By Jonathan Hart, LPC
Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
The concept of “facing plenty” has bugged me for a long time. We don’t often use the language of “facing…” when we are talking about a good thing. “I was facing a time of wealth and comfort, but I made it through by the grace of God.” But this is the language Paul uses: plenty and abundance are something to be faced, in a parallel way to facing lack and poverty. There are unique challenges in having plenty and abundance, and they can be as difficult as having want and need.
Part of the challenge, I think, comes from our habit of thinking that plenty and abundance are “the norm” and that anything less is a burden to be borne and overcome as soon as possible. I can’t imagine relating to abundance in this way. “I have too much money. I have to get rid of it somehow and get back to scraping by from check to check!” How many people are dropping into horrific debt in order to “maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed”?
When we are in pain, grief, loss, hurt, or distress, we do one thing uncommonly well: we complain. We articulate our pain, we feel every inch of it and talk about it in the hopes of finding someone who can identify with it and tell us it’s OK to feel that way about it. What if we “complained” about our abundance the same way? What if we treated our abundance and surplus the same way we treated our challenges and loss? We don’t often do this because of our misconception that plenty and abundance are the norm: we are entitled to them and therefore they are not noteworthy.
I encourage many people to “wallow” in their good times, to store them up in memory and savor them richly. I encourage people to concentrate on being fully present in the joy of the moment and holding on to it so that when it passes (as it inevitably will), we can more fully recall it and taste it again in our mind. Articulate and “complain” about how good things are, much as we articulate and complain about our pain, because joy and pain alike are part of living in a broken world.
I am not talking about disassociating from joy and pain, as much of Christianity is taught to do: “Times are bad, but the joy of the Lord is my strength!! I don’t feel the pain because Jesus is so good!” I am actually encouraging us to feel the joy – and the pain – more fully.
This practice can give us much more resilience and strength to last through the difficult times. We can soothe our hearts and minds on the fact that pain and shortfall are not all that has ever been, that resources come and go, that pain, like joy, is temporary in this life. The seasons continue to turn, and life is more than this present moment; the joy of last year still exists, even though this moment is hard, and the joy that I knew then will come again in time.
This practice helps us hold on more tenaciously to times of plenty as well. We can practice the recognition that this joy is temporary and that it is a gift, rather than an entitlement. Nothing draws our attention to life more than a death in the family. Nothing raises our awareness of the value of our spouse or children than to hear that a friend has lost those most precious to them. If we can practice this mental discipline of savoring our joy and plenty because it is temporary, we will live and enjoy it much more fully.
By: Lianne Johnson, LPC
I have had the privilege to read and listen to Diane Langberg, Ph.D., on many occasions and have always enjoyed her words. Diane has been a Psychologist for over 35 years working with trauma survivors and clergy. Personally, I think she is amazing.
During one of the times I heard her speak she said, “we learn about relationships IN relationships.” This struck me. Not because of its simplicity, but because of its truth. If this statement is true, then why are so many of us looking for a book, seminar, or conference to teach us how to have relationships? Even more so, why do we tend to remove ourselves from relationships when they become hard or tiring?
What if, even in the midst of the unknowns, hardships, and tiring times, we chose to remain? I suppose if Diane is correct in saying that, “we learn about relationships IN relationships” then as we remain we will learn, grow, and possibly even enjoy.
By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
My wife and I were watching a recent episode of Burn Notice (#502: “Bloodlines”, if you’re interested), where the character of Fiona tries to keep a philandering scientist out of trouble.
**While I am trying not to give too much away, there may be spoilers in the next sentence.**
The two of them ended up in a fast car on the highway, with Fiona driving 130 mph with her eyes closed, while the panicking scientist shouted at her when she needed to turn.
I have, in my reckless youth, driven almost that fast, and I can tell you with all sincerity, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. When you’re driving 25 or 30 miles an hour, you can look around and enjoy the surroundings a bit. At 130 miles an hour, you must keep your eyes glued intently on the road in front of you, or you will die. You don’t really even have time to check the next lane before you have to move into it because what is coming at you is coming hard and fast. (Did I mention it yet? Do NOT try this at home!)
I am realizing that in a lot of ways, the difficulties and challenges that arise in life are a lot like traveling at excessive speed on the highway. Trouble is not an enjoyable thing. It can be draining and often fearful to look at the road that life has you taking, and it seems like trouble loves to stomp on the gas. The feeling and fear of losing control, spinning, and flipping end-over-end is *not* exhilarating when it comes in the form of a crashing relationship or the brick wall of a crushing diagnosis.
When our lives are relatively trouble-free, we can look around and enjoy the scenery. We can get distracted by things that are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. How green (or brown) the lawn is, what critters are eating the veggies in the garden, that Tommy got a “C” in algebra, who said what and what did they mean by it, all become larger issues and demand more attention than they really deserve.
But trouble demands more of our resources in order to cope. When the doctor says, “Cancer”, the lawn doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore. The word “Divorce” tends to reduce the importance of how many tomatoes we are going to have this year. We need more of our energy to pay attention to the things that matter. Communication, study, emotional and mental effort are put toward dealing with the crisis, and the less important things fall by the wayside in a blur. Trouble has a way of re-setting our priorities, and this can be a good thing.
Another effect of trouble is to force us to realize that, no matter what we have come to believe, we are not in control of our lives. Oh, we can choose our socks and our favorite potato chips and a few other things, but circumstances change regardless of our precautions. Losing a job or a home or a loved one to disease is not something we generally have a say in. Our scientist friend in the story above was not driving, he was along for the ride, and the ride was terrifying. He could shout directions all he wanted, but he was utterly dependent on the skills of the driver.
The wonderful part is that for the believer in Jesus, losing control (or recognizing that control was not ours to begin with) can actually be *comforting*. We can find comfort when we learn that Trouble is not driving, God is. Paul writes in Philippians that he has learned that the secret to contentment lies in dependence on Jesus: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
No matter what it feels like, God is not a reckless driver who closes his eyes and waits for us to shout directions. He is, and has been, in charge of our lives and direction from the beginning, and (to push the illustration to its breaking point) he is the best driver there is.
Nothing makes the grinding trouble of this life less terrifying for us, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: most often, you are perfectly normal when you are afraid of the unknown future. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow precisely because he knew we would be worried about it. Knowing that God is driving and that he knows what he is doing gives us a place to go in our fear, a place to be afraid and most importantly, a place to find comfort.
Lest this entire post come off sounding fluffy and trite, please know that dealing with crises in life is not simple, straightforward or easy. There is no one “answer” or belief that will “fix” the problem or make the hurt and fear go away for good. This is one piece of what can often be a complex puzzle. When life accelerates and you feel it in the seat of your pants, find a friend or a counselor who can come along side you, who can help you make sense of your fear, and who can walk with you into the arms of Jesus. The fear will come and go. When it comes, keep on taking it to Jesus. He knows what to do with it.
Healthy eating and exercising are not bad.
In fact, those are ways to take care of what God has given us. We cross the line when our thoughts, hearts, actions, and lives become centered on the next meal, exercise, and overall appearance. When you begin manipulating food and exercise to punish or reward, you may need to reflect on what’s going on inside of you. We read in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” We do not have to be bound by the image in the mirror. We do not have to be bound by the comparisons we make with other people. We can begin to experience freedom in our everyday lives without distraction. Christ provides freedom from the bondage we face in this world, including food and body image issues.
Sure, dessert or a long walk or run is a gift for yourself, but if you are really honest, how much of this is affecting your heart and mind? Deep down, how much of your attitude towards food and exercise directly affects the thoughts about what you see in the mirror and, ultimately, who you are?