Dealing With Hard Times
MARCH 13TH, 2010 (IN THE WORD AND MY LIFE) By Msgr. Anselm
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
Life, as we all know, is like a roller-coaster; full of ups and downs. It comes with a combo of joy and sorrow; two inseparable values, to the effect that when one sits alone with you, the other is actually asleep upon your bed. That is to say, life is like a bed of roses; it is colorful and beautiful but it is also full of thorns. It is just that our need for comfort usually resents the thorns that adorn the bed of roses.
Be it as it may, life will be a boring thing if there were no struggles to deal with, difficult situations to resolve, challenges to beat, mountains to move, and obstacles to overcome. I am reminded of Carl Jung’s words: “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness”. Just as the rainy season makes the dry season desirable and vise verse, so it is that if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
If that be so; if trials and tribulations are part of life and are unavoidable and do serve to help us grow in maturity, then the problem we face is not how to avoid them, but how to deal with them. The fact of the matter is that how we see and deal with difficult situations determine the nature of the outcome we experience. Tribulations are like knives that can either serve us or cut us depending on whether we grasp them by the blade or the handle. Our attitude with life will always determine our altitude in life. We become what we think.
Many people believe that nothing in this world happens outside the will of God and therefore, there is nothing one needs to do in the face of hardship than to accept what comes because it is “God’s will”. This is called determinism and it is by every measure fatalistic. It is a defeated acceptance of conditions in life. When people tell you to accept suffering as the will of God and that nothing can be done about it remind them also that God said: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future full of hope. When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you… When you search for me, you will find me; …and I will restore your fortunes” (Jer. 29:11-14). Approaching difficult times with fatalistic determinism is to guarantee defeat and to dig your own grave deeper. Such an attitude stultifies initiative, kills creativity, defeats hope, and renders prayers useless. It denies you the power of God to overcome all things. According to Helen Keller, “science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of a human being.”
Some other people see problems as things to be bulldozed over with defiance; with human power and connections. Minds like these do not see any teachable moments in human tribulations. An approach like this negates the fact that human power is so limited and that our struggle sometimes is not with “flesh and blood but with principalities and powers and the evil forces in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). How far can human power go against the principalities and powers of darkness? The Bible tells us that if the Lord does not keep watch, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. Hardships in life are not for nothing as St. Paul states: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Many people have grown and become better persons because of what they went through. As Helen Keller puts it, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Many people also develop an attitude of self-pity in the face of difficult situations giving the impression that they are the only people in the world whom life hurts so badly. As Marcus Aurelius rightly said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” Tragically, in the face of an attitude of self-pity, the power to overcome is drained, energy is stultified, imagination seizes, hope is stifled, initiative and effort are compromised, and despair, hopelessness, and helplessness are let loose to run wild. It is erroneous to believe that your hardship is the worse in the world as St. Peter tells us, “your brothers and sisters all over the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” (1 Peter 5:9). It is very important that we do not lose heart in the face of suffering for the Word assures us that “after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you”
(1 Peter 5:10).
Worst is to believe, as the friends of Job did, that our hardship is due to some iniquity that we have committed against God. God is perceived as vindictive and hardship is seen as an unjust punishment from Him. This kind of attitude leads to the loss of faith, hope, and love. It leads to complaining, whining, docility, anger, and resentment. It leads to blaming others and everything that breathes under the sun. Past blessings are forgotten and we act as though previous blessings were due to our good and holy behavior. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude forgets the rhythm of life that “there is time for every matter under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die….A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance…(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
In the face of suffering and tribulations, it is imperative that we develop a healthy attitude and belief that our blessings lie on the other side of our present pain; that God’s hand will never cause his child a needless tear; and that God can utilize anything to make us wiser and better persons. It is important that we anchor our strength in the hope that “This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (2 Cor. 4:19). Remember, our blessings lie on the other side of our pain. Therefore, our attitude is not to sit down with folded hands and bowed head allowing the torrent of life troubles to sweep over us with passive resignation. Rather, our mental attitude is to advocate for that courageous and triumphant ability to pass the breaking-point without breaking; to meet whatever comes on the way with the power of hope believing that if we think hard enough, fight hard enough, hope hard enough, work hard enough, and pray hard enough with patient endurance as our anchor, faith as our armor, the Word of God as our shield, we will definitely overcome the present obstacle. We can learn from the church of Macedonia as described by St. Paul: “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means” (2 Cor. 8:1-3). What we see here is a church that gave abundant joy during its severe affliction and gave even beyond their means in time of extreme poverty. The Macedonians understood clearly the law of Karma which states that whatever we put into existence will come back to us as experience. They knew that by giving joy in a time of affliction, joy was bound to come back into their fold and that by giving generously in time of extreme poverty, abundance was bound to flow into their midst. Give the opposite of your hardship, and your hardship will be transmuted into a blessing.
