Friday, September 22, 2006

Choose Joy

Pain, suffering, and tragedy are part of life in a sin-broken world. A measure of our growth into healthy people is learning how not to be swept away and consumed by the brokenness. And, I’m convinced, part of the way we learn to face a world so filled with hurt is to not give it center place in our lives.

Will there be pain, our own and that of others? Will there be wars? Will their be tragedies on our street and around the world? Will there be abuse? Will there be suffering? Of course. God walks with us through those valleys of the shadow of death when they touch us personally, and we must bear one another’s burdens as well. Walking alongside the wounded, offering a hand to the downtrodden and pulling them out of the pit, this is part of the joy of a Christian life. Hurt can make us stronger. Growth means pain. It’s all part of life.

But will we let all this dysfunction be the focal point?

We should, the Bible says, think on the good, beautiful, and true. The fruit that should grow on the Christ-follower’s tree include joy and peace. Jesus has overcome the world, and made us overcomers alongside Him. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. He has given us a beautiful world to steward, a world that’s bathed in His grace.

Dysfunction used to be the focal point of my life. I read tragic stories, watched sad movies, and listened raptly to the news. I immersed myself in the details of suffering of people all over the world. It all seemed so touching, so important, so responsible.

As a pastor’s wife my family deals the currency of suffering daily. Not our own, most of the time. And we don’t mind. In fact, it’s our joy to bring the healing salve of Christ the broken and hurting. But I discovered that purposefully adding more sadness to the mix simply made my burden too much to bear. One’s mind, it seems, can only absorb so much tragedy without sinking into an abyss that’s difficult to climb out of.

So I’ve had to learn to do two things. One is to handle the pain without letting it overwhelm. The other is to shield myself from unnecessary negative information.

Some might accuse me of hiding my head in the sand, of not being a realist, of not pulling my share of the load. Well, all I can say is that I have to be faithful in the realm God has placed me in and trust that He’ll put others in other realms, because I can’t do it all.

I don’t watch the news. I read the headlines (rarely the full story), and on difficult days I even skip that. I almost never read stories of death, tragedy, and suffering, even if ultimately courage and character win. I steer clear of tragic movies, of tales filled with conflict and hardship, even when they have a happy ending. I’ll be honest: If I’m hankering for a story of God’s help in the midst of suffering, I can pick up the phone and call any one of a dozen friends from my church. I don’t read blogs or message boards that tear others down. I’ve even avoided one or two on my blog roll lately, because I just can’t take the negative tone and the absorption with war and abuse. I avoid critical people. Even during times of world-shaking tragedy, I try to be careful what kinds of negative stories and images I allow into my mind.

I vote. I try to keep a general idea of what’s going on in the world without having to know too many sordid details. If I know of a bridge out ahead I’ll jump up and down and trumpet a warning, but I’m not an activist. I’ll go anywhere and do anything for Jesus. My heart cries for those who suffer around the world, and I do what I can to help, but it’s not a consuming focus. I’m not avoiding reality. I get a healthy dose of that every day. It’s my joy to serve the hurting, but I don’t feel compelled to take on the burdens of the world at large in addition to my daily portion. It’s too heavy, too much.

I think, too, of my little children. I don’t want them to remember a mother who was obsessed with negative things. I don’t want to fill their young minds with sad or scary stories, images, and concepts that they don’t have the maturity to handle. I want life to be a wonderful adventure to them, I want their futures to be something to look forward to, not something to dread. Soon enough they’ll come face to face with the hard things of life without me introducing it to them prematurely.

The thing is that there is so much that’s good, beautiful, and true to focus on. In addition to war, political conflict, physical and moral assaults, pollution, death, and disease, there is reconciliation, creativity, love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, healing, birth, growth, life, beauty, sharing, victory. We live in a beautiful world. There are good people, not just bad ones. There are happy lives, not just sad. Plans often come to fruition without problems. Proportionately, though, negative information available far outweighs the good. It’s an uphill battle to protect my mind from an onslaught of negative thoughts and emotions.

I’m not advocating some ostrich-like positive thinking mumbo jumbo. Of course I know that it’s important and unavoidable to sometimes hear about bad things. There are places to get that kind of information when we need it. I’m just not convinced that we need as much of it as we think we do. I’m hear to bear the burdens of others, and if a friend needs a shoulder to cry on, I’m here. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m not going to import sadness just for fun, in this day of limitless information. Reports of evil aren’t front and center in my mind.

Let me encourage you to do the same. Even if your calling carries you to the front lines of battle, don’t let it consume you. Give goodness equal time. Make room for celebration. Read a lighthearted story, take in comedy, listen to uplifting music instead of the news, spend time in encouraging conversation with friends, have fun with your family doing something besides work. If words like heavy, sad, tragic, struggle, and fight crop up frequently in your vocabulary, do a heart check. Look for the good, the beautiful, the true. Focus on the Answer, not the problem, the Life-Giver, not destruction, the Redeemer, not the fallen world, the Healer, not the sickness, the Lover, not hatred, the Prince of Peace, not war, the King of Kings, not politics. And when you come face to face with the darkness caused by sin, don’t give it more attention than it’s due; focus on the Light. Choose Jesus. Choose joy.


Windy said...

I am so reminded that God only gives us what we can handle... I think that I should do "what we can hangle" with Grace, Love and a little bit (and I mean a little bit) of frazzle. :)

God has recently given me a little more to handle, but you know what... I did just that, handled it. I have really had to learn where I choose to put myself in the heat of the drama. God has helped with teaching me how not to do that... Life is so much better when the drama of others does not consume you. I dont mean not to give support when needed, lend a helping hand when help is needed or to love and say no when needed. Drama is what we make it to be... It is only as big as we let it get. God is so awesome, it is with his lessons that he has taught me through my drama and trauma of life.

Thank you Stephanie for your post!!

Anonymous said...

I really can't believe that God designed us to intake all the negative that we get from watching the news. For thousands of years the sorrows that people had to deal with had only to do with those in their local circle, for the most part. To daily be baraged (sp?) with all the evil in the world is not a command from God. I know enough about the evil in this world to last my whole life. I can only live in the realm I'm in and make a difference where God leads. If really hard times come my way --then I'll have to get grace from God for those. Joy

Charity Grace said...

Y'all deserve an award for reading all the way to the end of that wordy post. I love both your comments though.

Windy, you are right on when you say that we choose where we put ourselves in the drama. This can be hard in the middle of relationships (family, friends, whoever)--but it's a huge milestone when we get to the place that we are not ruled by our emotions and can rather rest in God and view situations through His lense.

Joy, my thoughts exactly. We aren't designed to take in that much negativity, and you are right, for most of history, mankind has not had access to this volume of information. Which is why I think it's important to protect ourselves from knowing too much, or becoming too consumed by the information available.

Thanks to both of you for your comments.