A godly mentor once told me that joy and sorrow are like two sides to a railroad track. Both run through our lives in surprisingly close proximity. At the time, I didn’t really get it. I believed the angst of college life would subside around the time I put on a pair of strappy black heels and received a diploma. And it did. Good-bye final exams, good riddance college drama. But surely as the dawn, new sorrows came. Indeed every season seems to have its share. Some are gigantic, others minor. But always, there is something. Something I want. Something I fear. Something that exhausts me. Something that confuses me. Something that disappoints me. In my life, I can always find something to complain about. I can always find a reason to be discontent. A reason to question God.
The ironic thing is, at the very same time there’s a track of joy running through my life. For every handful of cheerios shoved into the waffle iron (ugh!) there’s one little cheerio poked into a bellybutton that sets off a symphony of laughter. And for every private struggle with God, there is the promise of deeper intimacy, truer understanding, and richer communion. I think the secret to contentment lies in learning how to embrace both sides of the railroad track—the things in our lives we love, and the things in our lives we don’t. How do we do that? I’m glad you asked :) I think it begins by…
Contrary to Facebook myth, nobody enjoys everything about his or her life, because no life is untouched by the fall. The question is, are we being honest about the painful side of the track? Few things are more freeing than authenticity. And no people are freer to embrace authenticity than Christians because we have guaranteed acceptance! We are not judged according to how well we “have it all together,” how we perform, or how many people we can deceive into envying us. We live in the shadow of another Man’s perfection which forever declares us righteous, accepted, and loved! So we’re free to risk, to fail, to be rejected by the world, to be struggling, growing, and honest about it.
Conversely, nothing is more enslaving than deceit. When we can’t be real with anybody, including ourself, we live in a narrow prison of appearances. What’s more, honesty with God is paramount to a relationship with Him. Lying to yourself is denial. Lying to others is pretense. But lying to God is the very depths of loneliness.
Once we’re honest about the trials in our life—and we quit pretending we’re not as disappointed as we really are—we can begin to view them through a lens of humility. Like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, humility can make the toughest trial easier to swallow, simply by putting it into perspective.
What this means is, it’s time to take your eyes off your belly button, and look up into the face of Christ. There is no quicker, truer way to cultivate humility. Believe me, nobody is more navel-focused than me. Just the other night I had a conversation with friends about how annoyingly introspective I am. Because of this, the “honesty” part is not really my struggle. The humility part is. Yet time and again humility proves to be my ticket to peace with suffering. For in light of Christ, my sorrows are pale, my indignation arrogant, and my “rights” ridiculous.
So picture you and me—shamefully honest, pitifully humble, a bundle of unworthiness in His presence. Pretty pathetic, huh? Wouldn’t you know, our gracious God looks at us, and unlike the world, He does not despise us. As He said to Israel in the depth of her disgrace, “How can I give you up? My heart is turned over within Me; All my compassions are kindled” (Hosea 11:8).
In our honest, naked humility, Jesus Christ imparts hope. He has not left us. He has not ceased to love us. He is greater. Stronger. And in Him lies the victory. Often my disappointment with the painful track in my life is intertwined with discouragement over my own sinfulness. I shouldn’t have these feelings of anxiety, disappointment, or anger. I should be past this. Better than this. More mature in Christ than this. But there is a truth that continually sustains me. It is the mystery of Colossians 1:27—Christ in me, the hope of glory! Because Christ dwells in me, I always have hope. In Him I will overcome—both my circumstances and my sinfulness—and one day, by His grace, I will arrive.
If you are in Christ, so will you. There will come a day when the mighty engine of Hope that’s powered us along the tracks of joy and pain will deposit us in a place that knows no sorrow. On that day, there will be but one track stretching into eternity–that of joy fulfilled, faith seen, and hope realized. So do not lose heart! There is a final destination to the journey. The destination is home.
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