"It's all about perspective." Has anyone ever told you that? I've experienced the truth of this statement in multiple ways. Recently it's hit home most noticeably with the weather. Colorado is known for its numerous days of sunshine. But this spring we've had clouds, rain, and hail. The forecast for Mother's Day was cold temperatures and a wintery mix. I was supposed to pick up lunch for me and my parents then spend the afternoon at their house. Though my mom told me we could cancel if the roads were bad, I'd psyched myself up to brave the nasty weather and celebrate her as intended. It was cloudy and cold when I woke up, but no snow, slush, hail, or moisture of any kind. I was thrilled. I don't like that temperatures were in the 30s on May 10, I don't like that our normally brilliant blue sky has only come out in patches for the past few weeks, and some people did get snow. But since I had been expecting things to be totally unpleasant, the fact that they weren't felt like a huge gift. My perspective was different so my focus was on what I did like about the weather — dry roads, sun peeking through the clouds, and easy driving — rather than on what I didn't.
It's amazing how my perspective on life changes when things I usually take for granted have been taken away for a period of time. Throughout these rainy/cloudy weeks I've been extra grateful when the clouds have not been low-hanging and especially when the blue sky makes an appearance. I've also recovered from some injuries recently and have a deeper appreciation for not being in pain and for having the ability to jog. Once again, it's my perspective. Rather than focus on what I don't have or what I don't like, having things I like taken away reminds me just how much of a gift they really are.
Contemplating this reminds me of Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Focusing on the good, rather than on the bad, is so much more pleasant.
That being said, God does not call us to view the world with rose-colored glasses. Philippians 4:8 is not a command to deny the hard things of life. I like to look for the silver-lining in things, but too often I do this out of a distaste for so-called negative emotions. Sometimes I'm seeing the "good" of something because I'm trying to avoid recognizing the reality that life is hard. I'm cajoling myself into a false positive attitude. It doesn't work. Long term avoidance of negative emotions has taken its toll on me. In my experience, it's much simpler to acknowledge and deal with the negative emotion up front than it is to try to run away from it. Eventually the emotion will need to be dealt with, and it's generally much more manageable at the get-go.
A friend recently commented to me about how in centuries past suffering was an expected part of life. People acknowledged and accepted that life would be hard. They were not dour about it; it's just the way things are. Today our society tries to avoid suffering at all costs. Obviously I don't wish suffering on anyone. I dislike it as much as the next person, and I try to avoid it, too. But the truth of the matter is that we live in a fallen world. Suffering is going to happen. Jesus told us as much (John 16:33).
Jesus, Himself, experienced suffering. A great deal of it, in fact. And not just during His crucifixion. I love the way Jesus emoted so honestly. He wept at Lazarus' tomb (John 11:28-37). He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). He sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane asking that God remove the cup of suffering He was about to endure (Luke 22:39-46). Jesus was truthful. He did not only look at the good things or only look at the bad things. He called out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He highlighted the faith of several whom He healed. He confronted people about their sin. He also offered forgiveness. He spoke about life and joy. He offered correction, healing, challenges, and comfort. He spoke of God's wrath and of God's love. He was compassionate and kind. He also spoke with authority. He was meek, not weak. And He was honest about the full spectrum of human experience on this earth. Jesus accepted the difficult realities of this fallen world and spoke God's truth into it.
Jesus read this prophecy about Himself: "'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:18-21). In John 16:33 He told His disciples, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." The poor exist, but Jesus brings good news. There are captives, but in Jesus there is freedom. There are blind, but in Jesus there is sight. There is oppression, but Jesus brings liberty. There will be suffering, but in Jesus there is peace. Final redemption is not yet here. We need not shrink away from suffering or fear acknowledging the gravity of its reality. And this precisely because Jesus has overcome. It's our perspective on the matter. Suffering is not good, but the context of our suffering is that Jesus has come...and that He is returning. That changes my view on the hard things of life.
I tend to want to avoid negative emotions when I think they will be too much for me to bear. It's when they threaten my faith or my sense that everything will eventually be okay that I fall into the trap of thinking it is easier to ignore them. But, in fact, my hope is not in negative emotions going away, but in acknowledging Jesus' presence in the midst. That is the truest I can be. There is hardship. There is suffering. Jesus said it would be so. He also said He would be with me in it. And He has promised to one day fully redeem it all. It is when I fully accept both the depth of suffering and the exceeding grace and strength of my Savior that I can genuinely live out verses like Philippians 4:8. It is in acknowledging the true pain of the bad that Romans 8:28 takes on actual meaning. If I shirk away from suffering, I miss out on the great joy when suffering is relieved. If I deny or minimize the reality of pain, I necessarily limit the amount of joy I experience when that pain subsides. But if I only focus on the suffering, I fail to acknowledge the things my Savior has already done. If I only see the bad in the world, I fail to experience the peace of Jesus. If I only look at what is ugly, I fail to see the proof that God is redeeming things. I can focus on the things that are good because it is a reminder to me that God is at work, that He is faithful, and that all of this has a purpose. It isn't a rose-colored glasses view of life. It's a true view of life. God is at work. He is on His throne. Redemption is coming. I fix my eyes on Him that I might live this life to the full and persevere until the end (Hebrews 12:1-3).
I pray that I would have God's perspective on life in all ways. I want to learn to not only focus on the beauty of God in my own life, with astounded gratitude for all that He has done, but learn to help others also see the beauty. Never in a way that minimizes their experience. Never in denial. But as Jesus did. As the Psalmists did. Fully acknowledging the pain, the suffering, the heartache, the sin, the depravity, the yuck of this world. Grieving what was lost when sin entered the world and engaging with the specific heartaches we now experience because of it. And then fully acknowledging who God is, what He has done, and what He is doing. When I cannot understand why God would allow what He does, may I throw myself on His mercy, approach Him honestly, and then wait for Him to speak.