Can I Get a Little Cheese with that Whine?

If we use a biblical lens to look at the idea of whether we should stuff our problems away because they are small compared to someone else’s, what do we see?

In the last week I faced a tough question. Is it possible to face another surgery? The immediate public answer is, ‘of course!’ While Gunner (my Black Lab, Shepherd, Chow mix) and I were actively involved visiting patients at the local hospitals, I met a great many heroes. Lots of them are young children and have faced many more surgeries than me and are facing many more. They have an internal fortitude, often a faith, but each I met had a tenacity that was far and above my own. I tried to count the number I have had. It is somewhere around twenty. After breaking my leg (the left fibula just above the ankle) in October, wearing a cast for weeks, undergoing PT then learning that my bone was still as broken as it was on day one; I was scheduled for surgical repair this past February. Two weeks with a special cast then a regular cast and then a boot and finally… this past Wednesday, April 30th set free! The doc said all looked good and I was free to ambulate!

Freedom lasted about five hours until I tripped in my bathroom and twisted the same foot! It is possible I have torn one of the extensor tendons which run the length of the top of the foot. I will know this coming Thursday if it is torn and if it is, it will require surgery. Of course, as summer approaches, my Harley sits longingly in the garage and my bass boat cries out from storage for release. Those things are going to be put on hold yet again! I have been feeling like each recovery has taken some of the fire from my soul. I was all set to talk myself into a truly blue mood.

Then, news came from a dear friend, younger than me, who has been battling cancer and was hopeful that it was annihilated. The cancer remains, however, in a small tumor. It is not devastating news, but it is not the news we wanted. To be very honest, such news makes my entire first two paragraphs seems totally ego-centric and whiny!

Are they? Do we need to measure our hurts, anxieties, and stresses by considering what others bear? Each of us have been there, just not feeling well, being down in our spirit, aching for something we cannot describe and we long to lay it out before our Heavenly Father. Then we hear of a horrific battle being fought by another and we push all our stuff back into the box where we keep those hurts we don’t share with others. We paint a fake smile on our face and keep on going. Is that what God wants us to do or is it what He expects from us?

I think perhaps we have a true, two-sided coin. When we are facing a challenge, it can be an encouragement to us to see how others have battled and won. We can also put our own in a better perspective and it helps us be grateful for our blessings. Both of those are positive and can help us meet our own challenge with a renewed vigor, a fresh outlook and a deeper faith.

Pushing your own feelings back in the box and painting on a face, with an everything is Okay kind of look is what I call the ‘Sunday morning smile.’ We have all seen it and we have all done it. If you are a churchgoing, worship-gathering kind of person, it happens in those quick passes in the hallway with the ‘good morning’ greetings and ‘how ya’ doing’ questions. It is easier to just smile and say, ‘I’m better than a mosquito in a blood bank’ than to look them in the eye and say, ‘I’m having a tough week and could use some prayer.’

If we use a biblical lens to look at the idea of whether we should stuff our problems away because they are small compared to someone else’s, what do we see?

Peter writes, “Cast all your anxiety on him (God) for he cares for you.” Notice the words… anxiety, your worries and struggles and the adjective ‘all’. Peter does not say, ‘Cast all the care you have that is important enough for God to consider’ or ‘all your care that is greater than everyone else’s care’, he writes all.[i]

Matthew writes, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So, don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”[ii]

It appears to be about balance. We need to be encouraged by other’s victories and we need to be mindful we have much for which to be grateful. Gloomy-Gus Christians who can only moan about the burden of life without seeing any positives, feeling any grace or recognizing blessings need to spend some time in introspective prayer and Bible reading. Unbelievers who look toward Christ to bring them from the brink of despair and meet only the Christian so wrapped in their own misery will not find hope in such hopelessness.

Worse, though, are those who feel an obligation to not let anyone know they are struggling. Whether it is pride or their false persona of SUPER CHRISTIAN that keeps them silent, they are in for a rude awakening. For them, a Christian faces every storm and never has a moment of struggle or grief. Anyone who believes a real Christian must not worry and bottles up everything inside, is on a collision course with reality, is going to get hit hard and there is always collateral damage.

I knew such a man. (Spoiler Alert – if you are of delicate sensibilities, you may want to skip this paragraph) He kept up the persona of a great husband and father, community leader, business elite, everything neatly packed in his calf-skin briefcase and his never off-the-rack suits. One day I stood next to him, still in his expensive suit now soaked through with blood. His calf-skin briefcase had fallen open, the contents carried by the wind through the woods where he had walked before sitting at the base of a tree and eating the business end of his shotgun. Not a very pretty picture, is it? No one seemed to have any clue there was a problem brewing beneath his well-protected façade. I have no doubt his family would have gladly accepted a father who told them he was struggling and work with him to find help. It would not have made him less of a great dad. Certainly, the option he chose did not do anything to help his family.       

