My wife and I were planning on living in our house until we retired. Oh, we’d talked about selling it now that we’re empty-nesters, but chances are we wouldn’t have gotten around to it — not in light of the way Illinois property values have plummeted. And I was certainly planning on staying at the ministry where I worked until I retired. I’d been there for 34 years and felt that I was still contributing significantly.
But then early this past summer, I was told that the ministry had decided they could get along fine without me, that I didn’t fit into their future plans.
So I spent the summer writing resumes and cover letters (neither of which I’d ever needed before), searching job sites, joining groups of other unemployed folk to hear pep talks on how to find work, taking online classes to learn skills I didn’t particularly want, doing practice and real interviews, taking on every freelance job I could find no matter how small, filing for unemployment, putting my house up for sale and, recently, accepting an offer for a job in another state.
At times I felt anger, depression, sadness, worry, disgust and resignation.
But I have done my utmost not to dwell in any of those places.
A lesson I learned during a difficult five or six year stretch awhile back has helped me. I know everybody is different and is dealing with different troubles. I know that no two people process things the same way. And I know that no two people have the same relationship with the Lord. So I’m not telling you this because I think it’s some sort of magic formula. Really. I don’t believe in magic formulas. I’m just telling you what helped me on the off chance that it can help you.
Here it is.
This is a broken world. All of it. All of us. All the time. It’s messy and unfair and cruel and ugly. Everybody has problems. A lot of people have a lot bigger problems than they ever let on.
[Insert my problem here] is just part of life. I’m not the first person to deal with it, and I won’t be the last.
I believe we’re programmed in our culture, even in Christian circles, to measure our success based on circumstances and results. If our kids make bad choices, it’s our fault. If I lose my job, I did something wrong. If (and this may be the most insidious) I have problems, I didn’t pray long enough, hard enough, often enough, enough enough. And on the other side, successful days are those with positive circumstances and good results.
In 2 Timothy, Paul wrote about his final days. He was in prison, shackled to two Roman guards. He knew he was about to be put to death. The Lord had told him that he was going to have to live with his thorn in the flesh. He wanted his cloak, so we can guess he was cold. All of his friends had abandoned him and, most depressing of all, “all those in Asia have turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15).
Who were “all those in Asia”? The Ephesians, the Colossians, the Galatians — all those churches that Paul started and labored for and wrote long letters to and loved. All of them had wandered away from his message and allowed themselves to be swayed by false doctrine.
Paul had reason to be angry and depressed and sad and worried and disgusted and resigned, and I’m sure there were moments when he was. Based on circumstances and results, his ministry could not have seemed very successful.
But then he wrote these words — I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
When I was going through my rough patch a few years back, I came upon that verse and realized that it would be a much better way for me to measure success. At the end of each day, can I look back and say with honesty, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”? Has my focus remained on Christ Jesus and the hope I have in Him and NOT on my circumstances or results? If it has, then no matter what that day held, good or bad, it was a successful day.
That way of measuring pulled me out of my funk back then and carried me through this summer.