That’s right, I’m jumping into the deep end today, because life happened. And who knows, this might even help someone who is going through a difficult season right now. Please keep in mind that I am a Christian, and as such my blog will occasionally delve into theology, and discuss topics through my own, Christian, point of view. This is one of those posts.
**WARNING: SPIRITUALLY EXPLICIT CONTENT**
We live in a broken world where suffering is inevitable. Sometimes things happen for a reason, sometimes life simply isn’t fair. Regardless of circumstance, none of us are immune to grief, pain, and loss. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.
I recently read Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering by pastor, theologian, and Christian apologist Tim Keller. I will not list the 10 ways we can respond to suffering because that would take far too much time, and a shortened version would take away from you the chance to read the book for yourself. Seriously, if you love logical deconstruction of theological arguments, this is the book for you! I will, however, briefly touch on one of points that I feel will help a lot of people, regardless of philosophical persuasion.
Pop quiz: what does the Christian church of Philippi in 62AD and American former competitive swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, have in common? (And no, it’s nothing to do with shark racing, which, by the way, who knew?) They were essentially given the same advice!
When Michael Phelps was at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, he set a new world record. But the story is better than that. I read about Phelps’ story in The Power Of Habit, written by journalist and non-fiction author Charles Duhigg. It turns out that when Phelps dove into the water at the beginning of the race, he could tell immediately that something was wrong. There was moisture inside his goggles, they were broken. For most swimmers, losing your sight in the middle of an Olympic final would cause them to panic.
But Phelps was calm.
It turns out that part of his training regime was mental rehearsal. His coach, Bob Bowman, would tell him to “watch the videotape. Watch it when you go to sleep and when you wake up.” He wasn’t talking about a real videotape, of course, but rather a mental visualisation of himself performing perfectly in a race. This made it so that when Phelps actually did race, his habits would take over, following what he had rehearsed mentally. When Phelps goggles failed, he was prepared because one of his “videotapes” had prepared him for problems like this, and he knew ahead of time how to respond to this crisis.
Now let’s rewind about 2000 years to when Philippians in the Bible was written. The church in Philippi was the first Jesus community that Paul started in Eastern Europe. Philippi was a Roman colony in ancient Macedonia. It was full of retired soldiers and known for its patriotic nationalism. There Paul faced resistance when he was announcing Jesus as the true king of the world. And after Paul moved on from there those who became followers of Jesus continued to suffer resistance and even persecution. But they remained a vibrant community faithful to the way of Jesus. Paul sent this letter from one of his many imprisonments to say thank you for the continued financial support from the church, and to give them some advice for their current circumstances.
Paul urges the Philippians not to give in to fear, but despite their persecution to vent all of their emotion and their needs to God, who will give them peace. And that peace, Paul says, it comes by focussing your thoughts on what is noble, right, and pure. What Paul actually means (because there are a lot of language barriers between Greek and English and a lot of meaning gets lost in translation if we aren’t aware of that) is to think hard and long about the core doctrines of the Bible, because that’s where Christian peace comes from, God.
“Your focus determine your reality.” – Qui-Gon Jinn, The Phantom Menace
When you see a storm on the horizon, it only makes sense to tie down your belongings, get yourself to a safe place, and be prepared to wait it out. Now often we don’t see tragedy coming, it has a bad habit of blindsiding us. But as I mentioned at the beginning, we are all vulnerable and it should not be a surprised when suffering does enter our lives. So it only makes sense to meditate on how you want to respond when that time comes. Learn to control your own thoughts so that when hopelessness enters, you can stop it from controlling you.
I’m afraid that my advice won’t make life hurt any less when it decides to sucker punch you. But it might just make it easier to eventually pick yourself back up after the storm passes.
P.S. If you’re interested in reading the books I’ve talked about, you can buy them through these links.
The Power Of Habit
Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering