I don’t know what it is about birthdays. When you’re a kid, it’s assumed that you regard that day with a special kind of appreciation, simply because that’s what kids do. The cake, the presents, the attention…You grow up looking forward to that “day” when you know that people who know and love you are going to go out of their way to make you feel special.
As you get older, the gifts cease to be as much of an issue, just because your “wish list” changes. And while you wake up with a bit of a smile on your face, you know that, apart from some landmark milestone, while there isn’t going to be a great deal of fanfare, today should be a good day. It’s as though the childhood dynamic has matured into a simple, expectation that today’s a day where you’re going to be given a break from the grind and odds are good that someone is going to do something nice for you in that it’s “your birthday.”
Perhaps that’s why August 26, 2014 was especially challenging. I wasn’t expecting any presents. We were broke and Michelle and I had already determined that there wasn’t going to be any gift giving simply because our sense of fiscal responsibility didn’t allow it. Facebook had several one liners in it, which was nice. But right now, it’s a little after 5:30 in the afternoon. I’m parked off in an obscure corner of the parking lot adjacent to my son’s flag football field where he’s practicing with his team.
I’ve chosen a discreet location so I can have a “moment.”
I’ve been unemployed for the better part of five months. While God’s been gracious and provided what we need to stay afloat, our financial situation is neither strong nor stable. The desire / need to provide that springs from a sense of duty and responsibility has been repeatedly rebuffed as interview after interview has failed to yield a job offer.
There’s something about having to look in the eyes of your bride and say “I’m sorry,” and apologizing for the insufficient income you’re bringing to the table. Yes, you’re a team. Yes, she’s among your biggest fans. But women are wired for security. I remember hearing that during our “pre-marital” counseling. And don’t forget your in-laws. While they’re supportive, they carry around a bit of a burden as they’re compelled to watch their daughter shoulder a level of anxiety that is justified. After all, there are mouths to feed and bills to pay. That’s a standard part of life, and you’re the “man.” Get it done.
Every morning you stare at the reflection in the mirror. You’re optimistic, but you’re tired. It takes energy to maintain a positive disposition, especially in the face of one defeat after another. It’s not difficult to start slipping a little bit. You put on your best “hire me” face when you interview, but there’s a subtle desperation that you try to mask with good sounding replies and enthusiastic responses.
And now, it’s your birthday.
Perhaps it’s because of the aforementioned expectation that accompanies the anniversary of your birth that things that would normally be processed and appropriately “handled” are amplified and you find yourself having to fight back feelings of despair and not just disappointment.
That’s me in that van over there in the corner. And if you’re looking from the back, you might catch a glimpse my shoulders moving up and down as I’m sobbing.
My confidence is hanging by a thread. My emotions are dominating my disposition as well as my attitude towards the future. I’m feeling like a complete waste of resources, a total loser and a man with a non-existent foundation for a cheerful outlook.
O, I’m praying. But it’s not sort of conversation you would describe as “noble.” It’s hard to be worshipful when you look at your basic needs / wants and feel as though your hand gets repeatedly slapped by the One Who fashioned the universe. “Surely, You can spare a crumb of encouragement,” you yell. “It says in Scripture that You own the cattle on a thousand hills, well, how about throwing a steer in this direction?”
At one point during my rant, a thought occurred to me. A well known celebrity had recently taken their own life. From a distance, you wonder how could a person be so despairing that hanging themselves appears as a plausible response to their scenario?
It was then that I determined that the only way in which a person can lose all hope is by elevating their assessment of their situation above the Perspective and the Nature of God.
I wasn’t on the ledge at that point, but I was figuratively on the street looking up at the place from which a suicide victim decides to jump and hearing myself in my mind saying, “I get it.”
So, what makes the difference in that moment? What prevents you (me) from allowing all of the bulbs on that psychological string of Christmas lights to go out as opposed to limiting your perspective to that which you can know and trust, regardless of how circumstances draw you into a boiling cauldron of dark thoughts that plunge you into ever increasing shades of hopelessness? What keeps that emotional string lit with the exception of one bulb as opposed to all of them being out?
- However isolated I may feel, I’m not alone (Matt 28:19-20)
- However discarded I may feel, I have value (1 Jn 3:1)
- However aimless I feel, I’ve got direction (Ps 139:16; Jer 29:11)
- And here’s the crown jewel for those who are “done…”
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:1-5)
Hope. And also a “reason” for the garbage that we’re having to contend with: Perseverance and Character. You don’t get there without having to sweat and cry. It’s during those times when everything is falling apart that you’re more inclined to revisit the One Who holds everything together to begin with.
Carter’s practice is over and I’m “OK.” I’ve vented and I’ve been reminded of Whose I am and I’m ready for whatever’s next. No, not because I’m all cheerful and giddy and I just know everything’s going to be ducky. I’m ready because I’ve chosen to fix my gaze on the One Who my circumstances have to answer to.
That’s not a “better mood.” That’s not “positive thinking.” That’s “profound thinking” and mixing it with a healthy dash of “practical.” I’m taking a deep breath and I’m going to go home and fill out some more job applications.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been gainfully employed for the last couple of months. I’m bringing home more than enough money to keep the lights on and, honestly, there are times as I’m headed into work, that I get a little emotional thanking my King for my job. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that He allowed me to go through that season – to get to a place where when I thank Him for my food, I’m not just regurgitating some mindless little childhood catechism. I thank Him for taking care of me, for providing for me and blessing me and being the same good God both in times of abundance as well as in times of, well…
The kind of times I was dealing with on August 26, 2014.