When Difficulty Comes

And do not be drunk with wine which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.   
– Saint Paul, Letter to Church at Ephesus.

Before I scare off any readers, this piece is not about Christianity.    As a Christian, however, I know that the truths I find in Christianity have broad application with many having a resemblance to those found in other world beliefs.    And besides, whether one believes or not, there is much good writing in the Bible.

I have encountered of late those who have experienced that which is inevitable, sadness and difficulty in life.    Difficulty may range from the burden of financial troubles to the soul wrenching grief at the loss of a loved one.   Perhaps only an accomplished nihilist who has dispensed with all meaning in life would say otherwise, but in the bargain, they have sacrificed any chance of joy.      In some cases, we bring difficulty upon ourselves – and in doing so invariably bring despair to those who care for us.    Likewise, others may visit despair upon us by their actions.    Sometimes despair comes upon us slowly, while at other times it sudden and sharp – what I refer to as life’s “drive-by shootings”.   I have also observed that people respond to difficulty differently with some being able to move on in time while others, to their detriment stew, for the rest of their lives.     When in despair questions are asked: “why did this happen to me” or “how could they do this to me” or “when will there but justice”.       Often, there is simply no satisfactory answers to these questions.   I know those who have seen counselors and in the final analysis the only answer they leave with is “time will heal” or “you must just put this behind you and move on”.   In time, unchecked despair leads to the dissipation of depression, and with this all hope for joy.     Thus, the nihilist who decide their fate and the person who through neglect of their increasing depression find themselves in the same destination – in a place of hopelessness, a life without meaning.

I know quite well a couple who lost their daughter in her early 20’s to an incurable condition that plagued her most of her life.     They spent years sitting with her in hospital at her bedside while she was wracked in pain.     They were with her in the hospital when the heart monitor flatlined and the alarm for the nurses sounded.     Surely, they asked those very questions, and I am quite certain no satisfactory answer came.    

Back to the brief passage from Saint Paul.   I will take some liberty with the context of the passage which is the Christian effort to become more like God – who is all good – by replacing that which is not good – in this case too much wine – with Himself, in the for form of His Spirit.      Imagine you have a glass of oil that you want to fill with water.      You have two choices as to how to do so.   You could pour out the oil and then refill the glass with water or you could begin pouring water into the glass and water, having a higher density than the oil, would push the oil out of the glass.    In the passage from Paul, I have always wondered about the order of the process he proposed.   That one needs to empty their life of the bad – to pour it out – in order to make room for the good or if by simply taking in good, they would displace the bad.     I could argue the point either way, but the effect is the same – in the end we must jettison the despair and replace it with goodness that brings joy.  

So, what is the point of all of this.     In asking the “why did this happen” type questions, those who have experienced tragedy are in a sense looking for a logical reason to allow them to empty their lives of sadness.   Once they have a reason, then they believe they can pour out the pain.    Alas, in most cases such an explanation never fully comes.     Thus, the means of returning joy to their lives is to begin to fill their lives with good things and allow the good – like the water – to force out the bad.    To allow that which dissipates to be displaced by that heavier stuff that brings joy.  

The couple I know who lost their daughter – whether they did so consciously or not – did just that.   While the loss of a child can never be forgotten, they did over time assuage the sharpest of pain by filling their lives with good things.   They became more involved in their church and volunteer activities.   They took up new interests like golf.   They made new friends and travelled.    They poured themselves into their grandchildren and moved several times so that they could be near their son and his family.   In time, the tragedy they suffered no longer defined them rather they were defined by the goodness they had been taken on and the joy they brought their family and friends.    

Often with metaphors like the water and oil example can be a source of even deeper meaning.     Imagine if instead of having glass of oil you had a glass of water.     Try pouring the oil in to the water.    It will not displace the water – or at least not very well.   Most of the water will remain in the glass.     I think in similar fashion those whose lives are filled with good can withstand onslaughts of difficulty.    Good has more power than evil.   Love can overwhelm hate.     There are no guarantees to avoiding life’s difficulties, but a life filled with good has a better chance of bearing up when difficulty comes.

I once heard a statement that, as I have experienced life, I have come to understand as true.   “The best measure of a person is not how they act, but how they react”.     A life built on good – particularly that of the eternal nature – can simply react to the difficulties of this world better than one without.  Such as life has more solid stuff to draw upon.  And with that, we are back to the topic I promised to not discuss – Christianity.

For the curious, I was in the room as well when that young woman breathed her last.    My sister Susan.

Image of water displacing oil

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