Today wasn’t going incredibly well for me. Now, I’m not complaining. Simply stating a fact.
I can’t complain because God is good, I love my family and get to do what I love every day. I live in a free country. I am materially blessed far more than I could ever deserve.
And yet, today I found myself down. Even though I was doing something that I love, it was harder than I expected. My brain hurt. Words wouldn’t flow. Pressing needs were stacking up against me quicker than I could make time for.
Recent failures on my part were also looming in my mind. They had managed to creep from the back burner to the foreground of my thoughts. I couldn’t escape them. They were crowding out my joy and even my ability to concentrate on the task at hand.
I also was confronted with a situation that is far less than desirable for one of my sheep whom I love. I was processing all sorts of emotions, most of which were negative. What do you do when life isn’t fun?
Usually, I’d push through it. Pretend all is well and keep on truckin’. “Turn that frown upside-down,” the saying goes.
Easier said than done. Now normally, my exert-enough-effort-and-things-will-get-better mentality works. Not this time. By late morning, I had spiraled downward enough that I was simply wasting my time being unproductive.
I had planned on working through lunch, so I went down to the lunchroom. One of the perks of working at a church with a school is school lunch. For many, school lunch is a byword. But I love it! So I went down to get some chips, artificial cheese, taco meat in something the size of a medicine cup, frozen strawberries and two, count them two, packets of carrots. (We have a great lunch lady.)
Better yet, my timing collided with the lunch of one of my children.
Instead of turning right to take my lunch back to the office and eat it alone so I could power through my darkness, I turned left to eat lunch with my son whom I love. My problems didn’t miraculously vanish. Nor did my work magically get done. Neither did the problems I had been wrestling with in my mind go away, but everything changed.
Love is a powerful force. It is impossible to predict. We can’t control it. And yet, it changes everything.
To the outside observer, all that happened was a pastor having lunch with a table full of first grade boys. They made ridiculous jokes. One offered me some sunflower seeds. Another made faces at me the entire time. My son was mostly silent, sipping on a chocolate milk, content to be with his dad. What mattered was that we were together.
I was reminded of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together. “Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship.” My inner feeling of darkness, or “aloneness” if you prefer, had prepared me to cherish this moment of fellowship with my son.
In his presence, I felt the gentle restoration of my soul. In a way I couldn’t have forecast (and would have completely missed had I ate lunch alone in my office with my work) my joy returned.
I remembered that this is why I do what I do. Love for and the love of my family and my church family make the difficulties all worthwhile. Love doesn’t remove my moments of darkness. My love for my people actually makes some of the hard stuff of being a father and pastor harder. Honestly, in some clinical and professional way, my job would be much “easier” if I didn’t love the people under my care.
But life without love would be meaningless, “a chasing after wind,” as the writer of Ecclesiastes states. (Ecclesiastes 1 & 2) In a quiet moment of togetherness, my joy in who I am as God’s child returned.
Along with the return of joy came an epiphany. Maybe, in some small way, I’ve felt just a little of what Christ feels for me.
Why did He choose to live a life that wasn’t always fun? The wisdom of the world says that you should have as much fun as you can while you can because you never know what the future holds. Jesus’ life and death teaches us something different. Love > fun.
Jesus lived a life that wasn’t always fun because He loves me and wants to be with me. He wants me to know and experienced Him and His love. He died and rose again so that I can live every day of this life certain of His love. His love makes this life worth living.
Even better yet, His love never ends! When I love others and go through times of darkness, He uses me to show them His love. When my joy is rekindled because of a lunch with someone I love, He uses that person to show me His love. And because He has destroyed death by the power of His resurrection, I know that when He returns, I will rise to live in His love forever! Heaven will be filled with His people doing what makes life worth living—receiving God’s love and sharing love with each other. What a joy it is to live in His love!
Maybe you’ve read this because your life isn’t always fun. Welcome to the club. My prayer for you is not that God keeps you from experiencing moments of darkness in your life. But rather, that God uses those moments of darkness to reveal a new measure of His love to you!
“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:2b-11 ESV)