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Tough Times Don’t Last…

August 23, 2020
Pin by Mike Villagracia on inspire me | Tough quote, Powerful ...

It makes a great plaque for the desk or office, doesn’t it? And it’s true. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

So why don’t I feel more bold and empowered when I read it or say it? I think it’s supposed to be empowering.

Anybody else out there feel that?

For most of us, these last 5-plus months have been a tough time. The perfect storm. Perfect? I guess I’d say it’s been an imperfect storm. And it’s not over yet. There are lots of theories about when life will get back to normal, including “soon”, “we’re living in a ‘new normal’, so get used to it,” “never,” and about a dozen other permutations of these. Nobody is setting hard dates for the tough times coming to an end. And if there’s somebody out there who says they’ve got that figured out, I’d be cautious to believe them. Nobody’s got a reliable crystal ball on this thing.

And, by the way, we’re not the first generation to deal with tough times. The truth is that tough times have been part and parcel with human experience ever since Adam and Eve took a bite out of the forbidden fruit. At that point, the world was broken. Virtually every system shifted away from its flawless design and toward entropy. Tough times entered because of that, and they’ll continue until the end of time.

Well, that’s a cheery way to look at life. Thanks for the optimism…

Some tough times come because we make stupid decisions. The world is a cause and effect place. The Apostle Paul wrote, “A man (person) reaps what he/she sows.” (Galatians 6:7) Sow stupid choices, reap tough times. I think it was the great philosopher Forest Gump who said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Some tough times come because of the stupid choices of other people. We get the backwash of their stupidity. Or we’re in the direct downward flow of their authority and it comes rushing down on us like the current of the mighty Mississippi.

Or we’re victimized by the wrong (sometimes evil) choices of others. These consequences are very difficult to bear up under.

In all cases, when the consequence of tough times come, we’ve got to figure out how we’ll cope with them.

Here’s how this usually goes for me. First, there’s panic. Then anger. Then blaming. Often, after that comes some form of denial. When I’m at my best, I eventually enter a problem solving mode. It almost never starts with a response, though. It generally starts with a reaction. On my good days, it moves from reacting to responding.

What I’m trying to learn how to do in my life is to get off the reaction train and get more quickly to responding. I think this is one of the primary marks of maturity. Immature people spend their lives reacting and then having to clean up the damage their reactions cause. Mature people spend a lot less of their lives cleaning up that kind of damage because they do a lot less reacting.

You see this is marriages all the time. Anyway, I do. Most of my counseling is with couples, and most of them are conflicted. Most of their conflict is the result of reacting, not responding. Much of the labor of helping them reconnect and begin to like each other is in helping them learn how to respond instead of reacting.

I see it in ineffective parenting, too. Most parenting mistakes are the result of reacting instead of responding.

Most broken relationships are broken as a result of reacting instead of responding.

OK. So reacting to tough times doesn’t work. How are we supposed to respond to tough times? Great question.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, writes about this in the opening of his letter in the book of the Bible that bears his name. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2) Consider it pure joy?! Are you high?

Here’s how J. B. Phillips paraphrased it: When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!

I’m so not there. I’m usually just trying to figure out how to survive when tough times come knocking at my door. Sweeping off the welcome mat is way not on my mind.

But James doesn’t stop with this opening statement. He goes on, “…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

God is after an outcome we don’t usually see when the tough times roll in. He’s going for perseverance.

That’s a word that doesn’t get much air time these days. When was the last time you used it or heard someone else use it, not in a sermon at church? I think this is a commentary on our culture. But that’s a hobby horse I won’t climb on. There’s not time for it. You’re welcome.

Still, perseverance isn’t a term most of us use very much. Here’s the Webster definition of it: continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition. There’s two pieces to it. Continued effort, and opposition (tough times).

James says the ultimate outcome of perseverance is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Does that sound good to anybody? Me, too. But I’m not seeing a 4 or 5 Step formula for getting there. That’s because there isn’t one.

But there is a power that makes it possible to persevere, to continue effort when tough times come. The weeping prophet, Jeremiah, writes about it.

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him…” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

Lovely, is it not?

But when you set it in its historical context, this poem has direct and powerful impact on the whole subject of tough times.

Israel was at the front end of one of the most humiliating and difficult chapters of its history. Because of their disregard for God and His commands, God has turned them over to the Babylonians. Jerusalem and the temple are about to be sacked, ravaged and burned. Thousands are about to be killed and thousands more will be taken as captives to Babylon. For 70 years.

Jeremiah has been compelled by God to speak out against the tide and current of this culture. And he does. But his message hasn’t been received kindly. He’s had his life threatened, been imprisoned, been dropped into an empty well, up to his armpits in mud, been banished from the community and labeled a traitor. He writes Lamentations during this time. It’s a book of sadness (a lament is a cry of deep sadness) and grief, from Jeremiah’s personal experience.

When I read his story every year, I wonder how he made it. I’d have been clinically depressed. Probably suicidal. I’m not being cute. I actually believe this.

The answer to how he made it is there in this beautiful poem he wrote. And it’s the front door of the answer for how we can persevere in hard times.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”

I like how the New King James Version words it: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.

The fuel for our perseverance are God’s mercy and His compassion. Not our effort. Not our intentions. Not our blood, sweat and tears. His mercy and compassion.

And here’s the best news I can give you on this: they’re new every morning. Whatever I use up today will be restored by morning. God hasn’t put a cap on my use of his mercy and compassion. He’s not stingy with it. He’s not waiting for me to deserve it. He just pours it out. As much as I need, when I need it, and then sets me up with a brand new, full tank of it in the morning for the day ahead.

Here’s the thing, though. I usually act as if I’d used up all there was. I soldier on as if it all depends on my effort. I push and agonize without accessing God’s mercy and compassion. It never works out well.

But what if we make a deal with ourselves and with God that we’ll start every day from here in this tough time by reminding ourselves that God’s mercy and compassion is new and for us? What if we consciously embrace the fact that we don’t have to face this stuff with nothing more than whatever energy we got from the night of sleep? And what if we acted like we believed this, even if our belief is pretty slim?

I’m making no guarantees, but I have a strong sense that this could be a game changer for us. I believe it will make us resilient and agile and able to adapt to the challenges. It just might make it possible for us to welcome them as friends.

From → Marriage

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