Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Life is a Wasteland, or is it?

The way we think is the way we experience. The way that we conceptualize our lives is the way we suffer them. One friend assured me that he had married the wrong woman, and she that was a constant aggravation to him. Although I agreed with him that she sounded like a difficult woman, I didn’t agree that his marriage was a disaster.

Conceptualizing his marriage as a disaster, he experienced it as a “negative.” I tried to explain that, by regarding his marriage as a “negative,” he was torpedoing the possibility of working it out as a positive.

To demonstrate the power of our conceptualizations, let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine that you just returned home from the hospital after triple-bypass-surgery. The next morning you awoke with excruciating pain. Terrified, you immediately went to see your surgeon who subjected you to a battery of tests. He then explained that what you are experiencing is the best-case scenario. It demonstrated that the surgery has been successful. Consequently, if you trust your surgeon, although you might still be experiencing the same pain, your orientation towards the pain (and your experience of the pain) will be very different. What you had regarded as a negative you now see as a positive, and therefore you experience it differently.

This is the very thing of which the Bible assures us – negatives can really be positives in disguise. The Apostle Paul had suffered with an unnamed affliction, and he earnestly prayed that he’d be healed of it. However, God had something else in mind. He informed Paul that He wasn’t going to heal him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). The “negatives” are really positives in God’s hands.

This lesson does not only apply to our troubling relationships, it applies to all areas of our lives. Just take the person who has struggled with years of depression and thinks he is “pathological” or “mentally ill.” He needs to see his “negatives” or “weakness” as a glorious opportunity for God to perfect him.

This is the lesson Paul had learned. He had experienced such great suffering that he wanted to die:

• We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

Paul’s eyes were opened to the fact that what had seemed to be a negative was actually a positive! Our lives are filled with apparent negatives – circumstances that cause us to fear and despair. It’s so important that we learn to see them as positives. We need to see our difficult husband as a gift through which God will perfect and prepare us for our eternal home. This isn’t a matter of the power-of-positive-thinking; this is a matter of the reality of the hope we possess in our Savior Jesus!

Sadly, this encouragement is meaningless for people who don’t believe in our God. For them, fear, failure, pain and weaknesses are unmitigated negatives, without any redeeming virtue. They can no more be positively regarded than the finality of death. It is only our assurance in our loving God and His eternal rest that enables us to put a positive spin on the inevitable threats of this painful life. Without Him, life will grind us down, as the brilliant atheist Bertrand Russell confessed at the end of his road:

• I wrote with passion and force because I really thought I had a gospel. Now I am cynical about the gospel [of atheism] because it won’t stand the test of life. (Os Guinness, The Journey, 106)

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