I usually go to the same service station for petrol. It’s not far from where I live. I’ve got to know the young guy who works there. One day as I drove in, and started to fill up the car, he told me some terrible news.
His neighbour had been found dead in his garage. He had hung himself, aged 60 years. His wife found him early one morning. And my young friend was visibly upset saying, “I don’t know what to do to help his wife”. It was a terrible situation, and I felt inadequate in my response.
What do you say in the middle of a busy service station? He was facing a tragic situation, and at that moment, his life had fallen apart. Anyone who watches the evening news or reads the newspaper can’t help but notice the tragic circumstances that people face each day. Floods, tornados, accidents, and earthquakes take a terrible toll.
Life’s greatest challenges often come when we least expect them. Some crises loom on the horizon, and we can take steps to avoid them or at least weaken their impact. But when unforeseen difficulties blindside us and knock us down, we’re left dazed and confused.
We try to comprehend our situation and regain our lost sense of security. Why did this happen? How did I get to this point? What can I do now? Ella Wheeler Wilcox is famous for saying: “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.” It’s great to be feeling happy, but those sweet moments can disappear all of a sudden. Remember the author M. Scott Peck who begins his best seller The Road Less Travelled with the three simple words “Life is Difficult”. Who would argue with that? Life is sometimes difficult.
Setbacks Help You Learn And Grow
Most people go through life trying to avoid pain. We use money, medicine, and any other method to protect ourselves—I don’t think we really appreciate the level of chaos people experience. We are just too focussed on our own issues to notice our neighbours of acquaintances. But when your world seems to be falling:
- don’t blame others: it might make you feel a little better in the short-term but long-term it’s damaging to relationships and doesn’t’ solve the problem.
- don’t blame yourself: it will just make you feel bad and damage your self-esteem
- don’t try to numb out: you know what I’m talking about—eating chocolate, having a drink because you’ve had an awful day, watching TV or surfing the internet. It distracts you but doesn’t solve the problem.
Remember that all setbacks are there to help you learn and grow. Malcolm Muggeridge used to say, “the only thing that has taught me anything is suffering—not success, not happiness”.
So as the emotions start to ease off, start to ask yourself some questions that will empower you, like:
- What could I do differently next time?
- How can I change this?
- What do I need to learn from this?
- How can I use to grow bigger than this problem?
Everything that happens has its root cause somewhere in the past. It might be a thought, a word, or an action. Ask the right questions and you can move away from being ‘problem-focussed’ to feeling OK no matter what is going on.
Find the hidden opportunity. Napoleon Hill says that opportunity usually comes disguised as a setback. So dig a bit deeper and find the hidden opportunity. If you do this you will be one of the rare few people who do this—and those rare few end up being the successful ones.
A Bend In The Road Of Life
But it’s important to know God is at work in our lives. His grace and compassion transcend any crisis. We may not always sense his presence, but he feels our pain and understands our dismay. Sometimes he immediately gives us peace, but at other times we must simply trust that he’s working on our behalf behind the scenes. Say to him, Lord, what’s going on here? What are you trying to say to me? What do you want me to do?
Lamentations 3:31-32 says: “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love”. The book of Lamentations in the Bible, was written by the prophet Jeremiah after he witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the people of Israel being taken into slavery by the Babylonians.
In Lamentations, Jeremiah is brutally honest as he states his complaints to God. He basically tells God, I don’t like anything that’s going on in my life right now. I don’t like what I see happening in the economy. I don’t like what I see happening to our national security. I don’t like seeing people starving and out of work. I don’t like seeing the immorality, injustice and crime. And I really don’t like our people being taken away into slavery.
Gordon MacDonald writes, “None of us enjoy suffering, but pain does have a way of accomplishing the ‘greatest good’ in our lives by drawing us closer to God. God uses ‘disruptive moments’ to help us keep things in perspective.” When suffering forces its way abruptly into our lives, our tendency is to believe that God has withdrawn his protection or worse yet, he has abandoned us when we need him the most.
Our confusion during these times stem from a lack of understanding of the role of pain and suffering in our lives. However if the truth be known, how we react in these painful times of crisis reveals much more about our faith than the months of ordinary living. God allows us to journey through these painful times to help us identify the weak spots in our lives so that we can begin to work to correct them.
Back in 1999 in the UK, the former conservative government’s cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken spent 18 months in jail. It was a scandal that rocked the country. He lost his reputation. His world did collapse. And yet, some years later, he was able to say, “I went through an all too publicised drama of defeat, disgrace, divorce, bankruptcy, and jail. But in the course of that saga, I discovered a loving God who answers prayers, forgives, and redeems”.
Sometimes we come to life’s crossroads
And we view what we think is the end.
But God has a much wider vision
And he knows that it’s only a bend.
The road will go on and get smoother
And after we’ve stopped for a rest,
The path that lies hidden beyond us
Is often the path that is best.
So rest and relax and grow stronger,
Let go and let God share your load
And have faith in a brighter tomorrow;
You’ve just come to a bend in the road.
(Author: Helen Steiner Rice)