Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling Alone

This is our fourth installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Last time we discussed embracing change instead of fearing it. Today we talk about bouncing back through our deep relationships.

People who have strong connections are more resistant to stress. The more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be because you have a strong support network to fall back on.

Surround yourself by people who make you feel good and further your development. Poet John Donne once said, “No man is an island”. People who know more about the issue than I do say that the more we isolate ourselves, the more we increase our stress and frustration.  Al Gore said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech,

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

were-here-to-pump-you-upAnother quirky element of being part of community is that other people can also have an impact on our effort levels.  If the person next to you is working hard then it increases your work ethic.

I have seen this in the gym and at Command PT time and again. If you’re paired with someone who puts out minimal effort, your own effort will diminish. If you’re with someone who is PUMPED UP and giving maximum effort, your own efforts will improve!

Why be part of a deep and authentic community?

  • We were made to exist in community

Genesis 1 lays the groundwork for it. Every time God creates something, He steps back and says, “It is good.” But out of the ENTIRE created world, there is only ONE thing that is “not good.”

It is not good for man to be alone.

So man goes on a quest to find a perfect partner. None can be found. So God takes matters into his own hands and creates woman, the perfect partner for man, and thus the first community was established. We were built to exist and thrive when we take care of each other in community. Which leads us to the next point —

  • Taking care of others takes care of yourself.

Being of service to others is a powerful way of stoking resilience. Researchers have found that serotonin is used more efficiently by people who engage in acts of kindness. That means the more you do kind things for others, the happier and more resilient you will be. It’s almost like we were created to do good works. If only there were a Bible verse that could back up this theory…

Oh, wait:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

 

  • Authentic Community helps us bounce back

Community groups help us as we wrestle with difficulties. AA, NA, Bible Study Groups, take your pick – being plugged into communities gives us resources and support to manage difficult times and not break. The Apostle Paul talks about this kind of thing in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 15:1-3 ~ We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.

And, in the end, this is about what real family looks like. It’s not about shared blood – it’s about choosing to be an intentional part of a community of like-minded people. People who spur us on. People who won’t let us quit. People we impact and who impact us. People who keep us from breaking.

This is family.

 

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

Are You Unhappy? Here are 5 Things People Do to Find Joy

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What makes you joyful?

At my church’s Wednesday night adult group once we were talking about joy. It’s one of those things that the Apostle Paul talks about as “The Fruit of the Spirit.” That is to say, when the Spirit of God is in us one of the things that should be produced in us is joy.

So we split into two groups (men and women) to come up with the top 5 things we think the average person in America thinks would bring them joy. If you had to pick 5, what would you think the average person would say?

Here’s what our men came up with:

1. Propane – yes, we lived in the Midwest. If you weren’t aware there was a propane shortage there. Go ahead, read all about it. It was leaving many people without heat (or paying exorbitant prices). Yes, having propane would make many joyful.

2. Financial windfall/winning the lottery. I’ve got 100 problems and 90 of them would be resolved if I had more money. That would definitely make me joyful!

3. Romance/significant other. I just want someone to share my life with. That would make me joyful.

4. Good health. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. I would be so much happier if I had good health.

5. Helping others. I get such a good feeling when I help others.

Were these close to what you came up with?

The problem with all of these answers is that they are connected to temporary things. None of them is permanent. Cold weather, bills, people, health, and good feelings all come and go. If we look to these things for our joy then we’re always going to be chasing.

That kind of joy is a pipe dream.

It’s not the kind of joy we see in the Bible when Peter writes:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Finding joy in the middle of trials and tough time feels impossible, yet time and time again the Bible talks about joy in the midst of suffering. You see, from the Bible’s perspective, joy isn’t based on temporary things and events. Though such things might give us joy for a bit they will eventually fade. It is when we are able to shift focus and take our eyes off of this world and focus on what’s coming for us later that we can know joy no matter what we face in this life.

It’s about holding on to our eternal circumstances over our temporary trials.

