This is the third post in the series on Comparison cures. To read the previous post, click here.
“Live the life you want to live”
“Don’t drift through life. Get where you want to be.”
“How could you let that happen to you?”
“You need to try harder”
Would you say that those are fairly common phrases? I hear them or read them almost daily. So many high-powered people talk about how you are the only thing holding yourself back from a “better” life.
If you have ever seen “The Princess Bride,” then you’ll remember the shrilly little man named Vincini who keeps blurting out the word “inconceivable!” Finally, after several inconceivably conceivable events, his companion, Inyigo Montoya turns to him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” When I hear people say the above phrases or use the word “better” I feel a bit like Inyigo Montoya. I don’t think it means what they think it means. Only God really knows what is best. Sometimes the worst things that happen fashion our hearts to be more like the Lord and less like the world.
So often we think we’ve been dealt a bad hand. We see God as unjust and unfair—though I daresay we only think it in our heart. The truth is, Satan is trying to pull us away from God by any and every means possible. Satan will use wealth and prosperity to create pride, apathy and complacency. He inspired concentration camps to create despair and hopelessness. He destroys families, feeds loneliness and abandonment so that people will seek help outside of God, falling deeper into his clutches. God is not unaware of what goes on, and we are never beyond his reach. God is able to transform any agonizing trial into something glorious if we accept the situation and allow Him to work.
Think of it this way: imagine that a father has told his son that they are going to get ice cream. Through no fault of the father’s, the ice cream shop they frequent has suddenly gone out of business. The Father tries to explain to his Son that there are alternatives, but his little boy is too busy crying and stomping his feet to listen. The Father understands that his son does not understand the unpredictability of life and tries to help him. However, if the little guy is going to ignore the reassurance of his father (and alternate plan to go to another shop) and instead chooses to kick and scream, there will be no ice cream, but a firm reprimand instead.
There is nothing wrong with being upset/hurt/disappointed, but where do you take your pain? Do you allow it to be your focus or do you turn and listen to the Father? Do you accept things and place them in God’s omnipotent hands or do you rage against the machine hoping that all your fighting will change things?
So much of our trouble in comparing ourselves to others is our unwillingness to accept both blessings and trials. But lest you think acceptance is defeat, guess again.
Acceptance is not lazy resignation.
When I hear individuals talk about success, they place those of us “less successful folk” in the lazy category. They look dubiously on the person who sighs and says, “that’s just the way it is” as if they are too complacent. In one way, they are right. We cannot just drift about as though we are fated to have it good or have it bad. We must always work toward our improvement and the improvement of those within our sphere of influence.
However, there are times when things just turn nasty and we have to determine our course of action. In life, we often find ourselves in the midst of a sudden storm. What is our usual reaction? We get upset, we cry, we analyze, we fret, we throw up our hands in defeat—we do everything except turn it over to God. The best course of action is to accept the situation, not in defeat, but as an acknowledgement of reality. People who commit suicide feel resigned to their lot and they think that death will alleviate their pain and the pain of others. What it usually does is create more destruction and grief.
No, lazy resignation is NOT acceptance.
So, what is acceptance and how will it help cure our comparison ills?
Acceptance is Situational Awareness
In law enforcement and the military, a huge portion of their training deals with this idea of Situational Awareness. Those men and women don’t get to create their circumstances. They go where they are needed and often find themselves in some sticky spots. The first and best thing to do is to be alert, sober, vigilant and highly observant. If, for example, an officer finds himself in a place where there is a suspect running down the road on foot, the first thing is to be cognizant of what they look like and where they are going. Are there other suspicious people around who might cause the officer harm? Are they going into a place where they can be cornered? Where is the nearest backup? They have to take the situation as it is and decide what to do with it.
As children of God, there will be seasons of life that are painful. They are not of our making, but are the result of living in this decaying world. The first step is to be aware of the reality and to guard ourselves against the tricks of our enemy (Satan). It’s acceptance of fact. If you jump off a cliff, you’ll die. Someday, the people you love will die. At some point, you will die. There will always be people who grasp for power, control and tyranny. There will always be people who reject God. Companies go under. Jobs disappear. Cancer creeps in. Bad people get good things and good people get bad things. That is reality, however awful it may be. Be aware of it, be on guard against Satan and set your mind on the blessings that you have in the moments that you have them. Lastly, remember the greatest reality of all—this life isn’t the end. Someday we’ll have an eternal life and that’s the better thing.
Acceptance is Trust in God
I’ve been reading the book of Daniel over the past few days and I still marvel at how much Daniel and his three friends placed their trust in God. I wrote about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a previous post, so I won’t expound on them here. What jumped out at me in this reading was in Daniel 6. It’s a familiar account to many children about Daniel in the Lion’s Den, but the den part wasn’t what struck me.
Here is part of the account:
Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
~ Daniel 6.3-10, ESV
Notice a few important details. Daniel was given a great deal of power in the kingdom and things were only looking up. He had integrity. He was respected. In spite of being away from his homeland in Israel, life was good for him. What these men were planning to do had the potential to destroy him. He would lose every earthly thing—power, wealth, respect, and, of course, his very life.
On the other hand, if he did not continue to serve God, He would lose everything of value—his relationship with God.
Does Daniel weep bitter tears and ask God why these things are happening? Does he try praying in secret so they won’t find out about it?
He didn’t hesitate. He went up to his room, got down on his knees and started praying; And not just praying, but praying visibly. He wanted them all to know, without doubt, that Daniel’s loyalty was to God and not men. He accepted the reality of the situation and made the choice to put his life in God’s omnipotent hands. He trusted that God would take care of him, either in this life or the next.
After being delivered from the lions’ den, the account says this in verse 23: “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”
Acceptance is seeing the storm and trusting that somehow, God will pull you through it. When we accept the good and the bad and place it in the hands of the Lord, we have peace. When the fear starts to grip your heart, take it to the Lord in prayer. You will never find peace or rest until you do that.
I want to conclude with this excellent poem by Amy Carmichael:
He said, ‘I will forget the dying faces;
The empty places,
They shall be filled again.
O voices moaning deep within me, cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in forgetting lieth peace.
He said, ‘I will crowd action upon action,
The strife of faction
Shall stir me and sustain;
O tears that drown the fire of manhood cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in endeavour lieth peace.
He said, ‘I will withdraw me and be quiet,
Why meddle in life’s riot?
Shut be my door to pain.
Desire, thou dost befool me, thou shalt cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in aloofness lieth peace.
He said, ‘I will submit; I am defeated.
God hath depleted
My life of its rich gain.
O futile murmurings, why will ye not cease?’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in submission lieth peace.
He said, ‘I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God tomorrow
Will to His son explain.’
Then did the turmoil deep within me cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in Acceptance lieth peace.