What makes an adventure story great? What makes it an ADVENTURE? Think of some of the classic adventure stories: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings…just to name a few, think about what makes them so great.
I wonder, would they be as great if the characters in the story never faced any problems? Would Lord of the Rings be worth reading or watching if Frodo and Sam jumped on a direct flight to Mordor, took a cab to Mount Doom, dropped off the ring, and were back in the Shire for dinner the next day? Would Indiana Jones be as cool if he just opened up a book that told him right where the Ark is, and he went and picked it up? Would Star Wars be as great if Luke, Han, and Leia just dropped a big bomb on the entire Imperial government and went home?
No, of course not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about adversity as 2016 has kicked off. I’ve been a little down, honestly, thus the lack of posts so far. When I first looked ahead into what 2016 had in store, the negative things seemed almost overpowering. My job doesn’t provide for my needs, and in spite of things my bosses have told me, that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. One of my closest family members is gravely ill with cancer, and we’re all seemingly at a loss as to how to help and comfort him and the rest of the family. I recently had an individual at church say hurtful things about me in front of other people, which then ended up being accidentally advertised to our adult Sunday School class, a group I teach on occasion, and I just felt crushed and embarrassed. It was the first time in the nearly 2 years since I went back to church that I just wanted to run and hide under a rock.
For the last couple of weeks these and other things have had me in such a rut. I’ve been angry, I’ve been sad, and I’ve been at a loss as to where to go next. My spiritual life just flat lined as for the first time in awhile I couldn’t feel the tangible presence of Christ. So I exercised my ultimate defense mechanism, I withdrew.
But something interesting happened as I withdrew down deep into my most protective shell: I found that I wasn’t alone. Despite my insistence on shutting others out, I found that there was somebody who was still there just waiting to comfort me.
I didn’t go to church this morning. I didn’t sleep well last night as chronic knee pain kept me awake much of the night. I hadn’t showered, I needed a shave, and I had no clean clothes, all because of this little withdrawl that I’ve been on. Plus, I just really didn’t want to go and face questions about the things that were said to me and about me. I was pretty low.
Being that this is the Sunday in the Christian year that commemorates the Baptism of the Lord, they had a baptismal reaffirmation today and gave out rocks from the font that had different words on them. My parents, who I don’t give enough credit to for actually knowing how I’m feeling, each picked one up for me. Here they are:
There weren’t two better words for me to focus on right now. I held these rocks in my hand this afternoon, the football game on mute, and pondered their meaning. Then the verse from John that I quoted above came to mind. It had come up in conversation earlier in the week, and when I paired it with the message that I felt that the Spirit was communicating with these rocks, then I realized that no matter how bad I felt, how alone I felt, how much I withdrew into myself, that Christ is still there, still working, if I’ll just let him.
He gives life. And what is life? Much like an adventure story, would life really be life without adversity? After all, doesn’t so much of the joy that we experience come after triumphing over hardship? Isn’t going through the bad times part of what makes the good times so sweet? Maybe Garth Brooks said it (sung it) best when he sang
And I, I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.
Of course, as Christians we ultimately believe that our lives are not left to chance at all. We believe that God is conspiring to work all things for good, but doesn’t mean that there won’t be pain, hurt, and heartache involved. And if you try to sit somebody who is in a lot of pain down and just tell them that it’s all “God’s plan” or “Just have faith,” you deserve to be slapped in the face.
The pat answers aren’t good enough for many. We must recognize the pain and the trials that we each must go through, but Christ, and the people of Christ, can be the ultimate comforter if we but let them try. I had to open myself up a bit to see that again with fresh eyes. The answer isn’t to hide in one’s self, it’s to put yourself out there and let others help, even though they may hurt you again in the process.
So as I sit and look ahead now into 2016, I’m clinging to what Jesus said, that he gives life and gives it abundantly. I’m going to try really hard to dream big and hope a lot. Maybe, just maybe, I can turn the pain and adversity into opportunities for growth in all areas of my life. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to work right all the time, but it will certainly be an adventure, perhaps a noteworthy one for me, and no matter what the Good Shepherd will be at my side.