The Rev. Thomas Nibbe
Sunday, July 19, 2020 @ 11:00 a.m.
Would you pray with me today?
Good morning, Lord…starting today, I will let go of unhealthy endurance and survival skills. I will choose the new way of living granted me by the Lord Jesus—as “the Way, the Truth, the Life” (John 14:6). I will be open to negotiating conflicts with other folks in my life that I don’t relate with well, or others that I disagree with. I’m going to work for balance in my life without being too submissive or too demanding. I will be motivated to demonstrate appropriate flexibility in my efforts to solve all problems in my life. I know with you by my side, Lord…with you guiding my thoughts and ways…even conflict will be something I can anticipate without dread. I acknowledge and recognize that conflict is inevitable, and now, with your help, I will be wise, patient, and forbearing. I will allow myself to truly be alive and enjoy the journey. I pray in your name, Lord Jesus…Amen.
Author Dr. Scott Peck started out in the book, entitled, “The Road Less Traveled” and “People of the Lie”, with the startling discovery that … “Life is difficult” … What a revelation? Why didn’t I think of that?
Well, I had thought about it often—and, felt often—that I was up against a “stone-wall” more often than I would have liked to have been. The problem I had was not fully accepting this awesome concept of “Life is difficult” as an integral fixture in my life. Without exception, I would only look for the most convenient and painless way to carry on with my life…as though suffering and difficulty were an option. I had to pause with this concept introduced by Dr. Peck…because I wanted the trouble-free journey!
Wealthy. Poor. Successful. Unsuccessful. America. Pakistan. Peru. Life is difficult no matter what. Dr. Scott Peck and the Scriptures suggest that I accept it!
In terms of my church background, it was “the way of the cross” rather than “the way of glory”. The way of the cross was self-sacrifice and acceptance of pain. That’s the way Jesus took. The way of glory was the new Lexus you got if you joined the church and did good. You always got rewarded in this way. Being less than the wisest person I could think of, it still seemed to me for some reason the way of the cross was the way to personal victory and success in life. In this way I felt affirmed by Dr. Peck’s affirmation.It was this affirmation that led this psychiatrist to Christ despite rejection by many peers.
Look—there is no trouble-free way to carry on in life!
There is no journey without accepting the difficulty involved. Problems and conflicts are a part of life for all of us — with friends, with family, and at work. Peck’s notion is that there is no escape, no matter who you think you are, no matter how well you’ve planned, there will be difficulty. Plan for it. Simply, life is not trouble-free. Don’t be overcome.
Problem solving and conflict negotiation are skills we can acquire and improve on with time. Don’t be surprised when problems come up despite extensive, “fool-proof” planning. The last thing I always say to the bride and groom at the end of a wedding preparation counseling series is…”Friends, you have planned as extensively as any couple and family I can recall for your marriage ceremony…Now accept the fact in advance that ‘What will happen…Will happen!’ …ride with it when something or other unexpected and unpleasant happens — years from now you will laugh about it.”
In terms of relationships, not being willing to tackle and solve problems leads to angry feelings, terminated relationships, and “power plays” that intensify the dynamics–and end up being a waste of time and energy. It follows that anticipating problems in advance (not always knowing when or where they will show up), and accepting their probability, is a point of supreme wisdom. Things happen. Expect the unexpected.
Not being willing to face our problems means that we may run into that same problem or similar problems again and again.
Some problems with people cannot be worked out in mutually satisfactory ways. Sometimes the problem is a boundary issue we have and there is no room to negotiate.You’ve been there. I’ve been there. Surely my family has been there. In situations like this, we need to clearly understand what we want and need and figure out what the “bottom line” is…for us. However, I’ve discovered something. When we have knowledge that nothing which befalls us, just happens, but is part of a larger picture that we cannot see…I am suggesting what Saint Paul writes helps greatly in dealing with difficulty gracefully, “…and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called by His purpose…” (Romans 8:28)
Going a step further, life is not to be endured. Life is to be enjoyed and embraced. The belief some people have that we must get tough and go through a meager and deprived existence in order some day to get our reward in heaven is about as far away from the Christian faith as one can get. Jesus makes it clear, “I have come that they may have life and that they may have life more abundantly.” (John 10:10) The suffering of a joyful Christian is a sight to behold. No wonder faith has not been lost in our age.
Most of us will still have times when life will be stressful and challenge our endurance skills. But through strong, informed faith, we learn to live fully and joyfully. We learn to live with challenges accepting them as part of our triumphant lives in Christ. We learn to enjoy our life, and handle challenges as they come. Just remember that life what life is, and no matter who we are, we will have difficulties. Nobody gets by, “Scott Free”…And talking “Scott”, that is, about Dr. Scott Peck, it was this Pauline (Christ-like) acceptance of the difficulties in life (with Spiritual insight) that caused this secular psychiatrist to become a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our survival skills had served us well. They got us through difficult times. Our ability to freeze feelings, deny problems, deprive ourselves and cope with stress had helped us to get to where we find ourselves today. But now, we can accept the unexpected problems, the difficulties, and even the tragedies we face, because we have come to the great awareness that life is difficult…and we’ll come to terms with this as reality. In Christ we are big enough to face what is “real” and “awesome” in our lives. As followers of Jesus, we are grateful that our God is not above having experienced the same things that we experience, no matter how difficult. Through Christ, God empathizes with us and our condition. And this…is the genius of the Christian faith. Our God is not above it all… unable to grasp the challenge of being human. For this reason in Jesus’ life, He experienced rejection, loneliness (even among His friends), innocent suffering, despair,and the prospect of an early death. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept”. He had the feelings we have and He experienced all the negative things of life we experience.It was this aspect of Jesus’ life that impressed Dr. Peck in his Spiritual journey.
Through Christ we are learning to do more than just survive. We can actually let go of survival behaviors. Through the Lord’s intervention in our lives we can continue to learn new ways of protecting and caring for ourselves and others. We are free to feel our feelings, and yet, act nonetheless. We are ready to identify, acknowledge, and solve our problems—and in the process—give ourselves and others our very best.
So, let the sun shine in. Let the Son shine in. It is through Jesus, and His Lordship, that we become free to open up and truly come alive. We accept His forgiveness, His invitation to wholeness, and more importantly, His peace and joy in the fullness of what this life offers. We will not be discouraged, but, we will be “disillusioned”, that is, removed from the “illusion” that we can be destroyed by the challenges God places before us. He doesn’t cause the evil that befalls us at times, but He will allow it to happen for His purpose and our good. So we take on our feelings, acknowledge them, and yet proceed to overcome in our lives with God’s help. Amidst the challenges of life, there is no failure with God. Whatever befalls us we can know that the Lord will work wonders in the most disparaging situations of life. It’s the wisdom of faith that gives beauty to our existence. It is the power bestowed upon us that makes life worthwhile.
(Thomas Nibbe is the pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Pacifica.)