Life can be tough. Technological advancements, as wonderful as they are, have done little to take the sting out of life. We still get hurt. We still suffer setback, depression, discouragement and a host of other personal, financial, relational and health problems. The question is: How do we survive it without losing our marbles?
Assuming other people have also asked the same question I’ve decided to list a few things that have helped me “through” life. Not that I have mastered these by any stretch. All I can really claim is that I’m leaning into them and plucking away at them. Bit by bit. Inch by inch. Anyway, here’s my little list. They all begin with the letter H. Not just to make them easy to remember, but mainly because I’m addicted to alliteration.
By listing this key I fear giving the wrong impression. Namely, that I have already scaled the heights of success with this particular virtue. Little or nothing could be further from the truth. The tricky thing about humility is this: just when you think you have it, you don’t. In other words, if you think you’re humble you’re probably proud. Hence, I try to think of myself as a proud sort of fellow.
But it’s freeing to realize that you don’t have to be the best-looking, brightest, swiftest, slickest, fastest, or leanest kid on the block. As a preacher I sincerely try to think of others as better than myself, even if my reasons for doing so are partially selfish. The fact is, it takes the pressure off. I don’t have to try and meet some faulty expectations set by myself or someone else. Rather, I try to imagine that there are no expectations at all. Therefore, I have nothing to lose. If I succeed it’s a pleasant surprise. If I fail, well then I just did what was expected. It’s no big deal. I will simply try to do better next time. The wonderful thing about preaching every week is that you have a chance to redeem yourself every seven days. If my last message was a flop, it’s okay, In just a few days I’ll be back at the grind ready for a second shot, same time, same place.
Abraham Lincoln once said: “With the fearful strain that is on me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die.” Lincoln understood what many people still don’t get. Laughter helps reduce stress. Wise old Solomon said there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Sometimes we mourn over stuff we should laugh at, and make fun of things that should cause us to cry. We make mountains out of molehills, straining out knats and swallowing camels.
Some things in life should be taken seriously. God. His Word. His will. His call on our lives. But even in these things there must be a healthy dose of joy, because there is such a thing as spiritual exhaustion and even burnout. I believe it happens when we no longer enjoy serving God but serve Him only out of a sense of duty. We serve Him because we have too, not because we want too. There’s one big (or little) thing that should not be taken too seriously. YOU. It’s good to laugh at yourself once in a while. I do it fairly regularly and I never seem to run out of funny material. Anyway, if you’re dealing with difficult circumstances and/or difficult people let me encourage you to keep a sense of humour about it. It will help. Trust me.
There is another quote attributed to Lincoln which says: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” It’s another way of saying: “Happiness is a choice.” We can choose to be happy right where we are. Or we can choose to be unhappy. It has much to do with our mental attitude but that’s another blog. Unhappy people do bad things. An extreme example would be those who strap bombs to themselves, and then blow themselves up in crowds of people. Generally speaking, such evil works are the domain of the depressed.
We have to find a way to be happy in the will of God. Notice I said, “in the will of God.” Pursuing happiness for its own sake is a dead end street. It has led some down the dark and dreary path of marital infidelity. A proverb comes to mind: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) We need to trust God that He will bless us (make us happy) as we seek to follow Him.
Studies have shown a connection between physical health and mental health. As I write this, my wife and I are on a five day walking streak. That means we have walked five days in a row. If you think that’s no big deal then you don’t know us at all. Five days straight is a considerable accomplishment for two people who have an unhealthy affinity for motorized transportation. Similarly, going a full day without sugar would be a monumental achievement for me personally, which might explain why I can’t remember ever doing it.
Suffice it to say, physical health has never really been a priority for me. The older I get, the more I regret that very fact. So I am taking baby steps. And if you saw me walking you’d realize that I mean “baby steps” quite literally.
Regretfully, this one has not traditionally landed anywhere near the upper scale of my priority list. But in recent years things have changed. Somebody has well said that “sin is insanity.” Continuing to live with known sin is a sure fire way to ensure trouble upstairs (in the mind). In order to successfully navigate your way through this crazy world without going insane you simply must deal with sin.
The subject of sin is deep and wide. Too much to unpack in a single blog. So to simplify, we can say there are two things you must do with sin. You must confess it and you must forsake it. The good news is that God works with us. He doesn’t condemn us when we fail. He helps us in our struggles and strengthens us in our weakness. We simply must go to Him in prayer and bible reading and allow Him to work in our hearts and lives.
There are many other things we could mention here and they don’t all begin with H. If you have any other helpful ideas feel free to leave a comment below.
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