How, then do we deal with hardship? How should we handle difficult situations so that we can come out of them triumphant? I do suggest the following principles of actions.
Settle It In Your Heart.
No matter what you may be going through right now, no matter what has happened, and no matter how the world has turned on you, getting all distraught, discombobulated, and anxious will not solve the problem. Life still goes on! Therefore, take Jesus’ advice! His “secret formula” for remaining strong in the face of adversity is “Settle it in your heart!”
The word “settle” comes from the Greek word “tithemi”. Its primary meaning is to “set” or “put” something in its place. When Jesus told the disciples to settle it in their heart (after they became distraught because he told them that the temple of Jerusalem was to be destroyed with no stone standing upon the other), He was saying to them to have an unshakable confidence in God, to deposit it with God and not let even the total collapse of the entire cosmos interfere with it. There is no doubt that trials will come, severe difficulties will arise, things will get out of control, attacks, conflict, betrayal, and other traumatic circumstances may happen to you, yet, settle it in your heart that not a hair on your head will perish. Settle it in your heart that nothing shall separate you from God’s remarkable plan for your success.
Whatever the circumstances may be, if your heart is not settled on the firm foundation of God’s-loving providence, your heart will not be settled. Being all bent out of shape or developing negative statements like; “I am finished; I am never going to be able to get over this”; “What did I do that God is punishing me like this”; “why do bad things always follow me everywhere I go”, etc, simply produce these realities into your life. They do not do you any good. The Bible tells us that, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
God will take care of this situation. He is preparing an escape for you. What you need now is not regrets, blames, and anxiety; what you need is to settle it in your heart that God didn’t send this hardship and that this hardship is not going to break you. Rather, God is using it to prepare you for your next step and He will use it to make and mold you into the person you are called to be. Settle it in your heart that today is a new day and that things are shifting in your favor. This adversity will not stop you or have the last say! No! No! No! Settle it in your heart that the faithfulness of our God and His generosity will have the last word and so shall it be in the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
You may say, yes father, this sounds good but it is hard to do. Yes, Christ knew that and still prescribed it as your first line of defense in the face of tribulations. Take a look at Job who endured unbearable losses and yet he settled it in his heart that in spite of the tribulations of the present moment, God was faithful, God was gracious, God was good, and God was in control. Guess what! God came through and restored all he had lost…and generously more than he originally had! Christ, who gave us this injunction practiced it before the crucifixion. This is what the whole Garden-of-Gethsemane experience was about. He went in there to settle it in His heart that he had to go through the Cross and He did. It resulted in the Resurrection. It is amazing the things that God can and does do in the lives of those who settle their trust in Him in their hearts!
It is important therefore that you believe Christ and His word: There is no other line of defense to begin your journey from sorrow to victory than to settle things in your heart. Are you scared of something, settle it in your heart that God will help you overcome the fear. Are you being attacked, settle it in your heart that God will give you the defense necessary. Are you threatened, settle it in your heart that God’s power will uphold you. Are you worried, settle it in your heart that God is able to subdue your worry. Is your world falling apart? Settle it in your heart that God is in control and by His grace, you will pull it together. Is Satan working to destroy your family? Settle it in your heart that the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Are you in doubt that you will ever make it in life? Settle it in your heart that God’s promise that He has a plan for you that is full of hope not pain will come through. Settle it in your heart! Settle it in your heart! Settle if in your heart that our God is faithful, He has promised, and he will do it. (Prayer) Lord, my God, I have settled it in my heart that you will carry me through this difficulty into a victory in my life, Amen.
(To be Continued in the next edition).