Moving OnPosted on: September 27, 2021, by : David
Wisdom from Jesus on dealing wth life’s challenges
Wouldn’t it be nice if life could be always easy and smooth, free of pain and struggle, no trials and tribulations? Wouldn’t it be nice if life could be always warm and pleasant, free of unkind words and confronting images, no nastiness or cruelty? Wouldn’t it be nice if life could be always comfortable and consistent, predictable and ordered? But we know it’s not as simple as that – and to expect it to be so is both foolish and naïve.
Life is a journey, full of ups and downs, twists and turns, unpredictable and sometimes incomprehensible. If there is one thing we have learned through these past 18 months of COVID, it is that nothing is certain. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course: if it were not so, if we had not had the experiences we have had – good and bad, helpful and difficult – we would not be who we are or where we are, the world would not be what it is or where it is.
Life is not always fair! Bad things do happen to good people! Even to us! So, what do we do when the sea rises or the sky falls, when the world crashes in on us in ways we don’t welcome or expect? Given that it’s clearly not possible to avoid discomfort (physical and emotional), to steer clear of hardship, how might we best deal with, and learn from, the challenges and hardship in life?
There’s a story from the life of Jesus that is instructive in this matter. It is recorded in the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel and it has two movements: the first is when Jesus, despite his words of wisdom and his works of healing, is rejected by the people of his home town, and the second is when Jesus sends the disciples out to work with some good advice about handling rejection.
Here’s my take, in four movements, on how the wisdom of Jesus can inform our response when life gets tough.
Movement 1: Be sure to undress before you go to bed
That is, take time each evening to undress your mind, to debrief your emotions – reflect on the experiences of that day. Start by affirming the positive experiences (any words of encouragement or affirmation, any notable accomplishments, any points of light observed or experienced in the course of the day, etc). Then recall and attend to any difficult moments: maybe someone offended you today – decide before you go to sleep to forgive them! Maybe you offended someone else –decide before you go to sleep to seek their forgiveness tomorrow. Maybe you got some bad news – decide before you go to sleep that, even if you can’t change the situation, you can choose how it impacts on you. Choose what to keep and what to throw away from each day – a daily ‘spring cleaning’ of mind and soul – thus preventing the negative experiences from becoming part of the accumulation of baggage that too easily weighs us down. Be sure to undress before you go to bed!
Movement 2: Being is more important than doing!
That story of Jesus is not what we expect: this is not the popular Jesus of the cheering crowds, it’s not the miracle-worker Jesus healing the sick, it’s not the wise Jesus teaching the disciples. This is the hurting Jesus, the uncertain Jesus, who features in this story of rejection. Jesus is dismissed by his home-town community as having nothing to offer them. And Jesus, we are told, is ‘astounded’ by his lack of productivity.
Jesus may be hurt by his rejection by the people he knew as friends, and ‘astounded’ by his lack of productivity, but he is not dejected or discouraged, nor does he despair.
Why? Because Jesus understands the difference between reacting and responding. Too often, faced with criticism or rejection, we become (as Frederick Buechner puts it) reactors not actors in the drama of our lives. It may be out of a desire to please others, or out of a defensive need for self- justification, but our re-action often takes one of two broad and opposite forms – we may throw ourselves even more furiously into our work, to prove our worthiness; or we may throw up our hands in despair and say, ‘what’s the use?’
Jesus, understanding the difference between being and doing, points in the right direction. Take the pressure off yourself! Don’t let outcomes (many of which we can’t actually control!) determine your life experience or your self-opinion. Focus not on what you do, but who you are! Because being is more important than doing.
A good place to start is to learn to live in the present. Too many of us spend too much time in the past, worrying about our failures or dwelling on our accomplishments. Others try to do the impossible and live in the future, anxious over what may or may not happen. One of the features of Jesus’ life was his ability to live in the present, to savour the moment, to really ‘attend’ to those around him.
Cultivate a reflective practice that enables you to ‘notice’ what is going on inside you at any given moment, enabling you to act out of that awareness rather than react to the circumstances or situation.
Movement 3: Moving On
In the second part of Mark’s story, Jesus warns the disciples that they, too, will most likely suffer rejection and opposition. Jesus knows that how they deal with those moments will colour their experience of life, and he uses the beautifully evocative image of ‘shaking the dust from your feet’ to remind them (and us) that it is important to move on when things don’t go as we planned, to let go of the disappointment and gently move ahead.
Jesus’ analogy of ‘shaking the dust from your feet’ is a great image. Anyone who has ever walked down a dusty track, or worn gumboots through a muddy field, will know how the dirt clings, builds up, won’t let go. Life can be like that: the accumulated baggage clings so tight, weighing us down. Says Jesus, let it go, shake it off, move on.
This is not to deny or trivialize the reality of challenging moments or painful experiences in life. But it is to deny them power over us, to minimize their impact upon us. There is an important difference between carrying these experiences as baggage and carrying them as learning experiences in life.
Jesus preaches the ‘don’t worry’ message consistently. Not as a naïve or simplistic denial of the reality of struggle, but as an affirmation that no matter what is going on, we can trust that God has so ordered creation that, one way or another, all will be well!
That’s the point of that part in the story where Jesus tells the disciples to take nothing with them – no bread, no bag, no money. Learn to depend on God.
Not that we should use this as a cop-out, as an excuse for laziness or inaction. In sending the disciples out Jesus is saying ‘go and do your best. Use your gifts and your resources to the best of your ability, but don’t sweat on the results or worry over the outcome.’ Let go and let God. And when things don’t work out as you hoped they might, shake the dust from your feet and move on.
Movement 4: We’re all in this together!
We so misunderstand the gospel when we make it a personal or individual thing. The gospel is not
primarily about personal salvation (despite the long history of the Christian Church trying to make it so). The gospel is about community transformation, about corporate wellbeing, about life together. We were made to live in community, and there is no doubt that we are better together.
Together we can share the load – we can lift the fallen, offer comfort to the suffering, encourage the struggling, share our energy, our experience, our wisdom, our care.
I always think it is disappointing (even though I understand the inclination) when people who are struggling, feeling lonely or isolated, rejected or dejected, choose to withdraw from community, to separate themselves from people. I understand that it can be difficult to disclose our hurt, to reveal our vulnerability, but it’s within a community of support that we will find our way back! It’s in the embrace of those who care for us that we will discover healing! We’re all in this together! And we deprive ourselves of a mighty resource if we fail to avail ourselves of the wisdom and compassion of our various communities.
So, there you have it. Some thoughts on how to deal with the inevitable ups and downs, the twists and turns in life:
1: Be sure to undress before you go to bed.
2: Being is more important than doing.
3: Shake the dust from your feet and move on.
4: We’re all in this together.
One of my all-time favourite quotes comes from George Bernard Shaw:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.