face our trials, knowing that this kind of attitude would always bring good fruit in our lives even in the midst of our struggles.
I have more than a few difficulties in my life. They may not be World Class Difficulties, like paralysis, bankruptcy, drug addiction — heart breakers like that. But they are still my own troubles, and some days they seem a tad much. I know you can relate. You may be wondering how you’re going to pay your mortgage in September, what is going to happen with your health, or if your husband is being completely faithful. Your mind might wander into the quicksand of thoughts like this: is this all I have to look forward to for the rest of my life?…how in the world are we going to pay for this?…will my heart ever heal from that horrible betrayal?…and just fill in your own toxic blank in your mind. If we play these words in our head over and over and over, these kinds of thoughts never help. Never.
The challenge in my life I chose to ponder is my husband Michael’s Parkinson’s disease, and the way it increasingly affects our everyday lives. The way it has slowly robbed him of pieces of his personality, his physical strength, his ability to do things automatically, to figure out simple things like the TV remote or a cell phone, or to make decisions. The way it has stolen his clear speech and our ability to communicate well as a couple.
“So, what are you going to do with all you’re going through?”
We were asked to consider three possible responses, even if they’re choices we know we’d never make. I wrote:
1. Walk away.
2. Stay, and be selfish and crabby.
3. Consider it all joy as I walk out this life, knowing God is developing perseverance in me, and eventually, maturity.
Next, we were asked to consider the fruit of these three choices, what we believed would be the five-year ramifications for each of these courses of action.
I sat on my bed as I quietly looked ahead in my mind, five years down the road. In five years I will be almost sixty years old. I know that our lives hold no guarantees and that I might not live another five years, but for the sake of this part of the study, we were asked to look at what kind of fruit would come from the three different kinds of seeds we could potentially sow each day.
And to say that a light bulb came on over my head would be too much of an understatement. It was more like the large window near my bed suddenly flew open and the sun streamed in and a fresh wind blew over me, and I could see.
Here’s what I wrote that the fruit of my possible choices could be, five years down the road:
1. Devastation for my husband, alienation from my family, no peace for me. (If you know me, you know that this choice would never be my choice. I love my husband and made a vow to him and to God. Not in a million years would I choose this kind of destructive path. But I wanted to look at it, because it is a viable choice, and many people make it. If I decided things were just too hard and I wanted to leave to do things I wanted to do, it’s clear to me that many people would be crushed, not to mention what this would do to my own soul.) This choice would bring rotten, maggot-infested fruit that would nourish no one.
2. Wasted years with many regrets. If I choose #2 above, staying where I am and being selfish and crabby, at the end of five years, what do I have? A desert of waste and regret. A barren, squandered life. That’s the kind of landscape I saw ahead of me as I sat and pondered all of this.
If you asked my family, I don’t think they would say that I’m frequently selfish and crabby. But a woman knows her own heart, and there are some days when my clipped responses and my quiet sighs and my stares that silently say seriously? are we going to go through this again today? you’re kidding me, right? are fueled by selfishness and crabbiness. And I’m pretty sure that pride is at the bottom of all of it. Because it would be pride that would make me think I shouldn’t have to do this day in and day out. It would be pride that would help me choose impatient sighs instead of loving affirmations. It would be pride that would even introduce the niggling thought that whispers, this isn’t making me happy.
But so what? So it’s hard, so each day doesn’t find me skipping down a lovely garden path tra-la-la-ing? I still have a choice, and the choices I make each hour end up forming a day. And the days end up forming a lifetime. And at the end of my lifetime, much less at the end of five years, I don’t want to be filled with regret. Do you?
3. Beauty, peace, exhaustion, joy. This is what I saw as I surveyed my life ahead, if I take James seriously and count it all joy. If I remind myself thirty-seven times a day that this all means something, that a good hidden work is being done, and I can trust God in this. If I thank Him for all these things, and write them down in my gratitude journal. If I take it seriously that Jesus wants me to treat everyone kindly and show His love. Counting it all joy doesn’t mean there won’t be exhaustion and really hard and disappointing times. But as clearly as I can see the words on this computer screen, I could see that this choice would bring beauty. Peace. Joy. And possibly some other good fruits. 🙂
So that means that if we know what we should do, we just do it, right? I wish it were that easy. So did the apostle Paul. Some of you very good-natured, easy-going and patient people are already consistently choosing Five Year Plan #3. And the gorgeous fruits are already weighing down the branches of your life. But some of us have been born into families where pride and selfishness seem to be produced in the marrow of our bones. It’s so much a part of us we can’t get free of it. I know of no other solution for people like me than to put my face down before God (the floor is good, but a pillow or even the arm of a chair will do) and tell Him I know. I agree. I need your help. I need your power, your perspective, your mercy, your everything. And then submit myself to Him and walk out the next few minutes trusting that He has answered, whether lightning flashed when I prayed or not.
I think Anne Lamott’s prayer advice applies beautifully here. As I go through my day and cry out to God “Help me help me!” or “Thank you thank you!” somehow He does, and I can be grateful. And how wonderful it is when night falls and I can see that He has kept me on the #3 Five-Year Plan today. I might stumble back onto the #2 plan tomorrow, but God has a way of setting us on the right path again when we humbly ask Him to do this, even several times a day.
I’m off now, to get dressed, to clean the kitchen, and to pick up my sweet granddaughter Mrs. Nisky. She and I have a special day planned, to celebrate her recent 8th birthday. We’re going out to lunch, to a movie, and on The Timber Twister, and I can’t wait to spend time with her.
Thank you for stopping by today, friends. As I close, I hope you don’t mind that I’ll repeat the question our James study asked the twelve women in our group to consider (and perhaps some friends from our James study might want to comment about this too?):
So, what are you going to do with all you’re going through?
May Jesus give us all the grace and strength to choose the most fruitful, beautiful, live-giving paths…