Tough Times

These are tough times. 

2020 has brought events that will transform so many life elements that I consider foundational: life, health, marriage, family, work, culture, politics, society, race relationships, and God. I cannot think of one thing on that list that hasn’t been affected by all of this year’s craziness. 

As I navigate through each one of these, I find myself asking more questions. Like many, I start with the “Why?” “How?” “How long?” “Who?” and so on. Then, I usually move into the “Help me understand?” phase of trying to get insights into what brought on that particular event that would cause it to happen. I want to empathize with people in those moments. I want to validate what they feel. I usually spend a lot of time asking for insight, discernment, and wisdom in each situation. It’s tough. 

With so much uncertainty, how will you keep yourself in a healthy place – physically, mentally, and spiritually? These three areas are crucial to our well-being. My father in law once told me, “When one of these areas are hurting, you can live with it as it heals. When two areas are challenged, life gets difficult.” This year has genuinely illustrated that paradigm. Let me share some thoughts on each.

PHYSICAL

I could spend lots of time one this one sharing what I have learned over the years of sports, triathlons, and working out. I am going to be brief. Find something you enjoy and do it. When that enjoyment stops, do something else. The body wasn’t made to be sedentary – move it. I can’t dance very well, but I can do burpees. I can’t run very much due to injuries, but I can ride a bike. Try something new. In recent years, I found a new love of fishing, paddle boarding, and boating. Do something every day.

Food is your fuel. There is so much information and support out there to develop a healthy plan that works for you. Make good choices and find a way of eating that supports the lifestyle you want to have. 

MENTAL 

This is one area that I have really worked on this year. In reading some of my previous blogs, you would recognize that mental toughness is something that I have tried to develop over the years. I am not where I want to be, but I not where I was. I know this will be a life long journey.

In the last few weeks, I have used three simple phrases to help me work through difficult situations.

What can I control in this? This is a great question to help you determine the scope of what you can do about a situation. Many times, things are out of our control. Other people are making choices that affect you. Situations happen outside of your ability to change it. In the end, I have worked with this answer for me: I can control my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Everything else is out of my control.

Stay in the present. Does it add to your strength and resilience to rehash the past or playback the scenario of what could happen in the future? We need to learn from the past. Find the nugget of wisdom and move forward. One of my gifts is strategizing, and I know developing plans is essential. There is time for that and time to let it rest. 

Fear and pride want us to allow the past and future to take us to unhealthy places. We either beat ourselves up or become arrogant about our history. Also, we can approach the future either under-confident or with too much belief in ourselves. The present is where you can bring it all to God and approach the situation in humility, courage, and wisdom. Fight to stay in the present. You will find that both your past and future will show the results.

Don’t write stories you know are not true. This is a formidable skill to develop. Our natural tendencies cause us to look out for ourselves. We justify why we said or did something. We do not give as much grace to others. We tend to “write stories” about someone else’s intentions and motives. We use non-verbal cues, words, actions, and situations to begin to formulate “a story” in our mind, not based on truth and fact.

For example, I am on the golf course I and I give my friend on the 18th green a $10 bill. In seeing that, am I helping pay for the round of golf, tipping the staff, paying for a lost bet, giving him money for personal reasons, etc.? Each way you look at it will cause you to think differently of me. We think we “know” things, and honestly, we don’t. The harsher truth is we make judgments and assumptions on those things, and we begin to write the story in our mind. If you want to make it through tough times, I strongly encourage you to stick to the facts you know.

SPIRITUAL

Staying spiritually healthy during tough times is challenging. There are so many ways to spend time with God – reading His Word, worship, prayer, solitude, enjoying His creation, and many more. Even so, God cannot be seen, touched, and heard in an audible voice (most of the time.)

In 2020, I have used all ways listed above to be with God. I have seen a real love for His Word grow more profound, and my prayer time more meaningful to me. Worship and solitude have brought special times of intimacy that have particular meaning to me. It has been a rich year of growth.

Yet, I have also struggled with God in this year’s challenging times. My expectations of Him challenge me. I know he can heal, change, fix, and redirect many frustrating events, people, and situations. He could take away the pain, hurt, anger, and disappointment that so many people are dealing with daily. He could make His presence evident to people in a way that would cause them to flock back to Him. But He doesn’t always do those things. I have learned that my expectations of God sometimes don’t line up with His plan. I can choose to believe that God is distant and far, or I can put my faith in his will and purposes. 

There is an excellent illustration in C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters.” A little background on the book’s premise: the chief demon is instructing a junior demon how God (his enemy) works. Here is one of his admonishments:

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

When we look around for God during tough times, many times, it appears He has vanished, and we are alone. At that moment, you have a choice. You can believe that is true, or you can believe Hebrews 13:5 NIV, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” In making that choice, you set your path to navigate the tough times. It will be driven by circumstance and events or faith, and hope. Ultimately, you will have to choose.

I will end where I started – these are tough times. You are going to make it. You will be tougher, stronger, and wiser. The sun is going to come up tomorrow. Take the next step.

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