I might not know what you’re going through. It may be excruciating. But we know and believe that one day we will rest easy in the presence of Yahweh. All the wrongs will be made right. All the hurts will be healed. We will know a permanent and lasting joy unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Until that day, that hope anchors us here and now. May we learn to say with the Apostle Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

Amen.

Related Posts:
Discover Your Key to Happiness

Discover Your Key to Happiness

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Secret – sold more than 19 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 46 languages. We seem to love the idea of being able to control our own happiness and prosperity. (**note – The Secret does not work. Putting positive thoughts into the world does not mean that good things are going to happen. There is no cause and effect that will make The Secret actually work. I will concede that positive people are more likely to have positive interactions with others, making people more likely to be around you or to help you out, but it’s not about your positive energy – it’s your attitude. Who wants to hang around someone who has a crappy attitude?)

We live our lives talking to ourselves about “If only” – If only I had this that would make me happy. If only I could do that then I would be happy. In the Western world it is amazing that we can be so blessed and so unhappy at the same time. We start to believe some major lies about what would make us happy and why we are unhappy.

The Lies

God is withholding from me – this was Adam and Eve’s big problem; they thought that God was holding out something better – they compared the life they had with what they thought they could have if God wasn’t holding out. Comparison robs many of us of our potential happiness. I’m not satisfied with my 32 inch beast of a tv because my friend just got a 46 inch flatscreen LCD. Before I started thinking about what I could have I was perfectly content with my tv, but when I start comparing my life to other possibilities I start to become unhappy.

God owes me – I put in my time, I’m in church, I tithe, I do my best to forgive people when they are rude to me… I’ve done my bit – why doesn’t God reward me? This is the person who does something in order to get something. But God isn’t like that. You don’t get rewarded for being good. You don’t get punished for being bad. Sometimes bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it. Sometimes good things happen to horrible people. God doesn’t owe any of us anything. If this is how you think about religion, it might be time to move on. God’s blessing and favor is not a commodity.

If I get it, I’ll be happy – Prosperity and contentment don’t always go together. Rich people are unhappy, too. “They say money can’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a mansion…” When your circumstances change, your discontent will change along with them! (see above about God owing me…)

I know what is best for me – We get into trouble when we try to plot our own course to happiness. No matter how much you try to navigate your own course you don’t ultimately know what’s best. We really have very little control over this world. Some people try to control through accumulation. Some try to control through asceticism (denying themselves.) But contentment isn’t about controlling ourselves. Self-denial doesn’t equal contentment – contentment is inward and cannot be touched by circumstances, can’t be stolen by sickness or poverty, cannot be ruined by the loss of a job, friends, or house.

The Bible does talk about contentment, though. In Philippians 4:4-13 Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Paul isn’t crazy; he says it twice – Rejoice! What gives Paul joy is not things or circumstances. Paul’s relationship with God gave him a sense of contentment that transcended his immediate circumstances

The prophet Isaiah says

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name,  whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6-7)

You were made for one purpose – for God’s glory! Discontentment begins when we put ourselves at the center of the universe and remove God. It’s a big view of me and a very little view of God. Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because it has its source in the continual presence of Christ – not on temporary things or circumstances.

We can recover our joy – we need a commitment to contentment. Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be. It’s easy to submit when God’s will involves large amounts of cash, perfect health, exotic vacations, or unlimited vanilla chai lattes. But a commitment to contentment embraces both prosperity and pain as from the hand of God.

So ignore the lies and, like Paul, understand that Jesus is enough – even in the tough times. Then count your blessings – it’s amazing what blessings and grace we have in our lives that we simply ignore or gloss over. Find them. Look for them. Thank God for them. Finally, focus on helping others. Practically speaking, if we get our mind off of our own troubles and try to find ways to help others then our own suffering diminishes and we can focus on the good things in life.

I believe God wants us to live joyful lives. That does not mean he’ll give us all luxury cars and full bank accounts. We can learn to live lives of joy no matter what our worldly situation may be.

So clap your hands…