Jesus said in John 16:33: In the world, you will have tribulation but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.
We can’t choose the pain we go through, but we can choose the attitude we have as we go through our pain. We can whine and be miserable and tell everyone or we can trust in God, who is trustworthy. It’s important to release your pain to Him who is faithful and able to absorb it.
Have you noticed in your life that “stuff” happens? If you live long enough, you’ll observe that the dawn of every day does not always hold wonderful, joyous experiences. Perhaps the marriage you thought would last for a lifetime ended up disintegrated. You know that divorce happens but never thought it would happen to you. You may be a pastor who thought the church you serve would never ask you to leave. Or perhaps you’ve always been the “healthy” one, and now a potentially terminal illness has you in its grip. You thought your family seemed so perfect, yet one of your children attempts suicide. Your father, whom you trusted so fully, turns out to be an alcoholic. You trusted the company for whom you worked faithfully throughout your career to honor its pension fund commitments, and now they’ve declared bankruptcy. Get the message? Life happens and “stuff” happens in life.
No Pain . . . No Gain
The Bible says, “For he causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”[i] Elsewhere it says, “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox.”[ii] In other words, “Manure happens.” Where there is life, there is manure. However, much more good than bad comes out of a hard-working ox. In fact, if the manger is clean, there is no life at all.
Graveyards are clean because there is no life there. So, both good and not-so-good things will happen in life. The key is what we do with both the good and the not-so-good things that happen to us. Sometimes the not-so-good things might be our fault, or might be partially our fault, or might not be our fault. Nonetheless, it’s what we do with and how we react to shaping events in our life that determines our quality of life.
Pain in life is inevitable, but misery is optional.
It’s possible to be rejected but not affected. When a negative event occurs in your life, you can appropriate emotional intelligence to guide you through the storm. In other words, you need to appreciate and acknowledge your emotions but use them in an intelligent manner to give you the best possible chance of success. Emotions are wonderful servants, but terrible masters. Emotional intelligence is like a rudder on a ship. It navigates you through the storm to safer seas and harbors. “Storms” happen, but also “calm” happens!
The key is to go through the storms and not lose your bearings in the midst of the storm. God wants us to get our direction from Him, not from the past.
Remember, most people expect to live there by a “no pain . . . no pain” type of philosophy. But as in so much of the sporting world, the truth is “no pain . . . no gain.”
To repair and regain your damaged trust, you need to know how the process works whereby shaping events create lingering influences. Let’s look at a story in the Bible.
Jesus told of a man who holds an entirely wrong picture of God. Certain lingering influences created that picture in his mind and emotions. Subsequently, that wrong picture of God shaped his destiny. But where did it come from?
For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner, the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Now after a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Also, the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival, I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.[iii]
In this story, the master represents God. The slaves are God’s people, the nation of Israel. Notice, the slave called God, “a hard man, reaping where you do not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.”
The result of his definition of God was “and I was afraid and went away.” There it is—fear and rejection of God—because of a wrong definition of God. The wicked, lazy slave said, “I knew you to be a hard man.”
In His Own Image
What a tragedy! Here is someone born to win but conditioned to lose. He lived a self-fulfilling prophecy concocted in his own mind. The Bible tells us that God is good.[iv] God gave him the privileges of life, talents, abilities, opportunities, eternal life, money, a livelihood, and living quarters, but out of his fear, this well-cared-for slave saw God only as “a hard man.” He “knew” God to be a hard man.
You can have a misconception and think you “know God to be a ____,” but not really know God at all. God is not mean. God is not hard. God is good. God is generous. God was rooting for this slave, not against him.
Where did this man get this theology of “reaping where you do not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed”? After the great flood of Noah, God promised, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest . . . will never cease.”[v] In other words, you can only reap and gather where you have previously sown. You can’t have a harvest without sowing any seed, yet this man, who “knew” God, demanded a reaping where nothing was sown. That would make any of us fearful, too! That would certainly isolate us and make us to feel hopeless as well.
Jesus pitied the man. The man redefined God and made Him after his own image. He lived out the self-fulfilling prophecy he concocted. Jesus said “OK, have it your way—I won’t make your choices for you. But I didn’t choose your destiny—you did—but that’s not what I wanted for you!”
God will not violate our right of choice. That’s what being made in the image of God is all about. We have a choice. That’s both good news and bad news, isn’t it?
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FORGIVENESS AND TRUST
God commands us to forgive one another, as He has forgiven us. Often, out of obedience to Him, we choose, by faith, to forgive someone who has hurt us. Trust is a different matter.
You Might trust something (or someone) that isn’t trustworthy, but you will suffer the consequences. You’ll end up like the little pig who built his house of straw. One huff and puff from the big bad wolf, and that pig was seeking shelter elsewhere.
On an emotional level, trust is earned through behaviors that merit trust. If you step on my foot while shaking my hand, I’ll dismiss it as a mistake. If the next time we shake hands, you step on my foot again, I might think you’re getting awfully clumsy. However, by the time you’ve stepped on my foot three times in a row, I’ll be sure to stand back as I extend my hand. I trust you less and I’ll start to build a boundary to protect myself.
Such protection is healthy and natural. Yet in certain abusive situations, a victimized person may lose the ability to assess his or her own level of pain and will be unable to say no to perpetrators of pain. Others may think that to be “good” Christians, no matter how another person misuses them (physical abuse, embezzling funds, manipulation, etc.), they’re obligated to trust that person. They confuse forgiveness with overlooking harmful, destructive behaviors.
Trust is earned through consistent positive behavior over time. While this form of horizontal trust is important, but even then we need to trust God, because any person, even a normally caring person, at any given time may violate our trust. We have no guarantees regarding another person’s behavior.
The movie The End of the Spear tells the story of Mincayani, a Waodani tribesman in Ecuador who, in 1956, participated in slaughtering five missionaries. Mincayani personally speared Nate Saint, whose 4-year-old son, Steve, later went with his mother and the other widows to share God’s love with the Waodani. Because of the women’s’ determination to continue the work begun by their husbands, Mincayani and his tribe were redeemed and transformed from violent to peace-loving people. In the 1990s, Steve Saint and his family returned to Ecuador to work among the Waodani and lived with Mincayani’s family. How could Steve trust the man who murdered his father? Only by the supernatural working of God in his heart.