Have you ever been disappointed by your expectations? The hardest situation is when you have high expectations but a poor experience and we often emerge disappointed or deeply discouraged.
The disciples experienced this emotion during passion week. Jesus entered Jerusalem with great fanfare, however their hopes and dreams were short lived as Jesus was brutally crucified in less than a week. Jesus prepared His disciples them for the challenges they would encounter,
These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. (John 16:1)
We derive the English word “scandal” from the word “stumbling”. Etymologically, this word refers to the stick in a trap and metaphorically it refers to that which trips us up or lures us into sin. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat the truth. In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about a conversation he had with James Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his eight years in a Vietnamese POW camp. Collins refers to this as the Stockdale Paradox. His shoulders had been wrenched from their sockets, his leg shattered by angry villagers and a torturer, and his back broken, but he refused to capitulate. Stockdale describes his experiences,
I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
In the spirit of James Stockdale, Navy SEAL Jay Redman was shot seven times in the face and arms with a machine gun during an operation in Iraq. Having endured numerous surgeries, Redman’s treatment has included about 1,200 stitches, 200 staples, 15 skin grafts and one tracheotomy that he wore for over seven months. He lost over 50 pounds and spent 143 hours in surgery under anesthesia. This is what he wrote at the entrance to his hospital room,
Attention to all who enter here. If you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere. The wounds I received I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love. I am incredibly tough and will make a full recovery. What is full? That is the absolute utmost physically my body has the ability to recover. Then I will push that about 20 percent further through sheer mental tenacity. This room you are about to enter is a room of fun, optimism, and intense rapid regrowth. If you are not prepared for that, go elsewhere.
The true mark of a man is not found in his past, but how he overcomes adversity and builds his future. Redman states, “Quitting is never an option. I used to sweat the small stuff too much. There is nothing like a life-altering event to change your outlook.”
What causes you to stumble? The Apostle Peter gives us this advice,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; (1 Peter 4:12)
Don’t succumb to self-pity. You will encounter suffering but you are not alone. Oswald Chambers gives us a helpful perspective,
Does it really matter that our circumstances are difficult? Why shouldn’t they be! If we give way to self-pity and indulge in the luxury of misery, we remove God’s riches from our lives and hinder others from entering into His provision. No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it removes God from the throne of our lives, replacing Him with our own self-interests. It causes us to open our mouths only to complain, and we simply become spiritual sponges— always absorbing, never giving, and never being satisfied. (My Utmost for His Highest 5/16)
Charles Sykes, author of Dumbing Down Our Kids, speaks at high school and college graduations sharing principles graduates often did not learn in school. He writes about the ongoing feel good, politically correct atmosphere that has created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and sets them up for failure in the real world. Here are his rules:
Rule 1: Life is not fair, get used to it.
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will not make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping; they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you screw up, it’s not your parents’ fault so don’t whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying bills, cleaning your room, and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. So before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one…
The paradoxical truth is that when you realize that life is difficult it ceases to be so difficult.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)
You may be going through a difficult time right now. May you be encouraged by the words of the Apostle Peter,
Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:19)
Associate Pastor – Discipleship. The Church at LifePark
Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University
Follow me on twitter: rickhiggins5