Just before the financial crisis of 2008, I decided it was time to consult a financial planner. I rolled all my old retirement accounts to his company and chose the most aggressive growth strategy. It was terrible timing. I lost 35% of my hard-earned savings in mere months. I understood the Sunday morning quarterbacking that was rampant at the time, the wish to have safely invested if I’d known what was coming. It seemed everyone was spooked. Many delayed retirement. Some believed their losses would never be recouped.
Widespread fear would have pulled me down with it, had I not summoned the effort to ignore alarmists. It required a conscious choice to think spiritually. I made myself trust God. I didn’t consider Him as just a recipient of tithes, I wanted Him in control of all my resources. If that meant living in a tent subsisting on rice and beans, so be it.
(* In hindsight, the decision to trust spared me needless worry. By 2012 my funds had recovered and they continue to amass.)
Curious about how I was faring in the midst of that market crash, one of my sons asked about my investments. While he was at it, he also wondered about my long term plans with my job as a physical therapist, remaining in our home or moving, and whether or not I thought I would ever remarry. I told him I had learned to be content being single but always felt it was temporary. I might stay with my job or do something entirely different. I might stay in my home or end up moving far away.
I must have sounded noncommittal to my son that day, but the truth is I don’t make important decisions without guidance from God, and I didn’t have it yet. I’m all too aware of my very limited understanding. I want His direction regarding finances, vocation, health, where to live, the people in my life … everything.
(* In 2011, I did leave my job to do something entirely different — writing. What next? I don’t know yet. He is a light unto our paths. As mine becomes illuminated, I’ll walk forward on it.)
Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Several years ago, I met a young man who expressed his deep regret for not patiently following God after a divorce. He’d quickly remarried, and had just been left by his second unfaithful wife. He felt like a failure, was deeply depressed and without hope in himself. In his view, divorcing twice was proof that he was the cause and destined for failure. Buried under his demolished dreams, he was convinced that this was who he was, this was what he deserved.
I saw it much differently. I agreed with him that his humanity and weaknesses contributed to getting into something that God likely didn’t want for him, but he wasn’t the cause or doomed to failure. If he trusted God and followed Him, he would be led through and out of crises, and as a bonus, would extract benefits from his troubles.
(* He has since married a wonderful woman. They have a baby now and a happy, secure life together. The guy radiates joy and gratitude!)
Romans 8:28 – And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
While we are overwhelmed by troubles, God is up to complex designs behind the scenes. We may be miserable and suffering from injustices or our own wrongdoing, but He is shaping and molding us at the same time. He is creating possibilities for us. We usually aren’t even aware of His tireless work to give us a hope and a future.
John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
The enemy of us all intends harm. One effective scheme is to convince us that our current sub-par life is the end of the story. Those who rely on God and keep expecting good things from Him will be positively affected even by evil in the end. From the rubble of our demolition arises patience, wisdom, desire for righteousness, hope, and ambition to live fully and meaningfully if given another chance to do so.
Romans 5:3-5 – We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
All those good things happen in the suffering. Whether it’s suffering we did nothing to deserve, or suffering we caused, it doesn’t matter — suffering is useful to shape qualities within us for a better future.
What a tragedy it would be to voluntarily stop the story of our lives in the middle of our most pitiful chapters. We shouldn’t accept that our biographies will conclude in defeat. The ending needn’t be “my losses will never be recouped”. If God has His way, those painful chapters will be exploited to ultimately adorn us with splendor. If we expect and allow it, our worst chapters can yet be converted to exceptional, satisfying, victorious biographies.
Isaiah 61:3 … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
When we’re in chapters of discouragement and lack, we must look for our future chapters to improve, and realize God wants to illuminate extraordinary paths to each of us. We need to discern when a devil’s advocate is at work, claiming our biography will close in depressing style without ever arriving at happiness and excellence. Devil’s advocates come in the form of unsuspecting or willing human vessels of harm, or as unwanted circumstances that are thrust on us. Sometimes it inhabits our own thinking.
The man in his second divorce temporarily believed that he deserved a minimal life. He thought that his life was at odds with God’s nature and ways. Based on his punishing circumstances, he expected more of the same ahead. Had his errant self-condemnation persisted, he would have written the final chapters of his own biography far short of the enviable life he now has.
When my son was home from college one holiday, he told me, “When I’m away, I feel like I won’t get a job, and can’t manage simple chores even. When I’m at home, I feel like I can do anything … I’ll go to grad school in Berlin! Or I can find a great job anywhere right now!” I don’t know how or when self-doubt and defeatism came to obscure his thinking. It wasn’t rational. He was in the top 15% of his college class and had a great work ethic. How did the truth of his potential get buried under a dark blanket of lies?
1 Corinthians 4:5 – Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness …
I’m grateful the light displaces the blanket of darkness for my kids, even if only intermittently for now. I expect it to shine increasingly brighter for them over time. What a shame if they were permanently deceived into expecting their life stories to be of defeat, apathy, underachievement and non-effectiveness, when all along God had opportunities reserved for them to enjoy the opposite.
What if God has unwritten pages of everyone’s biographies reserved for the fulfillment of their desires, expectations, and needs, but most life stories read as nothing more than mundane existences? What a shame!
1 John 1:5 … God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
When all we can see is darkness, we have to seek God’s light in our lives. Equally crucial, we must pursue total light when we’re in dim light. We’re being fooled to the point that we’re satisfied because “it could be worse”. We’re living in gray, when all along we could have lived in vivid colors had we only kept expecting it.
God alone knows how our futures will be written, but we do the writing. He doesn’t coerce. He gives each of us free choice. I want mine to be penned the way He hopes for it. I don’t want him sadly saying, “What a shame,” when he thinks of me. As a parent, I want as much for my sons. As a parent to all, God’s desires for us exceed our imaginations.
I hope for light to dispel others’ darkness, and to witness God’s delight as their lives take a turn to the vivid, colorful, expansive lives He intended. I want Him satisfied that biographies were averted from sagas of turmoil and defeat, to accounts of maximized lives — impacting, purposeful, unique, joyful lives lived to the utmost.