Have you ever been in one of those situations where you wake up in the morning and think of the day at hand, and all you can say is, "Life sucks"?
Been there. Done that. No fun. You know you're in a tough spot when your prayer in the morning is, "God, please don't let me screw things up so badly today that you can't fix them."
One of the most difficult lessons in my life - and I seem to have to go back to school on it over and over - is that my circumstances are not necessarily an indicator of the true quality of my life. It's sort of like in the murder mysteries: "It's only circumstantial evidence. It proves nothing."
I know people who have made it their life's goal to live a "comfortable," "do it my way" life. Good circumstances. Some have done pretty well in that, and are, materially, at least, "well resourced." Their circumstances look pretty nice. But I wonder if they are overlooking something important.
I grew up not well resourced. I remember a period when our family of nine lived on an income of fifty dollars a week. In fact, when I joined the Air Force, a day out of high school, and listened in training classes to discussions about segments of our society who were "deprived," I can remember my surprise when, after some time, I realized that they were talking about me. Who knew?
I think we place too much emphasis on external circumstances. In my younger years, I knew a few folks whom I considered rich. They may or may not have been that, but they were a long ways above my level. And I both envied them and disliked them.
As I have experienced more of life and more of God, I have come to see that many with the most material "advantages" are the ones with the emptiest lives. Now, when I think of "my ideal life" and look at folks I know with an eye to proposing a trade, I come up empty. I don't know a single person with whom I would trade.
That's not to say that I am thrilled with my circumstances, or that I am living my dream life. Neither is true. Almost nothing about my life is as I would have chosen, looking ahead from earlier years. It's been, in some important ways, not very satisfying, and, in many important ways, not very enjoyable.
But I don't want to trade. Why? Because in the hard times, I have learned that the circumstances, while not irrelevant, are not the primary indicator of quality. In fact, they are a distant second at best.
In the challenges of this life, I have learned important things about both my life and my God, and how they fit together.
Let's look at some scripture that has been important to me in this. First, from Romans 14:
"7 ...For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living" (14:7-9).
My first question, as I find myself organizing a pity party, is what is the purpose of my living: For what or whom am I here? Do I have a reason or right to wallow in pity?
If my purpose is myself, meeting my own whims and satisfying my own ego, then it's up to me to make something happen. If things are not going well, it's my own fault, since I am the "captain of my fate." Or so I might think.
But that's a fool's game. It ends in guaranteed emptiness.
I belong to God. I have committed my life to serving Jesus. He owns me. I am his servant. And my whims and desires are not a good indicator of what might satisfy me deeply. Paul said it well: If I live, I live for the Lord, and if I die, I die for the Lord. Either way, I am the Lord's. And if you follow Jesus, so are you.
Then, in another place, Paul says it again: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
There are so many cases in scripture that reinforce the same principle that it's impossible to list them all here. An example is Joseph, in Genesis.
Initially, Joseph, a daddy's-boy rich kid, was a spoiled young brat. But he was a brat who saw parts of his future. God showed him that at some point he would be very powerful, and even his own brothers and father would bow to him.
It seems evident, from my perspective, that Joseph's best option at that point was discretion: Keep his mouth shut. But, like many teenagers, did not keep his mouth shut, and his circumstances changed abruptly for the worse. Much worse.
He was thrown into a dry well, then wound up sold into slavery in Egypt, and then, as a slave, found himself working for a high official in the kingdom. Yet, even in slavery God blessed him and he prospered. Life was good. Until he was accused - falsely - of sexual assault.
So now, he's in prison, "doin' hard time," without hope, and forgotten for years by all but the prisoners and jailers. Makes a dry well look pretty inviting.
Eventually, he was released and restored. But in the meantime, life was not easy. For a very long time, Joseph lived with a roller coaster-like series of high "ups" and fast, deep descents.
There were times when Joseph might have felt pretty good about his circumstances. Things were going his way. But then, without warning, his world turned upside down. Bam! Thrown in a well. Bam! Sold into slavery. Bam! Thrown into prison.
Scripture doesn't say much about Joseph's state of mind in all this, but just thinking about it gives me a headache. Some assume that he was rock solid in his faith, and never had a doubt. I confess that's a hard sell for me, and I think it's romanticizing the guy, making him super human. I can't imagine anyone going through what he did without at least an occasional twinge of anguish.
So, are circumstances important? Sure. It matters some whether I'm free, living in a fine house and driving a new car, or living in solitary confinement in a scruffy prison. Or, perhaps worse, living in a huge garbage dump on the edge of some Mexican or Philippine city.
But it doesn't matter in any final estimation.
I have it pretty easy by most standards. But my ease is not an indicator of God's pleasure with me, and my hardship, equally, is unrelated to God's displeasure.
Someone once said, teaching about Job, "The fact that your life is falling apart doesn't necessarily mean you have done something wrong. If Job teaches us anything, it is that you might have done something right."