Are you going through a divorce? Have you lost your job? Are you struggling with debt? Problems, problems, and more problems…circumstances seem overwhelming and you barely make it everyday. Hardly keeping your head above water, just surviving. Is this the life you were dreaming of when you were younger, full of hopes and expectations, when life had not yet bruised you and weakened you. And yet you see it everywhere : “live life to the full!”, on the bookshelves in the libraries, on television, even in your local christian bookshop : “Be a successful husband”, “7 steps to a victorious life”, and other very promising titles who contrast with the sad reality of your situation.
Can you change your circumstances ? Maybe. But perhaps it’s time to change the way you see them! Remember real change starts within yourself. You see, it’s not so much about what you are going through than how you perceive it. Let me explain : life throws stuff at us that sometimes, even with the best preparation, we won’t be able to withstand. It’s a fact, we do not have control on anything, and to word it politely, “life happens”. But one thing you can do, if you cannot control your life circumstances, is to change the way you react to them.
This evening, I was thinking about the phrase “fullness of life”, or “living life to the full”. What the heck does that mean. Like you, I always though that it would involve some kind of enjoyment, or thrill, like jumping of an airplane with a parachute or practising some extreme sport. Living fully, making the most of every opportunity, finding satisfaction in life. What else? Perhaps taking risks, not being afraid to be what we always dreamt we could be. Hmmm, these are all very good answers, but how does this really work, I mean really, for me, today?
Let’s put it this way : the best definition I found so far to what it really means to live life to the full is the following :
“To accept life in its full measure, with everything it may bring, whether goood or bad.”
Dull? Boring? Not so. Again, let me elaborate.
In our modern societies, we no longer know what it means to fight for our survival. Wars are far away and are dealt with by professional armies, no one really needs to protect themselves and their immediate family as we live in relatively safe neighbourhoods, and the huge majority of us does not have to struggle to put food on their tables. That’s quite simplistic, but it’s a fact. Modern men and modern women in our western societies, are, I would say, quite comfortable, and have a very low element of risk in their lives, that’s my point. Therefore, most of us live a very boring existence. We go through the motions. Here, I don’t need to expand because as you read these lines you know exactly what I mean. In France they call it “métro-boulot-dodo”, literally “train-work-sleep”. Like machines, we live a mechanical and repetitive life, and one day we cease to function, and we call it death.
But is it the only way? Does it have to be this way?
Let me return to my first point. It’s not so much about the pain you endure but it’s got a lot to do with your reaction to it, and your perception of it. Why do we live such boring, dull, dead existences? According to me, because we run away from pain. “Once biten, twice shy”, says the english idiom. All of us have experienced pain in one way or another. The reality is that it is something we want to avoid. And it is legitimate. But by doing so, believe me, we refuse to live a life that is worth living. As we protect ourselves from pain, we build our life around an idol that is called “a better life”, or “a happier life”, but by seeking comfort, we end up finding it, in the shape of a coffin, where we lie dead although we live. Or rather, we think we live a life but in fact, we are dead.
To me “living life to the full”, is choosing to accept that our journey on earth will not be without trouble. As we accept this reality, our experience of suffering will be more intense, but so will be our experience of joy. As we open ourselves to reality and decide to face it, we will be made alive and life will regain its flavour.
I know, this is not your usual motivational talk. But think about it. You only live once on earth, and” in this life”, Jesus told us,” you will have trouble, but take heart”, he also said, “for I have overcome the world”. To those who believe in Him, he has given the privilege to be called the children of God. We have assurance of eternal life, we are but pilgrims on this planet. So what? Does that mean we ought to be miserable until he returns, or calls us home? Absolutely not! With a heavenly perspective we can approach our earthly life with more clarity. You need money? Good! It means you’re still alive and kicking! It means you have dreams and aspirations! You are going through a divorce? Do you feel rejected, or like a failure? This is how you choose to perceive it my friend. It could also be a fresh start. These years are not wasted, they have made you who you are now. Take the pain, let it sink deep down your throat like a strong liquor, but allow it to fortify your spirit. What does not kill you makes you stronger. You are building some muscle, you are being refined in the fiery furnace. The book of James tells us to consider it pure joy, when we go through various trials. Why? Because they will make you more like Christ! As you experience pain, you can either become better or bitter, it’s your choice! But if you allow the holy spirit to break you, and to shape you, to remake you, you will be transformed into a new person, more compassionate, wiser, stronger and above all closer to God.
Next time when you see pain coming your way, don’t hide or run away but welcome it, and allow the Holy Spirit to show you the way. It will often be in times of suffering that the intimacy with your creator will be sweeter. And remember, there are no real problems in this life, only opportunities for Grace.