My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.
—Mizuta Masahide (1657–1723)
It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Our Father knows about every bird which falls to the ground, but He does not always prevent it from falling. What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. Your response to what happens is more important than what happens.
Over the past decades, violent forest fires have swept the wooded areas of North America, wiping out huge tracts of woodland and often destroying entire neighborhoods. It has not always been like this. Although some fire has always been a part of the local ecology, these problematic massive fires are a fairly recent development.
During a recent course I took on counseling, my classmates and I were exploring the topic of negative self-talk, and it quickly became obvious this bad habit had served as a damper to success, suffocated great ideas right at the start, and influenced reactions and perceptions about situations in each of our lives.
Negativity, ranging from regret over lost opportunities to bitterness, comparing unfavorably with others, jealousy, to little phrases like, “Oh, how clumsy I am,” “How could I be that dumb?” or “How could anyone like me?” seems all too common. Even my classmates who described themselves as generally positive admitted to regularly entertaining the habit.
According to Dr. James H. Bossard, a former professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the greatest weaknesses in family life is the way parents talk in front of their children. After studying extensive recordings of table talk, he wrote, “I have found that family after family had definite, consistent conversational habits, and that the critical pattern was the most prevalent. These families rarely had a good word to say about anyone. They complained continuously about friends, relatives, neighbors—almost every aspect of their lives, from the lines of people in the supermarket to the stupidity of their bosses.
Faith is believing, faith is hoping, faith is trusting. Faith walks on the water to follow Me and refuses to look at the waves.1 Faith refuses to call anything impossible. Faith refuses to quit or to be defeated. Faith refuses to allow its joy and peace to be stolen by circumstances or difficulties.
I give you My gift of faith. With it, you will be able to rise above the waves, above circumstances. You will be able to stand on the solid foundation of My Word, in faith, knowing that I am beneath you, and that with Me beside you and around you and underneath you, you cannot fail, you cannot fall.
When prayer is less sweet and easy; when love is less animated and tender; when the presence of God is less evident and less consoling; when even outward duties are fulfilled with less facility and enjoyment; then faithfulness is greater when maintained under these painful circumstances, and that is all that God requires.
—François Fénelon (1651–1715)
Life is full of challenges of many kinds. For some, the most monumental ones present themselves a good ways down the road. In my case, life’s main challenge made itself known shortly after I was born and remains with me to this day. I am blind.
Doctors were never able to determine the exact cause for my blindness, and could do nothing to remedy it, but the impact of this disability was especially painful during childhood. One occasion stands out. I was seven. My family would read to me from the Bible, and I was accustomed to sometimes holding the book in my hands. Then my parents ordered a Braille Bible. Rather than a single volume, my fingers now touched a pile of 18 huge volumes. What’s more, each page had line after line of dots across it. I couldn’t comprehend how these seemingly meaningless dots could in any way be associated with the verses I listened to as my parents read to me from their Bible.
The weather was perfect, and most of my friends were looking forward to a relaxing holiday weekend, but not me. A recent bout of illness had left me far behind in my schoolwork, and I faced a mountain of projects, reports, and assignments to complete before the end of the month. I felt overwhelmed and undercharged.
After several hours of frantic work, I still hadn’t made much headway, so I decided that some time in nature might lift my spirits, and I headed toward a large nearby park. The usually quiet lanes and lawns were alive with parents and children, and their excited laughter and voices filled the air.
The Bible is a rich storehouse of spiritual and practical advice, and examples of strong relationships are one of the recurrent themes. In fact, Martin Luther commented that the entire Christian life consists of relating to people around us.1
So what can we learn from the Bible about how to succeed with people?
Sometimes, at the most unexpected times, we get little revelations that clarify perspective, give insight, and recharge our faith. I got one of those the other day.
It had been a long few months financially speaking, and now our vehicle was in the repair shop. As I waited for my husband to call me with the cost estimate, I asked God why this was happening to us now, of all times. “We’re already struggling,” I pleaded. “How can we afford an expensive repair on our vehicle?”