So, what about this feeling I have that it is getting harder to bounce back from each additional surgery and recovery period? Do I face the possibility of another up-coming surgery with dread and a morose attitude? Do I bottle it up and put on my Sunday morning smile because others truly are much worse off than me? Do I step from the nearest phonebooth[iii] in my tight leotards with my flowing cape and the large C on my chest as SUPER CHRISTIAN who can withstand this, declaring, “HAVE NO FEAR SUPER C IS HERE”?

Perhaps, the best tack may be not worrying about tomorrow because, as Matthew writes, “…tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”[iv] There is a good possibility this will be just a bad sprain and I will not even need surgery. If it is a tear, as my mom would have said, be glad the Bible says: ‘It came to pass’ not, it came to stay!

I have an amazing support team! All will be fine. If torn, it is a simple tear and not a life-threatening malady with beau coup complications.

Finally, with every surgery and resulting recovery, God has taught me something about myself and about others. In this too, there shall be a lesson. Will it stink to not be riding my Harley for a while or to have some restrictions on my fishing? Absolutely. I think I can survive.

I should also use this time to be reminded of those facing life-altering medical issues and seek to pray for them, encourage them and be ready to assist should the opportunity present itself.

It is also a great time to count my many blessings and thank my support team for all their awesome love and attention to caring for me even when I am at my most unlovable.


[i] 1 Peter 5:7 NIV

[ii] Matthew 10:29-31 NIV

[iii] Phonebooth a small structure furnished with a payphone and designed for a telephone user’s convenience. (Provided for Millennials and younger!)  

[iv] Matthew 6:34 NIV

WHOSE FAITH?

Have you been a Christian for a long time and yet, it seems the hard times of the world still weigh you down? Do you begin to think, ‘What kind of a Christian am I?’ ‘Why can’t I just sing through the tough times and trust?’ ‘Maybe my faith isn’t strong enough.’

Guess what! You’re right!  Your faith isn’t strong enough. Neither is mine or, as far as I know, anyone else’s! How’s that for ‘good news’?

I just watched a live broadcast where Pastor Brannon and Ryan Ervin of the North Canton Chapel (Ohio) taught a Bible study on Galatians chapter 2 that talks about salvation by faith alone. That is a great bit of news for anyone who needs to come to know Christ as Savior.

But you, you’ve been a growing Christian for a bunch of years and you have been to Bible studies and retreats, you’re sure of your salvation but that nagging question of the strength of your faith when the storms really hit won’t let you sleep at night. When cancer comes to call on someone close to you or, God forbid, to you, how’s faith fit in? You’ve prayed for that small child in Romania for months as he has endured surgery after surgery and his parents buried him last week. Faith? Your job is gone. The virus panic and the quarantine has dropped the bottom out of the market and your retirement is down to about where you started with it. How’s faith deal with that? Your marriage seems to get harder every year rather than easier like you expected and your kids are grown but their problems are now adult size and you long to help but you stare at the sky wondering if God hears. Whose faith is strong enough for this reality we call life?

It all comes down to a two-letter word. A small preposition, in the Greek, the original language of the New Testament, it is ev. It can be translated several ways and is used in the New Testament 2801 times. Most times it is translated ‘in’ but it is also properly translated ‘of’. Why does that matter to you? To me? Let me explain.

A couple of verses are critical to understanding why we need not beat ourselves up because we have weak faith. We want to strengthen it, sure; but God knows and there’s more to the story of faith. Take a look at the passage in Galatians 2:21 Here’s the NIV translation: “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The ev I want you to look at is bolded and underlined. “In” is an appropriate translation but look how it is also correctly translated in the King James text.  20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Again, I bolded and underlined the ev.

What’s the difference and why is it important to you in your struggle? Remember, both can be correct. Since we only know what the Greek word used was but we don’t know exactly the inference Paul meant, ‘of’ or ‘in’ we have to look elsewhere for clarity.

First though, notice the difference. In the first translation the reader is living his life in the flesh “by faith in the Son of God” – PLEASE don’t misread me. That is not a bad thing, that is exactly where our faith should be focused. But, in the second translation, the reader is living his life in the flesh by the faith of the Son of God. That is, he is living it by Christ’s faith which is never weak. It is never not enough. It never fails. So,  you don’t need to fret that your faith is too weak. Even though it is, you can take hope in the fact that you can live your life in the strength of Christ’s faith not yours!

How can I be dogmatic about that since very few translations read it that way? First, it is an acceptable translation of ev. Second, remember I wrote that we would look at other evidence. That is where Ephesians 2:8 comes in to play. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” If you diagram that sentence like we did in seminary, you find that the ‘gift of God’ is faith. The faith we depend on is not ours it is God’s unrelenting, unfailing faith. When we run low, we can recharge. The Bible is replete with passages underscoring God’s gracious giving to those who ask according to His will. He wants you to have faith in Him. He wants your faith to grow! He gives faith, He gives grace.

May these few words encourage you and help to strengthen your daily walk.